The first homecoming dance of my high school career wasn't particularly memorable, but I remember it nonetheless. The Top-40 playlist bashing from cheap loudspeakers was standard, the chocolate fountain unfortunately underwhelming, the cliquishness and subtle discrimination amongst my fellow peers typical. What I remember most has nothing to do with the dancing or the popular vs. unpopular warzone, but rather the reactions I got through the night, both at home and in the school gym where the dance was held, for daring to wear a form-fitting dress. At the time, I must have been a UK size 14 (U.S. size 10). I wasn't particularly fat, but I did have fat on my body. Those around me were subsequently offended by me, for not choosing to wear something that would erase the existence of my belly, thighs and even arms.
Before stepping out of the house, mi madre made a comment about the dress I had chosen for being too revealing. The simple truth is that it wasn't. Though the straps were thin and the cut slightly above the knee, it was a dress that any teen girl's mother should have given an instant ok to. Form-fitting whilst still being the antithesis of night-club-y. Respectable whilst preserving a certain fun (lime green sequins set on a black fabric - a win in my mind). It wasn't that the dress was too revealing in the traditional sense of the word, it was that the dress revealed that my body was one with fat on it. With its almost-neon sequins and flattering cut, it didnt make me invisible and at school the stares continued, even from friends. Comments about how I should lay off the McDonald's weren't far behind. A particularly hateful girl periodically whispered eww at my ear through the night and one gentleman like fellow complimented my small muffin top in deep sarcasm - seeming genuinely insulted that I should trouble his young eyes with the sight of my unconcealed pudge.
I consoled myself with the thought that eventually high school would end and adults would be more tolerant to my somewhat larger body. Through the years though, I gained more weight and the criticism did not diminish, whether I was at university or at a family gathering or even shopping in a store. Articles telling plus-size women what we should and shouldn't wear permeated most of the women's lifestyle sites and magazines I visited, even the supposedly plus-size friendly ones. If it wasn't a human telling me that I had to be a certain way, dress a certain way, think a certain way to my face, it was a human at the other end of a computer screen doing so. The rules were and are, endless. Don't wear bright colours, don't think about horizontal stripes, avoid tight clothes at all costs, hide the belly, never leave the house without shapewear, patterns are NOT for you.
While I am aware that do's and don't's of fashion exist for women of all sizes and body types, there is no denying that they have become an almost inherent part of writing, with fashion tips geared at larger women. The mentality that we are somehow inferior, somehow unattractive and in need of guidance to hide and deny our bodies, has become so customary that is has infected the minds, the self esteem, the confidence, the self-love of plus-size women everywhere. We are so constantly told that we have to diet and tone and hide until the perfect body is achieved, it's no wonder we begin to believe it. I certainly did and for years I followed the rules as I was told, I crash dieted until I was dangerously ill and I remained veiled under layers of shapeless, baggy fabrics. There is nothing wrong with favouring loose-fitting clothing, if it's a personal preference but to feel obligated to wear loose-fitting clothing because you have been shamed and made to feel an outcast is fundamentally wrong.
When I started blogging almost two years ago, a new reality formed before me. By this point, I had moved away from home, spent time living abroad in what I perceived to be a far more body-friendly environment and even begun to fall in love. I was in one of the happiest head-spaces I'd ever been in, and with that, my confidence and sense of worth began to increase. I immersed myself into the world of plus-size blogging. I followed women who were of similar sizes to myself, and seemed to relish in breaking the rules that the mainstream fashion had set for them and I yearned to do the same. I wanted to rock the sailor look in a cute little horizontal striped bodycon. I wanted to wear neon pink and not feel on display. I wanted to wear flower prints and psychedelic patterns and tartan everything. I wanted to exist as I wanted to exist - without rules marking my every outfit choice and ultimately one of the most basic representations of my personality.
I still gravitate toward brands that want to break the rules. If I click on a website and feel drowned in advertisements going on about how tummy-tucking or thigh-minimizing or even flattering something is, I'm quick to turn away, because I cannot fathom why our principal goal as fuller-figured women must always be to pretend we are not fuller-figured women.
With that in mind, I've fallen in love with brands like Simply Be, who bring together a plethora of designers who want to be unflinchingly bold and innovative and participate in the creation of something women can feel beautiful in. Anna Scholz, for instance, loves experimenting with audacious patterns and cuts. Her tropical print dress remains one of my favourites, for its body-hugging cut and charmingly obnoxious pattern. AX Paris Curve is all about showing off the body proudly, their jewel print piece being the ultimate emblem of that. The new LOOK Magazine collection is full of massive flowers and traditionally straight-size items (like jumpsuits), proving that plus-size women can look and feel just as amazing in a style as anybody else. And everything about Grazia says, "This is me and I will not be invisible" (their oriental style dress still has my heart). Simply Be is amongst the few brands I think are truly dedicated to trumping the rules and cultivating confidence and happiness because at the end of the day, all women and all people are deserving of such emotions. More often than not we will still be told to stick to the rules, to the antiquated doctrine; to the status quo - but that is what, makes breaking those rules all the more satisfying. They are born from intolerance; they are born from hatred, but breaking them will only breed self-acceptance and love.