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CAROLINE, SHE / HER

I am constantly learning new ways to feel confident in my skin. There are countless numbers of flaws I could pick from memory. But what is stronger than the urge to constantly tear myself down is the joy of not giving a fuck. The joy of recognizing that I don't actually have to be my own worst critic and that if I give up that role, others might too. This experience was a great reminder that each person should be able to set their own standard for what works for their body, their style, and the portion of themselves that they want to share with the world.

DESCRIBE LOOK 1.

For Look #1, I followed (most) all of the “rules” set forth for fat women. I wore black, I accentuated my waist, and wore a shawl to cover my arms. I chose not to wear my glasses because round frames make the face look rounder, which is a “no”. 

I straightened my hair for the first time in five years to make my features sharper, less round. I tried to strike a delicate balance with makeup, just enough to cover imperfections, but not too much. All of these rules are meant to make you feel small. When you are a person who takes up more space in the world, sometimes you’re made to feel like that in itself is the greatest sin. I felt that way for too damn long. I wanted to be and feel devastatingly small.

DESCRIBE LOOK 2.

There are lots of layers here. I wore my glasses, of course. They really are one of the most central parts of my style. I also chose to wear a red blazer, red shoes, red lipstick, and various other red accents. I did this because red is often a color that is considered "too much". I am often considered "too much as well".

Red is a very empowering color, so I stuck with it. I chose to wear a bodysuit underneath because I love the look of a very traditionally feminine garment paired with something typically attributed to masculinity (suit jacket). I have always loved this look but was too afraid that I wouldn't pull it off (which is a myth, by the way, it's all about attitude and confidence). I chose to wear shorts because I am tired of hiding my legs. I’ve spent too many summers in jeans because I was too afraid to show my legs.

WHAT DOES DRESS. CODE. MEAN TO YOU?

It’s an opportunity for self-reflection. This came at a time in my life where I am the most comfortable in my body, and wanting to explore style and expression beyond the societal expectations that come with my identities as a fat, queer woman. It also gave me an opportunity to reflect on who I might be if I didn’t hold the values I hold today.

IN WHAT WAYS HAVE YOU BEEN SCRUTINIZED?

I was always a bigger kid and went through puberty pretty early. I always felt overly policed for having large breasts, bigger thighs and butt when I was younger. Especially when I went to a school with a dress code. Even when my clothes were compliant, I was sent for dress code checks because clothes looked different on my body than that of my peers. In the queer community, I often feel scrutinized for being very femme. I feel self-conscious in queer spaces because I often feel others think I do not belong there.

IN WHAT WAYS HAVE YOU FELT EMPOWERED BY YOUR BODY + STYLE?

I have always loved fashion, even from a very young age. Thankfully, my parents had no issue with me wearing ridiculous outfits or the same outfit for weeks at a time (with secret washes). It meant I got a jump start on curating my personal style. As I grew older, my love for fashion became more like a survival skill.

Style and expression allows me to control the way people treat or talk about me. I thought I'd face less ridicule of my body if I was impressive or unique in what I wore. As I have become more comfortable, my style empowers me to experience and find joy in parts of my body that had previously brought me shame and pain. 

HOW IMPORTANT IS STYLING TO YOUR IDENTITY?

Very important. I love exploring new looks, but am very proud of the look I have curated for myself. Most of the time, my clothes are an introduction themselves. The same could be said for my glasses. I am currently in my third generation of red glasses. I got my first pair when I was in the eighth grade, and have been doing so ever since. Wearing these glasses at a pivotal time in my life, gave me the confidence I needed to wear what I wanted. I started wearing red lipstick and "breaking the rules" set for fat people, like wearing horizontal stripes, wearing short shorts, etc. 

WHAT WAS YOUR PROCESS IN TERMS OF STYLING YOURSELF?

I don't think I have a set process. I wear what feels good. Recently I've been finding statement pieces that are very versatile. I will pick one piece, either a scarf, a top, a skirt, and build an outfit around it. Sometimes I build my outfit around my makeup. It depends on how I am feeling, which can be a good thing or a bad thing. If I am in a good mood, my outfits are stronger. If I am not feeling well, or I am tired, I don't pay as much attention to my style.

WHAT WERE YOU INSPIRED BY?

I'm inspired by my friends, who have always pushed me in terms of style, and reminded me that all of the "rules" are nonsense. I also get a lot of inspiration from Instagram. I think we are at a very interesting time right now in terms of fashion. Fashion is more accessible, but influences are also stronger; I see a lot of people following trends rather than wearing what they want to wear or focusing on their personal style. There isn't anything wrong with that, but it's something I know isn't right for me. I follow people who inspire me and make a conscious effort to unfollow accounts that I don't find inspiring or can be harmful.

In terms of people, I consider fashion icons, Janelle Monae and Billy Porter, Mindy Kailing and Aidy Bryant. They are always pushing the limits of what is acceptable and wearing what they want. I think for the latter two, it's so refreshing to see plus-sized women wearing cute clothes. Like, really really cute clothes. I have been following their designers for years as well, and they are always finding new ways to make a style work in a world that is very hostile to women above a certain size.