Calling All Small Fats

Another week, another set of patterns released without extended sizing. It’s been just over 2 years since the online community started calling out pattern companies for their serious lack of extended sizes. Many if not all of those companies resented the notion that they were being exclusionary, citing it as a lack of resources, knowledge, or demand. But we all know how that went, somewhere along the line many of them found the resources and did the work to extend their size range and opened up their products to an eagerly awaiting community of makers. Just last week By Hand London announced all future pattern releases and updates of older patterns will come in a larger size range UK 16-38. It seems like there are new standards that pattern companies are being held to, which makes me wonder why new companies are still choosing to exclude fat people with limited sizing? 

To be clear, I classify myself as a small fat. The chart below gives you a short idea of what I mean when I say that, but in Australian terms I wear a size 16, 18 or 20 in ready to wear clothing. For more information I’d recommend looking at the ‘fat spectrum’ highlights of @jordallenhall on instagram here. Oh and incase you haven’t noticed by now, I am very comfortable with the use of the word fat. If this doesn’t sit right with you, maybe you should analyse the kind of negativity you place on fatness.

Image from https://fluffykittenparty.com/2019/10/05/fategories-understanding-smallfat-fragility-the-fat-spectrum/

For paper patterns my sizing is very different from company to company. Often I am able to fit into the very top range of sizes offered by companies that don’t offer extended sizing, but sometimes one of my measurements (usually my ‘don’t lie’ hips) will push me out of the size range completely. At the beginning of my sewing with patterns journey I simply accepted this and thought it was ok that I fell just out of the sizing range, knowing I’d be able to grade my measurements and redraw the lines to fit me. Never did I think this was an extra step that many other people did not have to take in their sewing journey. And it took me a while to acknowledge that this process would be very difficult if impossible for people fatter than me and they were being completely excluded from the process. And this is where my small fat privilege had a bright light shone on it. I think as small fats it’s easy to get caught between the straight size and plus size worlds, but make no mistake, the word fat is there for a reason. And what I experience on a micro level, people fatter than me will experience on a macro level. Not to mention if their fatness is also intersectionally layered with experiences of being BIPOC, disabled, elderly, or LGBTQIA+.

Buying from size exclusionary pattern companies always left a taste of bland satisfaction in my mouth. And yet I STILL sent my dollars their way in some vain attempt to feel like I was part of them, and in a misguided thought that they were truly providing their product for me.

The truth is they weren’t. They decided who their customer was long before they released their product, and it was not me or anybody fatter than me! It was their and my inner fatphobia at work telling me that I should be thankful for being somewhat included, and offering extended sizes from the launch of their pattern was just too difficult to accomodate. Or perhaps, however unintentional their decision was, they just didn’t want to see their patterns on bodies that they deemed too fat. And that’s just not good enough anymore. One of the main reasons fat people turn to sewing is because there are no more options for them to clothe themselves. It is often the first time that we are able to cultivate a style that is truly unique to us. The market is there and ready, and yet we are still going through the measurement chart and realising it doesn’t come in our size. That’s why there is still a need for pressure to be applied and fat voices to be amplified, because the damage is already done when excuses are made for not being inclusive.

I believe many small fats and straight sized people need to acknowledge the part they can play in pushing for size inclusivity. I also understand that inclusivity will never truly mean everyone will be included or provided for. But in highlighting the voices of those more marginalised than us can we unlock experiences that have never been factored in before. The train is slow, but the wheels are turning!

It is no longer enough for me to accept that only parts of my body and only some of my measurements are deemed acceptable by pattern companies, so I no longer grade patterns if the company does not provide a line for me to grade to. But I also know that I have the ability to push back in other ways, and this is what I call my fellow small fats and also straight sized people to do if they can.

1. Don’t buy patterns that don’t come in your size. It seems basic and yet I still did it for some time. Remember, they don’t want you, so why should you give them your dollars!

2. Sit with and evaluate your privilege. Acknowledge where you sit on the scale, don’t discount your experiences, just think how they factor into a larger narrative of experiences.

3. Question pattern companies that don’t have extended sizing. Ask them if they intend to extend their patterns and do they have a timeline in which they hope to achieve it.

4. Do your research. There is a wealth of content and creators that already exist who have worked hard to define and call out fatphobia and how it is intersectional. For more nuanced explanations of these experiences please look into the work of people such as Ijeoma Oluo, @fatangryblackgirl, @chairbreaker, and podcasts like this between Roxane Gay and Nicole Byers, or from an Australian Indigenous perspective this episode from AJ and Ginny in Unapologetically Blak, also the entire podcast series Maintenance Phase.

5. Amplify the voices and images of those that are fatter than you. Share, re-post and support them in making a stand.

I realise that none of this information is hugely revolutionary, but maybe the story resonates with some people, and maybe you’ve already set up some of your own ways to manage anti-fat bias that exists in the sewing community and beyond. What are some of the strategies that you use when faced with anti-fatness? Is there anyone else whose voice you’d add to the list of varied fat experiences? Let me know!