Thoughts On A Pink Bathing Suit; Hacking Fat Gender And Considering Femme
Thoughts On A Pink Bathing Suit; Hacking Fat Gender And Considering Femme
Published June 1, 2010
Did I tell you we planned (very last minute) for a Body Acceptance Swimming session at this year’s Wiscon? If I didn’t, we did. It was superb. A variety of bodies, all in the water, in a range of styles, with a bunch of different activity levels. There were one pieces (with and without skirts) and tankinis. There were straight-up fatty fatty bikinis. There were board shorts and tank tops. The styles of suit were as varied as the bodies in them. There was swimming, splashing, lounging, etc.
My own suit was a two piece. Bright hot pink boyshort bottoms with ruching on the side that tied with bows and a black and white polka-dotted halter top. I’d pinned my hair up to go with the dress I was wearing earlier and I had on bright red lipstick that was also a left over from my little foray into dressing up.
It’s important, for context, to note that I didn’t plan to go to the pool with my hair up and my lipstick on. It just happened that way. And when packing I grabbed the cute bathing suit instead of the practical one because, hey, I didn’t anticipate swimming in a practical sense. (I was right about that – I spent most of the session in the hot tub because omfg hot tub.)
So that sets the scene, I suppose, into which Hack Gender and gender presentation emerged as topics. I’ve been thinking about it pretty much ever since, especially the explicit statement that I was the most femme person in the pool at the moment. *laugh*
I identify as cisgendered. If you are not familiar with the term, it means that my gender identity and my biological sex are the same, that I am comfortable with the gender I was assigned at birth. It is a companion – a comparative term – to transgender that provides a descriptor for non-trans folks instead of just leaving non-trans as an alienating and assumptive default.
But issues of gender presentation are more nuanced than just “are you a girl or a boy?” even among the cisgendered. It’s when we’re forced into one of two arbitrary expressions, after all, that we’re the most limited. So I tend to think of orientation and presentation as two entirely different (though related) categories for discussion. Even so, I’ve not ever been particularly articulate when discussing my own gender presentation.
I genuinely like pretty things. “Pretty” has a pretty wide definition (and certainly no one owes it to anyone else) but I like hot pink and I like ruffles and I like sparkly rhinestones. I like makeup and shoes and fashion that is more excessive and decadent than the occasion calls for. I didn’t think twice about going down to the pool with my hair up and my lipstick on because I wasn’t going with the intention of swimming much (I didn’t want to get my hair wet) and, well, I often just forget that I have the red lipstick on. *laugh* But when I picked that swimsuit out, initially, for last year’s Convergence, I wanted the Gidget-iest swimsuit I could find and that just about did the damn trick. There were other suits, plenty of other suits I could have picked up and there were other suits I could have packed because I have a tidy little stack of swimwear at this point.
It might be time to admit that, yes, really, I am quite girly. Some might even say femme.
This shouldn’t be a hard thing to admit; it’s really kind of a no-brainer when I think about the way I pack for out-of-town trips (always viewed as opportunities to dress up) or my penchant for trying on formalwear for fun. But here’s the thing: it’s all complicated by growing up fat.
I was, it should be noted, thin when I was very young. It wasn’t until I was seven years old that I fattened up one summer and the die was cast. I don’t remember much about my preferences as a young child. I have a kindergarten school photo of me in a red Izod polo shirt (you can’t see the khakis but I know they’re there). I do not think I picked out that outfit. It’s probable, given the outfits I picked out to start other school years when I had the chance (almost always involving skirts and/or hats) that I was into frilly things even then.
But the fat girl-child is, alas, often the desexualized girl-child and I don’t mean that in a creepy way – maybe it’s the de-gendered girl-child? It’s the way you don’t get the frilly dresses, you don’t get the makeup, you don’t get the social assumptions that assume you’re going to be boy-crazy and think about clothes all the time.
There’s a freedom to that, certainly, but as with anything else that determines identity for you instead of helping you develop it on your own for yourself, it’s vastly restricting. Because I wasn’t really allowed to be a girl. Nothing explicit, really, just…. It wasn’t even an option, really, except in fits and starts. I wore a lot of jeans and I ran around with the boys in my neighborhood because the girls were mean. I was into the metal music that the boys let me listen to instead of the New Kids on the Block and I rode my bike and largely wasn’t even aware that I was being barred from femininity.
To be fair, none of it seems deliberate. I had that whole defense mechanism in place really quickly and there were those back-to-school skirt outfits. But I was teased when I actually wore them and it was made pretty clear to me that fat girls didn’t get to be pretty. Putting a dress on a fat girl was like putting a dress on a pig. That’s the crux of things, I think, when I consider my own gender presentation and my own discomfort with certain kinds of femme style (for myself, not for others).
I am not entirely certain I will ever be comfortable with myself when I try to achieve elegance, for example. I’m not a satin and pearls kind of person, I say when questioned – but that leaves open the question of what kind of person IS a satin and pearls kind of person. Why not me? I am comfortable with over-the-top performance, with costume, with theatrics. I am not comfortable with “understated.”
This isn’t a failing, you understand. It simply is the way it is, an underpinning of my style as it has evolved up until today. I don’t wear skirts every day – the realities of my life mean I am still more comfortable reaching for pants when I’m getting ready for work unless it’s something I know, something I’ve planned, something I coordinate down to my accessories. Basically, I don’t give myself enough time in the morning for performing femme, y’all. I perform, instead, awkward but mostly comfy business casual and it feels like a costume but I am mostly okay with that.
But it’s one reason why I’ve never embraced femme (much less high femme) as a label for myself. I’m not consistent and I’d rather not be accused of being a fraud. I’m still fat, you see – and I can still hear the echoes of all of that de-gendering.
The last night of Wiscon, many of my friends and I dressed up. There were so many representations of fancy – it was amazing. There was a photobooth, which was actually a professional photographer, to take pictures of anyone who wanted one and my friends and I all planned in advance to take advantage of it. There was retro 50s glam, right down to the white gloves. And a one-shouldered evening gown with a super dramatic sleeve. There was a ruffle-trimmed wrap dress and makeup. I wore a bandage dress from Torrid and fishnets and zipper boots and makeup and hair up and flower in hair and.…
And, yeah, it was very much with the performative femme and it was awesome. Also, I felt like I should be in Hawaii but I think that was the hair flower talking. It makes me think I am, perhaps, a reluctant femme – not because I have no desire to participate in the deliberateness of the identity but simply because I am not sure I am very good at it. And I wonder how much of that uncertainty rests with my fat body, how that intersection of body and culture has itself limited my options for defining and participating in my own gender presentation. We’ve talked, at some length, about how lack of clothing options for fatties, especially above a certain size, limits self-expression, denies fatties the ability to define themselves and control their presentation; this is true for issues of gender presentation as well.
At the end of the day, I’m left with knowing that I polished my nails before going to bed last night. Not out of any sense of cultural obligation or inherent feminine imperative. I did it because it’s pretty and I like it and I want to have green fingernails. Is that part of performing femme? Maybe it is for me, for my fat body, at least until I have the chance to dress up again.
DATE ADDED: 2010-06-22 19:24:10
COLLECTION: Personal Reflections
ITEM TYPE: Document
CITATION: Marianne Kirby AKA The Rotund, "Thoughts On A Pink Bathing Suit; Hacking Fat Gender And Considering Femme," in HACKGENDER, Item #3, http://hackgender.org/items/show/3 (accessed December 9, 2013).
About the Work
- Marianne Kirby AKA The Rotund
- Creator's Site