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Em Rata seems to have forgotten that feminists needn’t only fight for their own bodies, but the bodies of all marginalized people — including fat ones, writes Meaghan Wray.
If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, especially in the 2000s, you probably had a similar dream to mine: The ability to stand in a pair of old jeans, now too big to wear, virtuously holding out the waistband to emphasize the loss. These kinds of “after” images are seared into my brain as symbols of discipline, moral superiority and the achievement of a societal standard of beauty. So seeing supermodel Emily Ratajkowski, drowning in denim several sizes too big for her, felt like being back there, when thin was everything and looking like me was a joke.
Sandwiched within an Instagram carousel of a recent photoshoot for France’s M Magazine, Ratajkowski, styled by Charlotte Collet, stands in a pair of faded, oversized (for her) Maison Margiela jeans. With her signature seductive stare, she looks into the camera while holding the waistband of the pants inches from her body, highlighting how big they are on her. Immediately, I think of Jared Fogel, the man famous for losing 200 pounds eating Subway sandwiches and taking his “fat jeans” on tour, who’s now serving a 15-year prison sentence for child sex tourism and possessing child pornography. So, not a great first impression.
Unlike a lot of celebrity controversies, this one isn’t at all divisive in the comments section — and that’s of Ratajkowski’s own making. For someone who has built a reputation for being a politically minded feminist who challenges the objectification of women’s bodies, and has collected a fanbase of likeminded people, this isn’t a good look.
Many pointed out the hypocrisy of the fashion industry in general, lamenting over the fact that brands can make oversized clothing for thin people, but not actually make plus-size clothing for fat people. “I’ve been looking for those jeans in the second photo. If you could please return them, that would be cool,” model Tess Holliday comments, poking fun at the fact that the jeans certainly aren’t Ratajkowski’s size. “Designers won’t make plus sizes unless it’s for a photo opp where a thin person can be quirky,” another person pointed out.
For fat people, this is nothing new. We see thin people buying out larger sized clothing at thrift stores to achieve the oversized look. We see brands like The Frankie Shop advertising their oversized jeans (yes, that’s the actual style name) on thin bodies, while only selling up to an Australian size 12 (that’s around a U.S. size 8).
a tweet making fun of these women has 100k likes but i swear to god if bella hadid wore this exact outfit it would be on a million “80s casual inspo ❤️” pinterest boards bc, as always, fashion is judged exclusively by the bodies that wear it pic.twitter.com/eBZ6P3Zrmh
— rayne fisher-quann (@raynefq) July 14, 2020
We see supermodels like Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner being called stylish for wearing baggy clothes, while fat people are called sloppy or unfashionable for wearing the same thing. And even if fat people wanted to buy the Margiela jeans Ratajkowski wears in the photoshoot they aren’t available on Ssense, the online retailer the magazine links to. The largest size the brand goes up to is an Italian size 50, the equivalent of a U.S. size 14 (the average American woman is a size 16 to 18).
If I hadn’t already dealt with this my entire life, I’d be enraged over witnessing how easy it would be for brands to make clothing for bigger bodies if they actually wanted to. But I know the truth is most of them don’t want fat people wearing their clothes at all. Got it.
And although I don’t expect much from Ratajkowski, the real knife to the heart is seeing a photo that so obviously replicates the millions of before-and-after images that were commonplace in the ’90s and aughts in which newly thin people flaunt their weight loss by showing how big their old jeans are on them now. As someone who’s been varying degrees of fat her whole life, I desperately wanted that too-big jeans moment for myself. And as someone who accepts her body as it is now on the best days, I just want a pair of jeans that fit me.
Outside of the obvious hardship fat people face when it comes to finding clothes is the feeling that our bodies and our sizes are so often the butt of a joke; a costume thin people get to try on for fun before going back to their lives as skinny people. It’s hilarious when a small person wears clothing clearly too big for them, like clowns in too-big shoes. It’s an amusing spectacle that emphasizes their thinness as the ultimate fashion statement or accomplishment. At least, that’s what appears to be the point, because what the f*ck else could it be?
The rest of the comments on Em Rata’s post are echoes of the same sentiment — disappointed, but not surprised, that a thin person who’s made money off discussing the pressures placed on women’s bodies would turn around and make money capitalizing, intentionally or not, on a body size she’s never been. As Stephanie Yeboah, known as one of the first writers to popularize body positivity on social media, questions in the comments: “And you wrote a book about body image?”
If we wanted to entertain those coming to Ratajkowski’s defense, claiming that she probably has little say in the direction of her shoots, we’d then ask how this got through the entire team, from direction to photography to styling, without anyone batting an eye. (Likely answer: There wasn’t a single fat person on the team credits listed and France is pretty infamous for its fatphobia.)
Emily Ratajkowski seems to have forgotten that true feminists don’t just fight for their own bodies, but the bodies of all marginalized people — including fat ones.
But if we wanted to give Ratajkowski the responsibility she’s afforded herself by being outspoken about the treatment of women and the need to take control of her image, we’d ask why she didn’t think this was wrong, or why several days and thousands of comments later, she still hasn’t removed the photo or apologized. With her presumed wealth and proven influential voice, could she not have spoken up or just turned down the gig entirely? Those in positions of privilege need to practice what they preach.
Ratajkowski’s stance, since first rocketing to fame as a dancer in the music video for Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” has been that women can show off their bodies and still be feminists. True. Her book of essays My Body questions how she capitalizes on her sexuality to make money and affirms her desire to fight back against a world that wants to make her an object. Amazing. But she seems to have forgotten that feminists don’t just fight for their own bodies, but the bodies of all marginalized people — including fat ones.
Being aware of your privilege, which Ratajkowski is, according to her own words in her book, is just the beginning. Critically thinking about what the images you share say to your fans requires you to act accordingly. Maybe those jeans are just too big for her to fill.