I don’t know exactly when I began to move on from this sad state of affairs, but I can roughly trace it back to early last summer, when a Lisa Says Gah dress—pink and white and bright green and patterned with tiny cartoon sheep—popped up on my Instagram feed and caught my eye. I’d already begun to browse plus-size retailers like Wray and Nettle Studios, but I stopped short at imagining myself pulling off the looks that those sites’ gorgeous, fat models pulled off with such aplomb. Sure, they look great, but I’d look insane, I told myself, pulling on my default uniform of sweatpants and baggy T-shirts for park hangs with friends.
When that Lisa Says Gah dress crossed my path, though, something shifted. The dress was short enough to show off a generous portion of newly acquired thigh meat; elaborately buttoned and ruffle collared enough to make me appreciate its craftsmanship; and, crucially, brightly colored enough to make me stand out in a crowd, something I’d been fearing for months. It was loud, ever-so-slightly obnoxious, and roughly within my budget. I took a deep breath and pressed “Purchase,” slightly terrified but already envisioning how it would look with my platform Crocs.
I was the first to admit that I might look kind of stupid in the dress, especially when I paired it with my favorite Glossier eye shadow in a shade of acid green dubbed Lawn, but I also knew that I’d be something I’d long feared—visible.
Eight months after that first dress hit my mailbox, I look at my closet and barely recognize what I see—a vintage hot pink silk camisole here, a neon green studded one-shoulder top there, a pair of zebra-striped culottes peeking out from between a banana yellow slip dress and a ’60s paisley blouse. The sad sweatpants I consigned myself to for more than a year of the pandemic are safely tucked away in a drawer, awaiting my next hungover Sunday-morning trip to the breakfast-taco truck by my house (because, after all, one can’t be expected to turn a look every second of every day).
It would be a far simpler narrative if I could say that introducing loud colors into my wardrobe totally cured me of body anxiety, but I think we all know that’s not how it works. I’ve learned to peacock with my clothes specifically because I often wish I were smaller—not just because I (and all fat people, everywhere, regardless of whether they fit the fashion industry’s midsize mold) deserve to dress exactly how I want but because when it comes to bodily confidence, sometimes you have to fake it until you make it. When I pair a set of dangly orange-slice earrings with teal Marc Jacobs eyeliner and a red-and-white vintage polka-dot sundress, I’m telling the world that I’m no longer interested in being its stock self-hating fat girl.
I still love that picture of Didion against the Corvette, but these days I don’t fetishize dainty wrists or visible collarbones. My mental mood board is full of pictures of Mama Cass and Paloma Elsesser and Barbie Ferreira and Precious Lee, fat people who dress loud and talk loud and enjoy their lives and are generous enough to let us watch. God bless them, and God bless the sheer audacity of the beautiful fat girl I once saw walking down the street in a neon orange crop top; every day, I dress for her.