Lagerfeld, Ugly People, and Other Troubling Things

Karl Lagerfeld recently opened his mouth yet again to provide us with his unsolicited opinion on ‘ugly people,’ commenting that they’re ‘very depressing.’ It’s not the first time he’s provided the world with his sharp insight into ‘ugly people’ — and fat people specifically — and how gross and unpleasant they are. Evidently, the world would be better off without people who don’t fit into an extremely narrow range not just of body types, but specific appearances. It’s not enough to be thin, for people like Lagerfeld, but important to have the right features, the right facial structure — there is no way to win in this environment unless you’re a model.

He’s not the only designer or fashion industry professional to suggest that fat people should go away, and certainly that they don’t deserve nice fashion. Abercrombie & Fitch resolutely refuses to make clothing for people of medium build, let alone plus size people, because the CEO reportedly doesn’t want to sully the brand with their filthy presence. Anna Wintour told Oprah to lose weight if she wanted to be in Vogue. Tom Ford says that we’re getting ‘too fat,’ while Nicola Formichetti declares that fat people are hard to dress.

One might argue that these are subjective personal decisions on the part of fashion designers and industry pros who can make their own decisions about what they design and who they work with — keep in mind that Melissa McCarthy had to ask six designers before she found someone who would work with her for her Oscars dress — but it’s about more than that. For one thing, fat people (and ugly people, whatever that means) love fashion and clothes too, it’s not like this is a thing exclusive to people of smaller sizes. Moreover, fat people deserve fashion and have a right to access the same amazing clothing that’s being produced for people smaller than them.

Indeed, one might argue that while fat bodies present design challenges, they also present interesting design possibilities. Not all fashion is going to scale up to Size Fat — that’s a given, and no one’s going to argue that. There are some styles that won’t work well on larger bodies, such as gowns designed to flow with much smaller busts — you can’t just pop a larger bodice on there and hope for the best when the whole frock is specifically designed around the bust. And that’s okay. Not everything needs to be for all people at all times, and no one’s arguing that.

But the fat body represents totally great opportunities for working with curves, for working with the rolls and ins and outs of a jiggling, fantastic, beautiful body. Rather than looking at fat as something to be concealed or conquered, designers could be honouring it, highlighting it, affirming a sense of natural beauty — and maybe fat women wouldn’t experience such devastatingly low self-esteem. It’s nigh impossible to find beautiful garments and formalwear above a certain size, and as for designer fashion? No.

It means that fat people are left in the dust in yet another way, but also it sometimes leaves them at a disadvantage. There are industries closed to fat people not just because they don’t have the right look — no one wants a fat receptionist, or what have you, but because they can’t assemble the right professional outfits and public appearance. In industries where people are expected to turn out in couture, fat people can’t, and it hurts their professional standing and ability to work — only very wealthy or extremely famous fat people can afford couture, and it’s not pret a porter, and even then, they may struggle to find designers who are willing to work with them.

The culture of designers loathing fat people and being outspoken about it, of course, speaks to a larger culture of fat shaming and a disinterest in treating fat people as human beings. Who cares, they’re just fatties, right? There’s no reason to respect them as individuals or to acknowledge their basic humanity — they’re just unpleasant, jiggling, gross blobs that lurch across the landscape, with ludicrous pretensions of being allowed out into society.

Because make no mistake. When you say that fat people are gross and you don’t want to design for them, you are effectively saying that they do not belong in society. We live in a culture where people are expected to wear clothes, and where many professions require turning up to work in clothes of a very specific sort — even if you don’t need to wear couture, you need professional, business-like garb, which can be hard to find when you’re fat. If you can’t find clothing that’s comfortable, your size, and appropriate, it becomes very difficult to go out in society.

It’s hard to find a job in a career you love when you can’t even wear the clothes expected of people in that career — when you can’t trust professionally enough to work as a physician, for example, when you can’t get scrubs that will accommodate your body in the OR, when you can’t find nice office wear for working as an editor in an office in New York City. And it’s really hard to have decent self esteem when you’re reduced to sweatpants, polyester muuumuus, and other garments that turn your body into something needs to be swaddled and hidden from society. There’s a short jump between feeling low self esteem and not wanting to go out, sinking into depression, creating a vicious cycle that makes it hard for you to be out in society.

So when I hear a fashion designer sneering at fat people, I think of all the fat women I know who stay at home not because they’re fat and lazy or living off government benefits, but because they are just too tired to go outside and deal with a world that hates them so much it won’t even design clothing for them.

Photo: OOTD, Dee, Flickr