Personal Growth Society

Unlearning “Flattering”

Bookmarked How to Become Your Own Influencer by Anne Helen Petersen (Culture Study)

How long does it take to recover and re-anchor your own sense of style — and sense of self? When do we, as one reader floated in an Instagram thread last week, gain the confidence to dress as if we were immortal? Ask me in a year, five, ten, thirty. Because this shit is so hard to unlearn.

When someone pointed out that saying I found a particular style of jeans “unflattering” on me was, intentionally or not, inherently fatphobic, I recoiled. Some things look good on my body type, I remember thinking. That is not a value judgment.

But friends: it is. “Flattering” is the vernacular of body discipline. It is a way of convincing ourselves that an item of clothing is or is not for us, simply because of how someone else thinks a body should look in clothes. If that sounds weird to you, it’s because you’ve been swimming in this understanding of how your body should look in clothes your entire damn life: that legs should be long, breasts contained, skin smoothed, waists pronounced, measurements proportional. That if something does the opposite to our body, it should be rejected.

Shit, she’s right.

Probably ten years ago I paid to have a body analysis done to tell me what cut of shirt, what length skirt, what style pants would complement my body best, balance my “flaws” and accentuate my most traditionally attractive features. I stopped wearing dangly earrings because they accentuated my long neck, according to the stylist. Why give up clothes that give me joy for the sake of how I look to others? These days I mostly wear just whatever makes me feel good but there are still clothes I’m scared I can’t pull off. Which I think comes down to confidence – knowing it’s a look and not caring what anyone else thinks about how you look.

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at She/her.

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