The Flattering Fallacy

by thethreepennyguignol

Flattering. It’s a funny word to use to describe clothes that apparently make you look better. It suggests that the weird peplum skirt thingy you’re pulling faces over should actually have you blushing and going “oh, stop, you” as it showers you with compliments. And recently, I’ve been thinking about what that word actually means, and how it applies to our perception’s of women’s bodies.

If you type the word “flattering” into Google, it’ll shoot back with a bunch of suggestions –flattering clothes for a full figure, clothes to flatter a big tummy, flattering clothes for a pear shape. And if you do search for any of those things, you’re likely to get back a bunch of articles that offer solutions to your wardrobe woes, generally by pointing you at ways to cover up your imperfections. I’m sure you must have heard of at least some of the “rules” for dressing as a woman- wear black because it’s slimming, horizontal stripes will make you look (whisper it) fat, draw attention away from your flaws by accentuating parts of your body that are societally acceptable. Flattering your figure, if it falls outside the slim, tall hourglass standard, involves perfomring some impossible optical illusions so the world thinks your bangable.

I hadn’t really considered that up until now, because I guess it’s been so ingrained in me that buying “flattering” clothes generally equates to fooling the world into thinking that you’ve got a traditionally attractive shape- long legs, flat stomach, big boobs, curves “in all the right places” (ugh, that phrase still makes me think of fanfiction Mary-Sues). And that seems kind of…shitty.

Suggesting that the clothes that make us look best are the ones that have us adhering closest to societal standards of femininity is pretty fucked up. It took me a really long time to get it through my head that the world would not tilt on it’s axis if someone saw my decidedly not-flat stomach, or were forced to gaze upon the scars on my arms. I was convinced that I had to dress myself in clothes that “flattered” me, that covered up all the ugly bits of me and presented a kind of smoothed-out, homogenized version of my body to the world. Even though I feel like a badass in my men’s-sized Evil Dead t-shirt and chunky boots, I always have that voice ticking away in the back of my head that tells me I should be dressed in a way that makes me look more feminine, more acceptable, because those clothes don’t flatter my body.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the concept that the clothes that look best on you are the ones that have you conforming to a generic standard of female beauty seems ridiculous when you examine it at all. If you want to take it further, it’s easy to argue that no clothes look really “bad” on people, they just move them further away from how society reckons they should be presenting themselves. So I’m dumping the concept of “flattering” clothing, and I’m from here on out I’m going to wear whatever the fuck makes me feel awesome.

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