Sep 12, 2011 - AV Club, Physical Ed    9 Comments

+2 Size, +2 Fashion, +2 Courage

If I’m going to be perfectly honest about how I got to be a geek, I’ve got to admit right up front that the fashion hooked me as much as the action. Mock the Cinnabon hair all you want, but Princess Leia’s white dress has got it Goin’ On, and her ceremonial garb at the end is even cooler. Jennifer Connolly’s ballgown in Labyrinth makes every Disney princess ever look like a bag lady, and when the demon in Legend turns Mia Sara all evil-looking, it makes you wonder who would want a Little Black Dress when you could have a Big Awesome Black Dress.

There’s only one little problem with all of this, and it’s not even the one you find about when you watch the DVD featurettes and learn that the actress had to stand for 14 hours because it was physically impossible to sit or fit through a doorway in that gorgeous wedding-cake confection. No, it’s the problem that doesn’t occur to you when you’re a 1st-grader in your Princess Leia costume, or you’re a 10-year-old swanning around the living room in a pirated nylon nighty pretending you’re Arwen or the Virgin Mary or whomever your role model is.

It’s that fantasy fashion is made for skinny women.

Sure, the best fantasy fashion is flowy and silky, or all princess seams and gravity-defying architecture. There’s no good reason why it shouldn’t be available in every size they make, or why it wouldn’t look great on almost every woman. But it is the gods’ honest truth that there are no Buttercup costumes in size 20. Not even in a 12. Trust me — I wanted to get married in one, so I looked *hard*.

In the rare instance, there might be a practical consideration why a plus-size actress isn’t right for the role. I mean, that iconic swing across the chasm on Luke’s little grappling hook wouldn’t make such a good poster if the shoelace snapped, allowing the two of them plummet into the Death Star’s HVAC system. But otherwise, as your dress size goes up, your choice of roles goes down, until all you’re left with is the bearded dwarven battlemaiden (emphasis on the maiden).

Geeks are pretty good at recognizing and giving respect for the hard work and creativity that goes into good costume-making, but nothing draws contempt and derision at a convention faster than a female fan who has the audacity to dress for a role that doesn’t “fit.” I’ve seen women posing for the battery of cameras that come out to capture the super-size Slave Leia or a larger-than-expected Invisible Woman. I’ve wondered and worried at how many of those picture-takers know (or care) how many hours of work went into making the costume, and how many more went into working up the gumption to wear it. And I’ve wished I had the nerve they had, even as I knew I couldn’t ignore the pointing.

Girls, of course, are no better. Even geek girls can be Mean Girls; in fact, sometimes it’s the first time they’ve ever been in the position to be Mean Girls, and it’s an exercise in power they’ve never had before. Just because they should know better doesn’t mean they can resist that temptation. Even once that phase has passed, geek girls have often been taunted for being different for so long that they’re reluctant to step between the critic and his or her object, even if it would save someone else a little of that pain.

So here’s my first challenge for Speak Out with your Geek Out week. Let’s rip out the seams on this stereotype and make room for more women to live out their sci-fi/fantasy dreams. I can’t make costume companies start selling Galadriel dresses in women’s sizes, but I can encourage all the geeks I know to start stepping up and giving honest props to good costumes when they see them. If they’re on a large woman, chances are she had to make it herself, or hire an artisan to help her, in which case it’s even more worthy of your encouragement. And who knows? Maybe if more statuesque women start owning the classic fantasy roles for themselves, writers and directors will let us kick ass in the pretty dresses for a change.


  • At least a decent chunk of this for me is self-consciousness. Sadly, slinky elvish princess dresses, as much as I adore the look, won’t look the way I want them to on my figure, even if someone did make them in my size.

    I agree that it’s really a shame that apparently people above a size 12 shouldn’t wear costumes, but luckily I’ve had a lot of fun pulling things together from my already eclectic closet! 🙂

    • What really boggles my mind is this weird, schizophrenic body image thing I have. I mean, I know I’m overweight, so I won’t even put on some things. But there are things that fit me, and that I feel like I look okay in. And then I see the pictures and I’m like, “Holy CRAP, why didn’t anybody tell me I was THAT fat?!?! How have I been leaving the house looking like that? I know I need to lose weight, but where did all that come from?” I honestly don’t know how I can think I’m too fat, and not that fat, at the same time. Bizarre, right?

  • You are soooooo right! I am a “full size luxury model” or a “goddess size” woman, myself. It’s horrible when you are looking at what’s out there for costumes. And, yes, people can be exceptionally cruel. More than one argument has been had when a friend made a comment about seeing a woman in a “sexy” costume when she wasn’t skinny. Of course, those arguments only occurred after I had worked my self-esteem to the appropriate levels to be outraged.
    And, it is prevalent everywhere – I bellydance, if you look at bellydancing some of the most amazing dancers are plus size women yet, I can never find bellydancing costumes in plus sizes. All those amazing women, yeah, they make those outfits themselves.
    When I see an amazing costume – I comment. When I see a fellow full size luxury model woman in a costume, I talk to her. I ask if she made it or bought when I compliment her. I never comment on the courage it takes for a plus size woman to dress like Wonder Woman or Xena or Red Sonja or Slave Leia. She knows.
    I am learning to make costumes for myself. It’s a process. I have barely begun but I will continue because I want to participate – I want to go to cons with my friends and be part of the action instead of just watching it.

    • I’m with you on the commenting — I go out of my way to compliment the craftsmanship or authenticity, but to say, “How brave you are,” would be just as insulting as laughing and pointing. What I will say is: “You look amazing.” And just keep at your efforts at learning the craft. Nobody starts out good at something like that, but practice and perseverance definitely pay off!!

  • At a wonderful Art Fair in Baltimore “artafexus” sp? Jim and I remarked at the number of ‘larger’ women who were wearing beautiful brightly colored clothing. Not only were they proudly wearing clothing that drew attention to their bodies but they were also dancing to Aretha Franklin and later Buckwheat Zydeco. As we shopped the art show I Ilooked at beautiful outfits (in my size) at that time short fat and forty, and the women who created and were selling them were trying to find something that went better with my coloring. Later I realized it wasn’t my size or coloring. It was my Color. Women of color are told they are beautiful no matter what size they are. They can ‘wear’ clothes and they are not afraid to take command of a room when they walk in it. White women have been told that if only they loose wieght, grow taller, exercise more or whatever then they too might be attractive. The media and the messages that we tell our children, girls and boys, that they are not enough is constant. I have tried to tell my ‘kids’ that they are beautiful/ handsome, competent people who have so much to give and that they can do anything. I know I didn’t do the best job with every student, but I do know that in a little town in Wisconsin many kids have gone on to make a really big impact on this planet. Their attractiveness or lack thereof, might have been a help or a hinderance. They may have thought that being a Prom King or Queen was the be all or end all. But I know that most of them regardless of whatever start they had in life will continue to make a difference. And when I am Queen of the Universe there will not be One Size Fits All.

    • That’s such a good point, Zig, and it reminds me of another point, for another blog post: the very white, white world of modern sci-fi/fantasy. In short, I’d say that, because the moral dilemmas are so clearly delineated in these stories, and the symbology is pretty hamhanded among even the best-known authors, white is good and dark is bad. If the exotic (that is to say, non-Western) is represented at all, it’s objectified, even fetishized. Plus, because fantasy has been marginalized as juvenile until very recently (again, wait for the post, it’s coming), the women have been desexualized for the most part. All of which leaves them pretty damn pale and skinny. Which has got to factor in to why I don’t usually see any women of color at sci-fi/fantasy conventions — there’s nobody like them in the literature, either.

  • It still blows me away that size 12 is considered a “plus” size. When I was a size 12 I was tiny. I of course didn’t think so at the time. Back then Twiggy was the ideal and I was more Raquel, so nothing fit right. I had Daisy dukes, not by design, but because the shorts that were the right length didn’t accommodate my bubble butt.

    I’m also super tired of the larger sized pants not having pockets!

    At least strong heroines are becoming more the norm. Hopefully ethnicity will become more diverse as time goes on.

  • “In love the paradox occurs that two beings become one and yet remain two.” ~ Erich Fromm

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