I’ve gained weight in my 30s, which is fine and all, except that I haven’t figured out how to wear it yet. The biggest problem with being overweight as a woman is that it makes you look approachable and maternal. I am neither of those things and no one used to mistake me for them, but increasingly, I find myself extremely publicly accessible in a way I have never wanted to be. In our culture, high-status (read: wealthy) powerful women are typically angular. I never was any of that, but I was able to sort of fake it in my 20s by wearing boots and scowling, whereas now I am soft and cuddly and I look like a sweet mom, and it’s an absolute nightmare. And it reads in my daily interactions out in the world — service people and doctors and so forth are pushing back at what I say now, asking me questions, trying to tell me what I want instead of just doing what I want. Basically, I’ve been emasculated.
I’d heard from other women that this happens as you get older, but if I’m honest, I assumed they were just weaker and less assertive than me. I was well due for a comeuppance; I see that now.
But we’re in a golden age of body positivity and and women my age are all leaning in, so I figured there are probably tons of resources on how to look like an icy bitch when you’re tubby, right?
No! Google “how to look powerful when you’re fat” and you’ll find a ton of information on weight training when you’re fat. Google “intimidating fashion for fat women” and you get information on how not to be intimidated by having fun with clothes just because you’re fat. Google “powerful fat women” and you find articles on “can fat women be healthy,” bios of fat weight trainers, and a bunch of models in lingerie with their asses in the air.
The lingerie thing is really depressing. As far as I’ve been able to figure out, the vast majority of the popular body positive Instagram accounts are women wearing lingerie or bikinis and being sexy. I do not think this is useful, but I get it, it’s not for me — it’s for young women who have been taught that their bodies are repulsive when at their time of life, they’re very interested in attracting men. Fine! I mean, there could be more of a mix, but ok, leaving aside whether that’s the direction “we” (as a feminist cabal) really want to go, it’s useless for my purposes, because the last thing I want to be is fucking sexy again! The one good thing about aging and gaining weight is I no longer have a bunch of men up my ass all the time. I have no complaints about this.
When it comes to clothes, there are two big movements in fashion for women my age and weight: Earth Mother (an eternal classic — drapey “sustainable” natural fibers in muted colors) or Ms. Frizzle (“vintage” dresses with whimsical prints, aiming, I think, at Zooey Deschanel). Neither of these choices say, “Do not leave your toddler with me while you go to the bathroom.”
So I have been trying to figure this out for myself, and I’ve made a little headway. I think the biggest problem, as always, is boobs. I have despised my boobs since they first erupted out of my chest. Our culture hates women, and there’s nothing more feminine than a giant untamable honking set of boobs. That’s why white women from old money families immediately starve theirs off. Boobs are a massive “kick me” sign hanging around our necks at all times. And let me just say — I get that this is internalized misogyny on my part, and that there’s nothing wrong with boobs, but I don’t really care, because even absent how much our society detests women, boobs are objectively uncomfortable. They’re huge and jouncing and in the way and they’re uncomfortable whether you strap them down or let them flop around. Once a month (for me at least) they swell up even more and are painful. As a 20-year-old, my boobs made my entire body read as sexual at all times, regardless of context or my intent or desire; as a 37-year-old, my boobs make my entire body read as maternal at all times, regardless of context or my intent or desire. They’re just the pits. I’m getting mine surgically removed as soon as there’s absolutely no chance I will ever want to nurse a baby.
So the first tip is to hide your boobs as much as possible. I have not yet experimented with binders because I already feel like I’m being asphyxiated if I wear a sports bra for longer than an hour, but sports bras are helpful, and so are cardigans.
Second, colors and prints are inviting, so don’t wear any. Avoid florals especially — nothing says “I’ll make us some tea, and you tell me all about it” like a floral pattern. Slate, navy, black.
Third, wear pants. Exposed knees make you look like a little boy at Scout camp. And if you can tolerate heels, go as high as you can. Being taller than other people is a massive power move; tall people make more money across the board.
Fourth, try to make your face look dry and angular. An angular face is a severe face. A dewy soft round smiley face is a mama face. Bitch face, glasses, whatever you do with your hair that makes your face appear more narrow.
Finally, pushing your sleeves up so your forearms show comes across as slightly aggressive, especially if you’re wearing a no-nonsense watch of some kind. It can be a boring dark-colored sport watch or one of those huge “I’m so rich I own a boat” watches, either works as long as it looks like a men’s watch.
The above woman projects, “I will be an appreciative audience for your stories about what an impressive man you are for just as long as you’d like to tell them at me!”
This woman projects, “When I say no, it’s an answer and not the beginning of a negotiation.”
This is all I’ve figured out so far, and it’s not much. I still mostly look like Mrs. Butterworth. I would welcome any tips or resources from fellow zaftig mom-aged women who don’t want to be lovable.