I am a fat queer feminist who loves and respects all bodies, including mine. But I’m also a person who lives in a fatphobic world and has 26 years of internalized fatphobia to battle every single day, and I’m going to be honest with you: Sometimes I want to hide my body very badly. Some days it feels like if I drape extra fabric over my belly, or wear a knee-length skirt instead of spandex short shorts, or just find a way to cover up as much of my self as possible, I’ll feel a little bit better in my own skin.
My secret weapon of choice on days when I do not particularly love my body? The crop top.
Crop tops have been getting a huge amount of attention in the Fashion World as of late, most recently because of the amazing response from women all over the internet to an absurd comment in O Magazine that attempted to shame anyone who doesn’t have a “flat stomach” for wearing a crop. The #rockthecrop hashtag is an incredible haven for style, body positive inspiration, and sexiness, and hearing other fat women speak out about wearing whatever the fuck we want has been super heartening.
But my personal crop top journey began more than a decade ago, and this essay is less of a rebuttal to anyone trying to police the clothing that fat girls can or cannot wear, and more an ode to a particular teeny tiny article of clothing that is helping me love my body more and more every day, fatphobic world and horrible voices inside my head be damned.
The first person I ever saw wear a crop top was my 16-year-old babysitter, Kim. I was 8, and in my mind, Kim was a goddess. I wanted to emulate her blue toenails, her belly button piercing, and the cropped shirts she wore, which she called “baby t’s.” When I was gifted a white ribbed short sleeved baby t of my own for my birthday that year, I wore it obsessively.
But then I turned ten, started puberty, and learned I was fat. I knew this because I was bigger than the other girls in my class, because I couldn’t share bikini tops with my bunkmates at summer camp, because boys used the word “fat” when they talked about me and I could tell it wasn’t a compliment. Fat girls weren’t allowed to wear baby t’s, I understood. No bikinis, either. As a fat girl I was supposed to cover up, hide, feel shame.
With this new information, I decided to wear overalls on the first day of fifth grade. My family had just moved to a new town and I was about to meet 75 new potential friends. I was scared if the other kids saw my belly they would know I was fat and wouldn’t want to be my friend. I thought about this predicament for weeks, sifting through the clothes in my closet, wondering how I could camouflage my tummy. The night before school started I couldn’t find my overalls and I cried and cried and cried, because I knew that finding a way to hide my body was the key to acceptance in a new place. Reminder: I was ten.
I threw away my beloved baby t. The style went out of fashion. I tried a million different diets. I learned to hate my body a little bit less. Some days I still hated my body so much. I never showed anyone my belly.
And then suddenly, without warning, crop tops were back. I don’t pretend to understand how fashion works, but I do know that in 2012 I was living in New York City and pretending to be okay with my body and experiencing a real love affair with floral print and one day I walked into a shop and there was the most perfect floral print crop top I had ever seen in my life. I wish I could tell you that I was so okay with my body at that point that I didn’t even question if I could wear such a garment, just slapped my money on the counter and triumphantly walked out of the store wearing my new purchase. But that’s not how it went at all.
I didn’t buy the top. Then I lost a little bit of weight. Then I went back to the store and hesitantly bought the top, and only wore it occasionally. Then I lost a little bit more weight and felt okay about wearing the top all the time and bought another crop top and told myself I had conquered all my body issues. Then I gained a bunch of weight and stopped wearing all the crop tops I had amassed and had to come face to face with the fact that I had not, in fact, learned how to love my body unconditionally–I had simply loved that particular version of my body, the thin version, the one that I had wanted so badly when boys called me “fat” in elementary school. I felt like a failure because of my weight gain, but I felt like even more of a failure for caring about it.
There are so many fat women in this world who are rocking it so much harder than I am when it comes to body acceptance, body positivity, and body love. I have so many weird body feelings: I am smaller than some fat women, so am I allowed to call myself fat? Sometimes I still fantasize about losing weight and being a thin woman, so am I allowed to call myself body positive? People compliment me on my body confidence all the time, but mostly I’m faking it–do any of these thoughts or feelings even count if I feel like a fraud?
Sixteen years after my first day in fifth grade, I have found myself the new kid, yet again. I just moved to Portland and I’m trying to make new friends. I’ve got a different strategy this time around, though: I don’t want to hide my stomach. I don’t want to hide anything.
I’m so much larger than I once was. I grew taller and I grew fatter, but that’s not exactly what I mean. I mean that I learned to be big. I have large ideas and large feelings and a large personality. I take up space. I call myself fat, and queer, and femme, and dyke, and I know when I say those words and don’t cover myself up I’m roughing up the edges of the half-hearted smooth acceptance some people in this world would offer me if I could just keep quiet and covered, but I don’t care.
Except on the days I do. And on those days, now, I put on a crop top anyway. I do not hide. I put on my teeny tiny shorts, and I make sure not to suck my belly in all day. I am not totally in love with my fat body yet, but I’m going to get there. And wearing a crop top, for me, is a small victory in my own personal body love revolution. Wearing a crop top has changed my life.