Fat, and in fashion


Fat, and in fashion

A personal account about owning the most polarising of 'F' words in the industry

By Billie Bhatia  July 15th, 2015

It was 2pm on a Monday when I was told I would be going to the British Fashion Awards, the Oscars of fashion. I had four hours to find an outfit. Cue heart palpitations, a minor panic attack and mega sweats. Ordinarily if you work in fashion, you’re a sample size (or close enough) and can ask to borrow a dress. If you’re not sample size, it’s tricky.

I am fat and I work in fashion. When people find out what I do for a living, it is usually greeted with (poorly disguised) shock. Fat and in fashion? This cannot be. I never discuss my weight in terms of actual numbers. It’s just not something I have ever been comfortable with; my mum doesn’t even know. My reasoning is that weight is just your gravitational pull to the earth. If Kate Moss and I went to the moon, we would weigh roughly the same.

Working in fashion was always a pipe dream — a very skinny and seemingly unobtainable one that I wasn’t going to fit into. My dad used to laugh at me for watching America’s Next Top Model, asking: “Why are you watching this crap? Do you want to be one of these models?” (That is, until he watched an episode and cried because he was so happy that plus-size model Whitney won.) I didn’t want to be a model, but I needed to be part of that world. I couldn’t get enough. I loved the photo shoots, the ridiculous tasks Tyra Banks would set and, my favourite part, the final reveal of their best shot — the image that encapsulated a moment
of transformation.

Fashion allows you to be whoever you want to be — not just the middle child in your eccentric Indian family — just by picking out a new outfit. But what really hooked me was the glamour: the parties, the couture, the air-kisses, that Faye Dunaway post-Oscars picture. I wanted to design the clothes, wear the pieces and take the pictures — basically run the whole show. But how? I knew nothing of it except the clippings that decorated my bedroom. Central Saint Martins may as well have been Timbuktu, it was so far from my reality. Those hallowed walls were for the edgy, the hipster and the dungarees-wearer. I was as round and conventional as could be. So I gazed from afar; dreaming of being a Dolce girl, but with no way of making it real.

I have always been a fatty. My only slender features are my perfectly sculpted eyebrows. And while there was the occasional bullying at school, for the most part I was safe. I was aware from a young age that I was considerably larger than my friends — they had their skinny legs and flat stomachs, and I cursed my dad every day for bequeathing his more rotund frame to me. It was an issue, sure, but only internally; I never played out my insecurities at school. It helped that I was good at sports. I was in an unbeatable rounders team (for our season win, we were treated to McDonald’s, much to my jubilation).

It wasn’t until university, and living in a house of eight girls, that fashion really came into play. My housemates were my size-10 dolls; I was the stylist. The junk in my trunk meant I couldn’t wear the clothes I wanted to, so I styled my friends in them instead. I’ve seen other plus-size girls pull off fashionable looks with a ‘don’t give a fuck’ approach, but despite the compliments on my appearance, I couldn’t muster the same defiant attitude.

That isn’t to say I hid myself away. I flaunted my false eyelashes and, boosted by my (now fabulously dressed) housemates, I rarely felt out of place. But as I got older, I became aware that my appearance affected people’s opinion of me. At a wedding when I was 20, I overheard someone talking about me: “Have you seen the middle Bhatia sister? God, she looks a mess even though she’s tried to make an effort. Who would ever think she looks good?” Before I’d even had a chance to speak, an assumption was made about me. I wasn’t a person to them, I was just fat. I felt worthless and ugly. However innocuous, these bruising moments reinforced every doubt I had about myself, and my fashion dream continued to recede.

And so I pursued a career in law.  Ever since I paraded around the house in my dad’s wig and gown, I’d wanted to be a barrister like him. Also, his size never seemed to deter him — I think it made him even more terrifying in court. It was all going to plan until I got to law school and hated it. Again, the world of fashion teased at the edges of my imagination. Being fat had become a large shield to hide behind, an excuse not to pursue the things I wanted to. When I went home after completing law school, I decided to take a leap of faith.

My introduction to the world of writing came from my blog, From Fat To Fit Billie. My goal was to document my body change. I was determined to show everyone that the fat girl they once knew was now thin and successful; not fat, single and a little bit lost. There were an abundance of health reasons to lose weight, but the main incentive was that I didn’t think anyone would take me seriously as I was.

Truthfully, when I was blogging, the topic I found the most natural to write about was plain old me. I felt guilty about it, but the 100,000 blog views suggested I might be doing okay, despite not reaching the weight-loss goals I’d so stringently set. Blogging provided a safe space where I could write things I didn’t have the confidence to say out loud: “This is hard”, “Life sucks”, “I’m scared”, “Sorry I ate the last piece of cake”. Regardless of what I wrote, there was always a comment that made me feel better.

The prospect of working in fashion was still terrifying, even with the support from my blog. The way I saw it, if I actually entered that world, there would always be the elephant in the room… namely, me. But if I was going to squeeze myself into the fashion industry, I was going to have to shape it to fit me, not the other way around.

It wasn’t easy. When I finally landed my first paid fashion magazine job, aged 23 (after four months of interning), I felt validated — I had made it on my own merit. But of course, I was judged. My colleagues knew nothing about me, my hard work or my two degrees. They just knew one thing: I didn’t look like I belonged. It hurt. I felt like I had to work twice as hard as the women with honey-coloured hair and designer wardrobes, just to prove I was as good. There was one woman who passed me in the hallway every day and looked me up and down with an exasperated sigh, as she seemingly exhaled: “Who let her in?” I decided to kill her with kindness by saying hello every morning, though I never got a response.

Once or twice, it got to me. I’d call my mum in tears and ask her why I was putting myself through this humiliation, just to do my job. After some sympathy came the tough love; between my sniffles I heard: “Toughen up’, “Thick skin”, “Do your best” and “I’m proud of you”. It made me realise that I might wear oversized shirts, only be able to walk in sub-three-inch heels, have constantly frizzy hair and always trade in my green juice for a full fat Coke, but hit me with a fashion pop quiz and I will crush it (with my chubby hands and clammy palms).

With some restored confidence, I realised that I was wrong. Fashion is not just for the elite and the sample-sized. My Asos bill proves it. I know that I don’t want to wear a crop top and leather trousers, and that Saint Laurent just isn’t for me. This season, I am all about the floaty, dreamy Chloé girl. I also know that Karlie Kloss and co are gifts from God and, while we are all self-conscious, we have to focus on the good parts… my eyebrows especially. When it comes to shopping, I don’t shy away. I just figured out the styles that suit me: tube skirts, white shirts, floppy jumpers and more swing dresses than a choir. 

In the end, I gave up my struggle to find a new dress to wear to the British Fashion Awards and went with what I know — my lace Asos swing dress, Temperley London coat and Carvela boots. No one batted an eyelid at me and that’s when I thought: ‘I think I fit in now?’ I watched the ceremony, then giddily made my way over to the after-party, where I danced with Daisy Lowe, drank with David Gandy and was praised for my style by Hilary Alexander as she sang Oliver! songs to me.

I’ve learnt that there’s not just one type of person, no standard look or conventional approach to anything. That’s what fashion is about. Finally I’ve discovered a place where I fit in, and it is the one place I never thought I’d be accepted.

Read Billie Bhatia’s blog at Fromfattofitbillie.blogspot.co.uk 

Photograph: Victoria Adamson; Make-up: Laurey Simmons; Hair: Fabio Nogueira/Frank Agency; Manicurist: Jessica Thompson

You may also want to read: Dating as a big girl

It was 2pm on a Monday when I was told I would be going to the British Fashion Awards, the Oscars of fashion. I had four hours to find an outfit. Cue heart palpitations, a minor panic attack and mega sweats. Ordinarily if you work in fashion, you’re a sample size (or close enough) and can ask to borrow a dress. If you’re not sample size, it’s tricky.

I am fat and I work in fashion. When people find out what I do for a living, it is usually greeted with (poorly disguised) shock. Fat and in fashion? This cannot be. I never discuss my weight in terms of actual numbers. It’s just not something I have ever been comfortable with; my mum doesn’t even know. My reasoning is that weight is just your gravitational pull to the earth. If Kate Moss and I went to the moon, we would weigh roughly the same.

Working in fashion was always a pipe dream — a very skinny and seemingly unobtainable one that I wasn’t going to fit into. My dad used to laugh at me for watching America’s Next Top Model, asking: “Why are you watching this crap? Do you want to be one of these models?” (That is, until he watched an episode and cried because he was so happy that plus-size model Whitney won.) I didn’t want to be a model, but I needed to be part of that world. I couldn’t get enough. I loved the photo shoots, the ridiculous tasks Tyra Banks would set and, my favourite part, the final reveal of their best shot — the image that encapsulated a moment
of transformation.

Fashion allows you to be whoever you want to be — not just the middle child in your eccentric Indian family — just by picking out a new outfit. But what really hooked me was the glamour: the parties, the couture, the air-kisses, that Faye Dunaway post-Oscars picture. I wanted to design the clothes, wear the pieces and take the pictures — basically run the whole show. But how? I knew nothing of it except the clippings that decorated my bedroom. Central Saint Martins may as well have been Timbuktu, it was so far from my reality. Those hallowed walls were for the edgy, the hipster and the dungarees-wearer. I was as round and conventional as could be. So I gazed from afar; dreaming of being a Dolce girl, but with no way of making it real.

I have always been a fatty. My only slender features are my perfectly sculpted eyebrows. And while there was the occasional bullying at school, for the most part I was safe. I was aware from a young age that I was considerably larger than my friends — they had their skinny legs and flat stomachs, and I cursed my dad every day for bequeathing his more rotund frame to me. It was an issue, sure, but only internally; I never played out my insecurities at school. It helped that I was good at sports. I was in an unbeatable rounders team (for our season win, we were treated to McDonald’s, much to my jubilation).

It wasn’t until university, and living in a house of eight girls, that fashion really came into play. My housemates were my size-10 dolls; I was the stylist. The junk in my trunk meant I couldn’t wear the clothes I wanted to, so I styled my friends in them instead. I’ve seen other plus-size girls pull off fashionable looks with a ‘don’t give a fuck’ approach, but despite the compliments on my appearance, I couldn’t muster the same defiant attitude.

That isn’t to say I hid myself away. I flaunted my false eyelashes and, boosted by my (now fabulously dressed) housemates, I rarely felt out of place. But as I got older, I became aware that my appearance affected people’s opinion of me. At a wedding when I was 20, I overheard someone talking about me: “Have you seen the middle Bhatia sister? God, she looks a mess even though she’s tried to make an effort. Who would ever think she looks good?” Before I’d even had a chance to speak, an assumption was made about me. I wasn’t a person to them, I was just fat. I felt worthless and ugly. However innocuous, these bruising moments reinforced every doubt I had about myself, and my fashion dream continued to recede.

And so I pursued a career in law.  Ever since I paraded around the house in my dad’s wig and gown, I’d wanted to be a barrister like him. Also, his size never seemed to deter him — I think it made him even more terrifying in court. It was all going to plan until I got to law school and hated it. Again, the world of fashion teased at the edges of my imagination. Being fat had become a large shield to hide behind, an excuse not to pursue the things I wanted to. When I went home after completing law school, I decided to take a leap of faith.

My introduction to the world of writing came from my blog, From Fat To Fit Billie. My goal was to document my body change. I was determined to show everyone that the fat girl they once knew was now thin and successful; not fat, single and a little bit lost. There were an abundance of health reasons to lose weight, but the main incentive was that I didn’t think anyone would take me seriously as I was.

Truthfully, when I was blogging, the topic I found the most natural to write about was plain old me. I felt guilty about it, but the 100,000 blog views suggested I might be doing okay, despite not reaching the weight-loss goals I’d so stringently set. Blogging provided a safe space where I could write things I didn’t have the confidence to say out loud: “This is hard”, “Life sucks”, “I’m scared”, “Sorry I ate the last piece of cake”. Regardless of what I wrote, there was always a comment that made me feel better.

The prospect of working in fashion was still terrifying, even with the support from my blog. The way I saw it, if I actually entered that world, there would always be the elephant in the room… namely, me. But if I was going to squeeze myself into the fashion industry, I was going to have to shape it to fit me, not the other way around.

It wasn’t easy. When I finally landed my first paid fashion magazine job, aged 23 (after four months of interning), I felt validated — I had made it on my own merit. But of course, I was judged. My colleagues knew nothing about me, my hard work or my two degrees. They just knew one thing: I didn’t look like I belonged. It hurt. I felt like I had to work twice as hard as the women with honey-coloured hair and designer wardrobes, just to prove I was as good. There was one woman who passed me in the hallway every day and looked me up and down with an exasperated sigh, as she seemingly exhaled: “Who let her in?” I decided to kill her with kindness by saying hello every morning, though I never got a response.

Once or twice, it got to me. I’d call my mum in tears and ask her why I was putting myself through this humiliation, just to do my job. After some sympathy came the tough love; between my sniffles I heard: “Toughen up’, “Thick skin”, “Do your best” and “I’m proud of you”. It made me realise that I might wear oversized shirts, only be able to walk in sub-three-inch heels, have constantly frizzy hair and always trade in my green juice for a full fat Coke, but hit me with a fashion pop quiz and I will crush it (with my chubby hands and clammy palms).

With some restored confidence, I realised that I was wrong. Fashion is not just for the elite and the sample-sized. My Asos bill proves it. I know that I don’t want to wear a crop top and leather trousers, and that Saint Laurent just isn’t for me. This season, I am all about the floaty, dreamy Chloé girl. I also know that Karlie Kloss and co are gifts from God and, while we are all self-conscious, we have to focus on the good parts… my eyebrows especially. When it comes to shopping, I don’t shy away. I just figured out the styles that suit me: tube skirts, white shirts, floppy jumpers and more swing dresses than a choir. 

In the end, I gave up my struggle to find a new dress to wear to the British Fashion Awards and went with what I know — my lace Asos swing dress, Temperley London coat and Carvela boots. No one batted an eyelid at me and that’s when I thought: ‘I think I fit in now?’ I watched the ceremony, then giddily made my way over to the after-party, where I danced with Daisy Lowe, drank with David Gandy and was praised for my style by Hilary Alexander as she sang Oliver! songs to me.

I’ve learnt that there’s not just one type of person, no standard look or conventional approach to anything. That’s what fashion is about. Finally I’ve discovered a place where I fit in, and it is the one place I never thought I’d be accepted.

Read Billie Bhatia’s blog at Fromfattofitbillie.blogspot.co.uk 

Photograph: Victoria Adamson; Make-up: Laurey Simmons; Hair: Fabio Nogueira/Frank Agency; Manicurist: Jessica Thompson

You may also want to read: Dating as a big girl