We exist, and we always have.
Fat people have always been here; queer people have always been here; trans people have always been here. We might have used different words and understood ourselves and our bodies differently than we do now, but we are not new. We are not an epidemic. We are not snowflakes. We are not confused. Our lives are not newfangled concepts you need to wrap your mind around. Our lives just are, and we deserve full consideration and inclusion.
We are intersectional.
Many of us experience multiple marginalizations on the axes of gender, sexuality, size, race, ethnicity, ability, health, class, and citizenship status. We know that liberation for the few is worthless. Our fat activism, our queer liberation, is for all bodies. We pay attention to the bodies you put on your pattern covers and the voices you include within your company. We know that visible diversity and tokenism are worthless if you don’t hire and solicit feedback from consultants and testers with a variety of bodies and experiences.
We are not the same as you.
Much of the professional indie sewing world is made up of thin, straight, cisgender, white, middle-class, able-bodied women in their thirties. We don’t fall into those same demographics, and as such, we have different experiences of moving through this world, of understanding our bodies, and of building relationships. Slapping a “love is love is love” post up during Pride isn’t the same thing as understanding and respecting what it means to live experiences of marginalization, nor does it recognize that we don’t want to be the same as you. We want to have a full range of resources to choose and build our own lives, not copy the diet-culture-ridden world of compulsory heterosexuality. Please don’t assume that your experiences are universal, nor that discrimination you might experience as a woman allows you to speak with authority on other forms of marginalization.
Your language matters.
Folks sewing button-fronts shirts are not all “sewing for her man.” People wearing dresses are not all women. Folks stitching up pregnancy and post-partum gear are not all mothers. People in bigger bodies aren’t all “curvy.” Don’t call us ladies; don’t use euphemisms when describing our bodies; don’t make assumptions about our genders, pronouns, partnered status, or parental circumstances or aspirations.
You are already excluding us.
Every pattern company has to choose a size range, so by definition every pattern company has to exclude many people and demographics. However, due to the nature of our society, which privileges thinness, straightness, and cisgenderness, pattern companies are much more likely to exclude folks who are fat, queer, and trans or gender non-conforming. You might protest here: “But I didn’t mean to be exclusionary! I don’t have prejudice!” What I’d like pattern companies to learn is that often, the impact of your choices matters a lot more than the intent. You didn’t mean to exclude fat folks, you just used the pattern drafting resources already available to you (which almost exclusively cater to “straight” sizes); you made things that you would want to wear (as a thin person); you made things in sizes the market already promised would sell (because capitalism is predicated on cultivating aspirational desires, and in our society thinness is aspirational and fatness is not). You don’t know much about how gender non-conforming people might use sewing to affirm their genders and presentations (because the world at large tells you we’re abnormal); you don’t use visibly queer or trans models (because you’re afraid of alienating your “normal” audience); you gesture towards queer inclusion but don’t make an effort to use gender-neutral language (because big parts of this world feel more comfortable in their binary gender role niches). The choices you make exist in context. We’re not asking you to go back in time and make different choices, but to be honest and reflective about the way those past choices have and do exclude queer, trans, and fat folks — and about what small steps you can take to do better now.
Don’t tell us how we should experience our bodies.
As folks who are fat, queer, and gender non-conforming, we relate to and understand our bodies in complex and myriad ways. We are not that concerned with being perceived as “beautiful”; our daily concerns are about the violence of a healthcare system that doesn’t care if we die, about governments that want us to have no legal rights to affirm our genders, about violations to our bodily integrity, privacy, and kinships in large and small ways on a daily basis. Don’t give us platitudes about the beauty of all bodies; don’t give us advice about being confident in our skin. From folks who experience thin, cis, straight privilege, such input can only come off as patronizing.
Similarly, don’t assume we hate ourselves and our bodies. We don’t give a fuck if your pattern is “slimming,” “flattering,” “forgiving,” or “hides problem areas.” Our bodies are not problems; our bodies do not need forgiveness. We don’t give a fuck about your heteronormative and binary ideas of gender. We can make whatever we want with whatever gender we have. Let us decide for ourselves how our bodies and our clothing relate to masculinity or femininity or both or neither.
We gave you body positivity.
Before you gush about how sewing make you love yourself, think about what bodies you really value. Body positivity came from the fat acceptance movement, which pushes for the liberation those bodies most systemically discriminated against (you know, not thin women who have a belly roll when they bend over). By embracing its watered-down tenets (self-love even if you’ve got a stretch mark or two) without actively pushing against the systemic discrimination of fat people, you’re simply capitalizing on the work of the more marginalized. What bodies do you serve in your size range? In your tester pool? In your models? In your staff? In your social media?
We’re watching and we expect better.
The sewing community has an inclusivity problem. Again and again, in posts, pattern releases, hashtag challenges, and media features, we see the same bodies, the same narratives, the same assumptions. We spend our time calling out companies that tell us fat bodies are too difficult, challenges that exclude plus-size makers and patterns, magazines and podcasts that ignore queer voices, discussions left and right that make incorrect assumptions about who we are, who we love, and how we understand our bodies. We carefully compose our words to avoid offending and receive pearl-clutching and defensiveness in return. We notice when folks learn and do better. We want to give our money to companies that want it and show us they want it. Will that be you?
We have expertise to offer.
Listen to me: most of what we’re taught about bodies, gender, and sexuality is wrong, incomplete, and defined by the fatphobic, transphobic, sexist, homophobic society we live in. It takes a lot to unlearn. We don’t ask for perfection or for you to say the right thing every time. What we do ask is that you listen when we tell you that what you say and do harms us and try to do better.
Unsure of where to start or why folks in the community are upset? Sit back, read, and truly listen. Dwell in your discomfort for a while. Try to identify areas where you have more to learn and seek out resources.
Interested in improving the fit of your patterns? Make sure your tester pool truly and deeply represents the range of measurements covered by your sizes. Wanting to develop more inclusive patterns, social media, blog content, and branding? Hire folks from various axes of marginalization as consultants (or, better yet, full-time staff). Hot tip: I’m available to hire as a consultant, and I bet other sewists would be up for it if you approach them and offer fair compensation.
Offer a service other than patterns and wondering how you can be inclusive? Work on making your space safer by moderating comments, developing commenting guidelines, and making specific, deliberate, and public statements about the importance of inclusion. Educate yourself and your staff about unconscious bias and make it clear that discrimination and microaggressions are not welcome within the public and private spaces of your business.
Want to show your appreciation to those whose words teach you something new? Consider dropping them a few bucks (my Ko-fi) or reposting their words with full credit — and enthusiastic support! — on your social media. Back them up if your exposure brings them hate. Follow and engage with a diverse range of makers (consider following SewQueer to find new folks!)
We’re honestly pretty fucking great.
Because we’re constantly forced to reinvent narratives of our own lives in order to survive, we challenge established ideas of how we should live and move in this world. Our presence in the sewing world makes it a better and more inclusive place, and we deserve respect in turn.