Thursday, December 9

Fatty Scavangers

Okay, so I'm operating on not too much sleep and a bit too much cherry yoghurt, but I wanted to get some thoughts down here on being a fatty and a thrifter. I just spoke with Charlotte Cooper for her super amazing phd research, and, when I was talking about my background I realised exactly why scavanging and thrifting form such a huge part of my identity.

I grew up in a pretty poor household, as previously discussed, and when I was younger we never really had the money to shop in "proper" shops. This used to irk me constantly, as where I grew up (bar the estates in the town) was generally an affluent town. This meant that the kids that I went to school with never really seemed to want for anything, and always got given money to shop with (I had a ever dwindling paper round that paid me about £10 a month).

At the weekends, my dad Steve and I used to go around all the charity shops in town. There are about 8 within a fifteen minute bus ride. We'd get a day ticket on the bus, and travel between all the hot spots for second hand shops, and then also sometimes big markets with budget clothes resale stalls. Also, on bank holidays there used to be an awesome car boot sale in a Waitrose car park (it shut because it "degraded" the area! Oh Surrey, how I don't miss you). These were the only resources I had available to me, and so I would spend hours in them. Whenever we went to a new area, we'd hunt out new shops, and start rummaging.

Mostly it'd be full of mediocre things (they still are), but sometimes you'd find a gem at the bottom of a 50p bin. I wish I had my family photos with me now to show you some of the horrible things I acquired and treasured - a zig zag patterned fleece jacket, neon green trainers, orange dungarees. Everyone at school thought I was a weirdo (I guess I was one), but finding these obscure unusual items gave me a way to escape from my background. I could be anyone I wanted, as long as I could fashion a "costume" from a 20p bin. It was a challenge that started my obsession with clothes, and which spurred what later became my body positivism. I think this is why I find it hard to write a guide to thrifting (which a few people have suggested I post) - because largely what I find, I've found through being incredibly stubborn and willing to root through bargain bin after bargain bin, and to hunt even after hours of disappointments - because realistically that's all I could do given those circumstances.

There are other things I found as well, books, for instance. I remember my library used to sell off their old books in a 50p a carrier bag sale (whatever you could fit in all came to 50p!). They did the same with VHS, which is how I discovered world cinema as a slightly precocious 16 year old (well, that and going up to the Prince Charles Cinema in London for £1.50 matinees, which I could travel to for free as my dad works on South West Trains). I found a copy of Shadow on a Tightrope for 99p in a charity shop, for instance, and later Fat Is a Feminist Issue. I found Blondie and David Bowie LPs, and fashioned myself as a second hand glam kid ultimately (after a bad period spent in goth-land). Later my scavanging became online scavanging - hopping from place to place, forums, blogs, communities and profiles to scour for new friends and resources. My feminism, my fat activism, my friends, my boyfriends, my band, my heroes and my support network grew out of being an internet nerd, and through this online scavanging as an extension to my physical scavanging.

This evolved into vintage shopping, ebay hunting, clothes swapping, bookmooch and online trading. Most everything I own comes from an obscure source - a flea market on holiday, a vintage store in a tiny nook of London, a charity shop I visited when seeing an online friend in real life, and so on. Every item comes with a story, and can be shaped into a new story. In turn I pursued a career in archiving because of these stories, and because of these amazing objects that connect to so many different histories and people. I guess thrifting for me is a way to create spaces, people, stories and identities that I never really had access to - and in doing so to deconstruct them perhaps. This is why I love clothes, and why I'm constantly changing/trading/swapping mine - because in doing so, I can play with a new self, and I can connect with so many different people.

I guess I love that through thrifting or scavanging, in any format, you can find yourself in a million other people's possessions, stories and blogs/communities, and also you can find the space to create a new self or identity through the remnants of others.

And on the note of clothes, here's a quote by Iris Marion Young, in her essay 'Women Recovering Our Clothes', that makes me think about how innovative and revolutionary this sort of fashion play can be:
"One of the privileges of femininity in rationalised instrumental culture is an aesthetic freedom, the freedom to play with shape and colour on the body, to don various styles and looks, and through them exhibit and imagine unreal possibilities. Women often actively indulge in such theatrical imagining... Such female imagination has liberating possibilities because it subverts, unsettles the order of respectable, functional rationality in a world where that rationality supports domination. The unreal that wells up through imagination always creates the space for a negation of what is, and thus the possibility of alternatives."
from On Female Body Experience; "Throwing Like a Girl" and Other Essays.

This to me, is what is so exciting about a life spent scavanging. Kx


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  2. Wow, this is an amazing post! I have always admired your style, but am only recently discovering your insights into fashion, class, and fat politics. I grew up poor in a relatively affluent area as well (my dad was a truck driver and my mom was in the restaurant biz--weird hours, mediocre pay). Most of my classmates wore designer brands and it was a big deal. My mom was pretty into maxing out her credit cards to pay for nice clothes for my brother, sister, and I, in an effort to "pass" as middle class. It wasn't until high school that I started hitting up the thrift stores to pull together a vintage/"darksider"(goth wasn't a popular term where I went to school)/vamp persona for myself, and I always remember it being about the agency of dressing how I wanted to, rather than a necessity because we were poor (at that point, my mom was in college and raising three kids alone).

    Anyway, all that to say that a lot of your insights resonate deeply for me. Also: archivists rock! I am in library school and doing an internship where I am re-boxing old GLBTQ and feminist periodicals at a queer library and it's the most gratifying job I have ever had.

    (lowbudgetdiva on LJ)
    (edited to correct spelling of my own name (durr))

  3. That sounds very familiar to me too! My parents were both always obsessed with "passing" as well - something which I think I still internalise to a certain extent even though I shouldn't.

    And your internship sounds AMAZING. I work in a regional film archive at the minute, and though I love it in many ways, I'd love to work in a more LGBTIQ space which was more engaged with my politics (my office is in a record office, which is so so conservative and white/middle class/completely unaware of any other identities). And libraries are very close to my heart too :)