on the escape and possibility of fatshion drawings

When I was seven, there was a tiny store in my neighbourhood that my friends and I loved to visit. It sold all kinds of novelty goods—cute Korean stationery sets too unbearably pretty to use, vintage toys wrapped in brittle yellowing plastic, jewelled stud stickers that you can buy in pairs you can stick on your earlobes for the day, packs of knock-off trading cards that all kids had a towering stack of to play a game called teks. But what I coveted the most from that shop was the book of Sailor Moon paper dolls they sold for P20.00 (the equivalent of four days’ allowance, and therefore expensive). It featured all the Sailor Scouts and included their uniform, their weapon, and two outfits, shoes and accessories. The cardboard and ink smell of it is so distinct that I’m sure a mere whiff would take me back to those afternoons when I’d pore over the details of their outfits—the folds and the flounces and the delicate expressiveness of their hands— for hours.

My love for paper dolls—mostly the clothes, really—go way back. My favourite volume of the children’s encyclopedia is the one that included a 50’s style paper doll they suggest I trace and cut out. But what I really loved were the drawings of well-coordinated dresses complete with matching hats and shoes, how they rendered pattern and plaid and the lines that indicated how it draped and cut. In Art class in second grade I was ecstatic when my teacher taught us how to make paper dolls out of file folders. I grew a mild obsession that lasted for the rest of the year, buying cheap folders and lamenting at how I’d ruin each one from frequent pencilling and erasing as I strived to make the dolls and clothes match the frustratingly clear image in my head that failed to match what I drew.

On Sundays after lunch at my grandma’s house I would go up the creaky stairs and often flipped through the dusty stacks of Betty and Veronica digests with the multi-page outfit spreads, 80s Vogue, Sears Catalogs and Simplicity patterns. At first I wasn’t really looking at the models, but seeing clothes on actual people, I then began to imagine myself and how I’d want to look like and what I wanted to wear, which, even back when I was young, was starting to become a source of frustration. By the time I was nine I’ve outgrown the teen’s section. But then again, in Manila, clothing is sized very small.

I had a lot of ideas for outfits. In the stories I tried to write in sixth grade, I often described the characters’ clothes down to the colour details of their skirt and the heights of their shoes and not advance the plot anywhere else. The story began and ended with the clothes. I loved indulging my interest in fashion more as a concept than in actual clothes, partly because imagining them feels more infinite than my reality—a reality where I was made to wear a really frumpy flower girl dress with ridiculously huge puffed sleeves and peach satin accents and an equally ridiculous matching hat with netted peach flowers and fake seed pearls that smelled like fresh paint and was too small for my head (ha, can you tell I resent this dress SO MUCH?!). Or a reality that had me red-faced and fighting tears in fitting rooms in frustration about the scant collection of plus size clothing available that I actually wanted to wear.

Fashion drawings were an escape, but it was not until the mid-2000s that I actually considered drawing fat folks in awesome clothes. Discovering zines, feminism, riot grrrl, fat acceptance and the body liberation movement propelled me to rethink my love of clothing concepts and designs in terms of my own body, of bodies similar to mine, and how clothing becomes even more of a statement when fat people wear it. Even more when fat people of colour wear it. In my images, I want to explore the breadth (pun intended) and depth of beauty possible that fashion/fatshion drawings and illustrations can express as my process expands to include research in rendering fabrics, weaving, stitching and clothing history. But perhaps more than that, in the true spirit of my art practice, it’s an ongoing conversation with my younger self, making up for lost time, transforming fashion drawing from an escape to a possibility. There is a huge power in creating representations for oneself. I think drawing fat people of colour in cool outfits made me look and see myself better—though my wardrobe is hardly close to the awesome pattern mixing explosion my illustrations are (it’s getting there!), I’m actually more comfortable with the way I dress.

Keet Geniza is an artist born and raised in Manila. Her art practice that centers the intertwined processes of making, shifting and loving as a queer, brown, pinay femme immigrant through representational art and illustrations, comics, writings and zines. Her practice facilitates her ongoing quest to untangle and reconcile the roots of past woundings, explore and transform her engagement with solitude and invisibility, and navigate the cusps between personal heritage and narrative reinvention. Her works and sketchblog can be found on makeshiftlove.com and her Instagram @makeshiftlove. She currently lives and works in Toronto.

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