Friday, December 22, 2006

There's No Right Answer to - Does This Make Me Look Fat?

I've spent the past few days as the guest of my friend Em as my boyfriend's family is in town, and there just isn't room to accommodate all of us in our cramped little studio apartment. Hence my days have been connectivity-challenged, and my access to the internet has been sporadic at best.

A post has been long overdue, especially since I wanted to make it topical and coincide with this post that Rimi wrote; however, Rimi has moved on to other things. Regardless, I shall pontificate on all things porky and lardy.

When I first moved to the US, I developed a most unhealthy interest in experimenting with the calorie-laden fat-bombs that are strewn across the minefield that is the average American university cafeteria. Muffins and croissants for breakfast? Sure! Nachos and enchiladas with extra cheese for lunch? Why not! A giant portion of cheesecake for dessert? Absolutely! And then there was pizza delivered at home, a midnight burger run and bags and bags of potato chips. All of this washed down with large sized glasses of regular Coke.

Within a year I developed a virulent aversion to most of these things and to this day cannot bear to consume either cheesecake, fast food pizza or enchiladas. By then though, I had been packing in the pounds. I'm still way below the average American weight (in case you guys are wondering, admit it, you are), but I'm chunky by Indian standards at this point.

Over the years, it's been a struggle to shrug that first weight gain off. That struggle is compounded during periods of intense academic activity like the last few months have been, where the only exercise has been my fingers tapping away at the keyboard. As I resume my formerly physically active self, the dilemma for me, as reflected in Rimi's post, is shared by many, many other women.

What to wear, and what not to wear. All of us wonder about this from time to time, but for those of us with some extra, ahem, junk in the trunk, this becomes a very complex trade-off between looking chic, not looking dowdy, and at the same time smoothening out the wobbly bits, covering the bulges, and achieving a sleek silhouette. Not as simple as it sounds. Well, it doesn't even sound simple.

After emerging from many a wardrobe disaster, and many a quizzical eye wondering if that really is a pea in the pod, and not the metabolic nightmare that is my abdomen fat, I think I've achieved the Zen realization that there are some essential principles to building a wardrobe and dressing in ways that makes your weight your friend, not enemy. Without further ado, I'll lay it right out (oh, and the reason why I provided all that background to my weight gain was to serve as a dire warning to all who make their way to this land of whipped topping and high fructose corn syrup - lay off the cheesecake! Freshmen fifteen is no joke)

First, pay attention to the fabric. Neither should it be so stiff and heavy that it creates a poufy and ballooned out effect, nor so slinky, thin and tight as to highlight every roll of fat that exists on your body.

Best friends: medium to thick silk with lining, matte jersey, soft cotton, and a good quality polyester, rayon or nylon blend that feels substantial and flowy at the same time, soft wool, cashmere.

Worst enemies: Satin (just say no!), very thin rayon, nylon or polyester fabric, brocade, organza, stiff cotton, and thick wool knits like boucle.

Second, the cut. Many of us harbor the illusion that if we can only minimize the distance between our skin and our outfit to minus infinity, we'd look magically slimmer. Which leads to the sorry sight of chunky girls spilling out of their tight jeans creating the muffin-top effect, wearing the tightest of tops, wearing blouses so tight across the back that the back fat groan in agony.

No, no and a hundred times no. Just skim the body, don't hug it too tight and choke it. Don't wear a sack either. A well-tailored outfit is half the battle won, so even it takes a thousand trips to the fitting or trial rooms to find the perfect fit, do not give up. And of course, women in India are so lucky to have the services of tailors at such reasonable prices. Most of them would do fine alterations and modifications to store bought dresses, salwar kameez and blouses as well.

Finally, the design. Women know that there are certain well-established problem areas in the body, which become the repositories of the most stubborn and unseemly fat. Let's take an inventory of these parts - The lower segment of the upper arm, the area between underarm and the boobs, neck, abdomen, butt and thighs. Of course, the intensity of the problem would differ from woman to woman, and some women may have beautiful arms but jelly thighs, or a lovely butt but a large neck.

Thus it makes sense to speak of design elements appropriate for each problem area.

Underarm and boobs: This is one of those areas that you wouldn't normally think of, except when buying a sleeveless blouse when all its horrors are brought forth. Now there are sleeveless tops and sleeveless tops, and some are cut to cover this area much better than others. I've found that a sleeveless top with a deep round, bateau, or scoop neck, which is cut to fit snug on the arms is perfect for tucking in this fat.

Neck: Only one advice - lose the turtleneck (or polo, or whatever you choose to call it). Lower necklines are much better and do not make you look like you don't have any neck.

Upper Arm: No poofy sleeves. A short-sleeve, three-quarter sleeve or full-sleeve works much better than sleeveless. Though if you are going with any of the former, wear a nice deep neck to counter the granny look.

Abdomen: This is where the Bridget Jones approach works best - granny underwear. Something that nicely keeps all those bulging bits in check, minimizing the bulge, though not entirely eliminating it. Make use of control-top hosiery wherever available - otherwise, a hideously ugly high-waisted panty can do the job just as well.

Now that we've worked on some hidden controls, let's look at how we can create the wee bit illusion of a waist. An A-line dress just slightly nipped at the waist works fabulously. So does a wrap dress. For a kameez, go with the lovely long A-line shaped ones, or a nicely fitted angarakha style. For heaven's sake lose that godawful short kurti. It flatters no one, and makes even the slimmest woman look like she needs liposuction.

Butt and Thighs: Oh lord, we've really hit a roadblock now haven't we? Quite literally. Things are pretty grim here, but not entirely hopeless. For starters, if you wear a skirt or a dress, try to stick to a length that hovers around your knees, either just above, at the knee or just below. Anything higher, and you're needlessly airing your deepest troubles, anything lower, you've aged yourself by at least a decade.

Sari wearers get off pretty easily here, just be carefully with the fabric (nothing too thick or thin), and drape the pallu so that you get a really steep angle. Now what exactly do I mean? This for starters provides a clue. See how the drape on Sridevi's sari is brought up from almost knee level?

Now for the worst nightmare of the chunky girl - finding a pair of jeans or pants that fit well and do not accentuate the body fat. I've never been a huge fan of pants or jeans, and given that the LA weather allows me to get away with it, I almost always wear skirts and dresses. On colder days I wear them with tights to keep warm. But most girls are not like me, and many are actually deeply in love with their jeans.

I can sort of guess what might possibly work in picking a decent pair of jeans and pants, but don't take my word for it, because there's no personal experience to back this up. First, I think both a high waist an a low-rise would be extremely unflattering. What would work best is a pair of jeans or pants that covers all of the hip bone and rises up to the point where the waist is dissolving into the hips.

Next, do not listen to the fashionistas. Kate Moss has the body of a 14 year old boy, of course she can wear skinny jeans and not look like sausage casing. You on the other hand are blessed neither with dynamite metabolism, nor are mentally challenged enough to blow that Columbian slimming powder so beloved of Moss. In any case, the skinnies are not a good fit, neither are the tapered jeans. The boot cut, straight leg and flares are all much more flattering.

Well then, this is as didactic as you'd ever see me get. But most clothing advice for the curvy girl invariably advices her to dress like a dowdy, sex-less church lady. And that takes away all the fun of dressing up, the endless possibilities of glamourous, romantic, bohemian, or edgy. Ultimately that is what it really boils down to, the comfort and joy that we take in our clothes.

Despite all the do's and dont's I listed, I can also unequivocally say that if you love it, wear it, and do not give a damn about what anyone might think about the outfit. I got my best inspiration from all the well-fed, robust Greek girls I saw on my summer vacation trips. They frolicked around the beaches in their bikinis, swimming, sunbathing, having a blast with their friends.

Most of my American friends, on the other hand, put their bodies under a microscope in the fitting room when they go swimsuit shopping, agonizing over every little bump in the body. They think they are not worthy of wearing bikinis if they don't have bodies like models. The Greek girls though, just pick the most flattering and comfortable bikini, and revel in summer fun, not caring of anyone's disapproving looks.