Nonbinary flattering (the not as fun kind)

I don’t think a lot of nonbinary people dress in a flattering way.

Specifically, I don’t think a lot of nonbinary people dress in a flattering way by the standards of our ciscentric, binarist society, because our genders don’t match what would be considered most “flattering” for our bodies. Wherever we find ourselves in the gender nebula, unless our preferred expression dovetails nicely with the gender we were originally assigned, you tend to hear the same sort of thing:

“But you look so much better when you’re not dressed like… that. That’s not very flattering.”

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So what does flattering even mean? We hear it all the time. “Flattering styles for every body type!” Flattering is what’s appealing to the eye, true – there’s a reason why most people cringe at certain colors or color combinations. But “flattering”, like fashion and manners and music, isn’t a fixed point, but has changed over history to accommodate the aesthetic standards of the times and cultures. The act of assembling a flattering outfit is somewhere between drudgery and illusion, as you assess the body’s deviances from our ideal of beauty – its flaws, we say, like a large bust or belly rolls or too-broad shoulders – and carefully curate a selection of clothing pieces that, through optical illusion, will minimize these deviances in the viewer’s eye so as to present the body of the person you’re dressing as closest to the ideal body as you can manage. The actual nitty-gritty of what is considered flattering changes over time, but the nature of this process stays the same.

And that ideal nonbinary body? For a long time in Western cultures, androgyny was marked not by absence but by presence, and figures who were neither male nor female entirely shapeshifted, gendershifted in a body beyond mortal understanding, or had sex characteristics of both male and female sexes:


(Hello, Hermaphroditus.)

Now the pendulum has swung the other way, and to the extent that we imagine an ideal nonbinary body, it’s slender, flat-chested, slim-hipped, tall, short-haired.


(Three out of five? The big ol’ belly probably disqualifies me.)

Whatever the ideal nonbinary body is, I’m pretty sure I don’t have it.


I don’t have a good answer for who I am, gender-wise, other than Not Cis. When I first tentatively came out, I parceled out my days by pronoun, trying to enforce some kind of structure onto the gender chaos in my head: today I’m he, I’m male. Tomorrow I’m she, I’m female. Yesterday I was they, I’m neither. Now that I’ve learned to stop worrying and love the genderfluidity, I’m much more relaxed about pronouns and presentation and a lot less curious about what particular vector I occupy on any particular day. Today’s gender? A binder under a crop top, a little bit muscle-tee-boi. Platform heels with rolled-up bootcut men’s jeans. Pronouns? Guess. Flattering? Probably not.

But why play their game if their rules mean that you’re never going to win?

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Some folks have to play. “Flattering” means passing, means survival, a skill honed to the edge of a switchblade by necessity, and I gladly do what I can to help my brothers, sisters, siblings. But I have the luck and privilege to be able to opt out of flattering, and I’m holding the door open for anyone else who wants to step through with me.

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Stay tuned for all sorts of unflattering clothes, possibly including a pair of dungarees.


OUTFIT DETAILS: Shirt, Wet Seal, possibly was not a crop top before my sister got her hands on it. Binder, GC2B. Jeans, thrifted. Shoes, JC Play by Jeffrey Campbell. Earrings, mine. Necklace, Antidote.

If you’re interested in anti-flattering from a fat activist perspective, I recommend the Militant Baker’s post on it as a starter.


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