Big Fat Flea in NYC Tomorrow!

Last year I went to the Big Fat Flea in NYC for research, fat community, and, of course, shopping. I mentioned the Flea in my post on fat clothing swaps, but I wanted to make a separate post about the Big Fat Flea to remind anyone in the NYC area to GO! GO! GO! It’s such an amazing experience and is so affordable and there is so much great stuff. Nothing is over $10, and admission is also only $10. Located at NYU Law School (40 Washington Sq South), the event begins at 10:30 and goes til 6 pm.

Flea volunteers model donated clothing, via bigfatflea.tumblr.com

I attended the flea last year, and after everything was over I escaped to a cafe in Chelsea with my friend and Flea volunteer Jenn Leyva, where I interviewed her about her experience volunteering and shopping at the Big Fat Flea for her first time.

Me, holding up some sort of product called ‘Blondie’ at the cafe where Jenn and I met up. Whatever, it was cute.

Over lattes and croissants we spent the first several minutes of conversation going over the pre-Flea volunteer coordination details, and Jenn’s specific experience being in charge of the masculine clothing area (heads up, fatties: BFF aims to cater to all, with both masculine clothing and clothing 5x+). We talked about the importance of staying gender-neutral and queer-friendly and body-positive, and how adept the organizers of the Flea are at these things because they are enmeshed in their community and take great pains to make sure politics turn to practice.

Jenn Leyva about to say something smart.

Near the end of Jenn’s summary of her experience, I think we got into some really important things that are potentially useful to others who are interested in going to the Flea (which I highly suggest you do if you can!) and that relate to politics of fat fashion, accessibility, and fat community building and resource sharing:

Big Fat Flea offers a chance to see other fat people in a fat-positive environment

Jenn: “More than anything though, I think that like, I ended up staring at everyone…Whenever I see a fat body in public, and there’s like, tank tops and exposed flesh—I’m just drawn to it, because it looks like me and I don’t see it all that often… I like being in a space where everyone gets it. It’s … healing.”

Big Fat Flea offers solidarity/camaraderie

 Margitte: “Does one moment stick out with you…?”

Jenn: “I ran into some people that I met from the internet and got to see in real life for the first time … I’m like ‘oh, hi. OH I KNOW YOU!’ …I feel like so much of my internet life is so separate from my real life. And it is so rewarding and satisfying to find that a good chunk of my internet identity is not just on the internet—it’s real and it’s substantive and it means something to someone other than just me. I’m not the only one pouring their hearts and souls into the internet and other people respond [to what I write] and it means something to them… That’s why I show up. The clothes are fantastic and really important—

Margitte: “But it’s more about making those IRL connections with these people that you talk to all the time but never in person.”

“YES.”

My internet friend Zoe, who lives in Australia and traveled to NYC for the Flea last year — she blogs at cutselvage.tumblr.com.

“There’s something so amazing—especially with fat bodies—just like, the 3-Dness of experiencing—

“Yeah, the way your flesh wiggles!”

“We’re used to seeing user pics of each other and just—they’re usually front on (unless you’re looking at Fat From the Side or something) but it’s just so amazing to actually see the whole body and, like, the hugs—“

“Oh my god I love the hugs. Where my arms don’t reach all the way around and theirs don’t reach all the way around—”

“And it just makes me want to hug even more!”

“I tried on something that was too small for me and got half stuck in it and no one was like ‘Oh girl you need to go on a diet!’ Everyone was like ‘oh bummer that should fit it’s SO CUTE’ and then it turned into ‘who is this size?’—”

“Yeah, someone needs to have this!”

On shopping with non-fat friends vs. shopping at the Flea

“When I was going shopping a lot with my non-fat friends like, first of all, they did not even care to go into the plus-size shops, right? Let alone like actually being actively interested in what you’re doing. And it’s even worse in places where you can both shop because plus sizes are so segregated. It’s like ‘okay I’m gonna go in my corner’—“

(Laughs) “Behind the luggage!”

“Yeah, ‘you go wherever you’re gonna go’—“

“’You have the entire second floor’—“

“‘And I have this closet over here’. Yeah, and even with Forever 21 which I think is doing some really great stuff with plus sizes, it’s still separate when you go in. So you’re like ‘alright friends, have fun, I will see you later.’ So you don’t get that same shopping experience that you would have otherwise.”

“…the point of this little tirade is that, I didn’t get any of that [at the Flea]. Even when I was around people who were clearly smaller than me, maybe the 10-12 size large folks, there was no shame—”

“Yeah, there was no recoil—”

“No, yeah, no. It was just like me looking at your fat inner arms with glee and awkward interest!”

“So don’t be alarmed if Jenn is staring at your body, she is in awe!”

“I did not come here, and other people who came from faraway places did not come here, just because there was gonna be a lot of clothes in our size. It’s definitely the impetus, but the fact that [the Flea] is built around a politic that speaks to us, that means we’re gonna be around like-minded fat people—that’s why you come … and the event does a really good job at making that clear.”

“Yeah and part of that is their volunteer training, and their advertising, and the fact that they use the word ‘fat’… and part of it is that the funding goes to NOLOSE.”

On fatshion, access, and capitalism (and why Big Fat Flea can be simultaneously overwhelming and wonderful)

“You know a little bit about my work, and that I’m really interested in how community building happens around consumption in interesting ways that happen kind of outside of a traditional capitalist framework, right? Because like, we’ve talked about this before—

“Diet culture is a response to capitalism!”

“Right, and you posted this quote on your Tumblr before that was kind of like—“

“Oh, the heteronormativity stuff?”

“Yeah, where in order to show your political identity or alliances or whatever, you have to consume thing to do that. And I think that’s a major criticism of fatshion. But, I think it’s really interesting when we come together away from that to—and obviously we are buying these clothes that are from places like Forever 21, Lane Bryant—but we’re doing it in a way that is outside of that—

“Yeah and all the money—$20,000 or something like that—none of that is going to Lane Bryant. Lane Bryant can suck it.”

“Lane Bryant already got their money the first time around. It’s just interesting what marginalized communities do when they don’t have access to things, what they do to get access to those things. Not everybody [at the Flea] can afford a Lane Bryant dress any other time… so [I see the Flea as] the community coming together to spread access around.”

“Yeah.”

“Anyway, so, my question has to do with, because you were here all day, and I talked to someone who said they didn’t have, you know, the emotional energy to be here at the beginning of the day, to witness ‘what lack of access does to people’—so can you talk about [that]? What you witnessed here throughout the day?”

“So the things that were interesting this year is that they had a $25 30-minute power hour where, for the first 30 minutes, it was just you and 25 other people, and you had first access to everything. That was pretty calm. Well okay, so the first people who were walking in were just eyeing everything they wanted—a lot of the evening wear and workwear and nicer stuff went at the beginning. Which makes sense to me because why would you pay the extra money if you weren’t searching for something in particular, like if you weren’t just casually browsing… but towards the end of that they announced there were five or ten minutes left until everyone else was let in, that’s when it became kind of a scramble for everyone to get everything they wanted at once, to make sure you had everything you wanted to try on in your hands so no one else could take it.

At the front of the line to get into the Flea.

And then it it was noon and everyone else came in and it was just like holy fucking shit. It reminded me of one of those fancy bridal salons when they have their huge sample sales… I came here at 10:30 and some of my friends were already here [for a noon start time]… and then it was just like… people just buying so much clothing. Part of it is because it’s cheap, of course. I guess I would describe it as frazzled. It was a weird line of ‘I need to get everything I need’ but also community… so people were really grabby, like ‘this is mine’ until it didn’t fit them and then they turned super generous… it was a weird thing to watch, because people are in it for the community but also like… where else am I going to find an IGIGI dress for $10?… I had to take a long lunch to decompress, because it is so overwhelming… but people are so supportive. I think lack of access is a huge part of it, but it’s not the same as those bridal sales because there is still community going on, we care about each other… it is not standard operating procedure on so many levels.”

“I think it was also interesting to watch people buy winter clothes in May, when it’s a beautiful day outside… but someone buying a winter coat because it’s $10, and it’s going to be cold in six months. You’re going to need that coat in 6 months even if you don’t need it now. … And to be able to buy a winter coat, especially in a size 4 or 5x, because those are just so fucking hard to find. Like, once you size out of plus-size juniors (a Forever 21 3x), shit gets rough… to size out of that general area and find a winter coat for 10 bucks, that’s huge.”

“Yeah and there was a huge section of 4 & 5x+, right?”

“Yeah, there was as much 4, 5, & 6x stuff as there was masculine clothing… you just don’t find that anywhere else.”

The masculine area, where Jenn volunteered.

“That’s true. I mean I try not to forget about that… because it gets so much harder if you can’t even go to the lonely corner of Macy’s on the third floor by the bathroom, and the Flea offers a positive shopping experience for folks who can’t go into brick-and-mortar stores to shop.”

… 

“I think fat shopping needs to be explored because being fat takes the everydayness out of shopping. Like, even though the options are definitely expanding, it’s not like I can go into any mall and walk out with a full wardrobe—

(Laughs) “No. I was listening to Marianne Kirby and Lesley Kinzel do a fatcast and they were talking about plus-size shopping and they were talking about hoarding. I own over 100 dresses. This is absurd. I acknowledge this 100%… some of them I’ve made, some of them I’ve been gifted, some of them I thrift so it’s less of an expense thing, but like I don’t give away clothes and I am always shopping. I bought a cocktail dress today [for $10 at the Flea] and I have no cocktail dress event in the future planned. But I could have one, sometime, maybe in a month. And it can take more than a month to find a cocktail dress in my size. So I bought one now.

“Do you think the hoarding thing is a pattern you notice with other fat folks who care about fashion?”

“Yeah, I know it’s more than me. If not hoarding, then definitely… it’s more just like, there are articles of clothing I’m hesitant to give up even if I haven’t worn them in a long time because it’s difficult to replace them.”

“Even the most basic articles of clothing, for fat people, are not available to you at all times. … You do not know when you’re going to have access to something like this again [so you buy them if you can].”

“And if you want something that’s basic but not really shoddily made, that’s pretty hard.”

~

So, there you have it. I transcribed this conversation this afternoon, so if there are any typos I apologize. Many thanks to Jenn for agreeing to be interviewed! (For more info about her and her work, she blogs at fatsmartandpretty.tumblr.com.)

I wish everyone a happy and successful Flea tomorrow! I send my love from the west coast.

xo,

Margitte

One thought on “Big Fat Flea in NYC Tomorrow!

  1. Hey Margitte,

    I follow you on Tumblr just cause you’re awesome, but this was a great read. I actually just got home from this year’s Flea. I have to say, the new venue this year (twice the space, I think?) and the new layout have really taken this event to the next level. The hoarding concerns I get, you know (I bought a bag’s worth of stuff today, and I don’t “need” any of it, except you know, I do). Anyway, I went late today. I figured people were bringing new stuff in over the course of the day in any case, and I was going to try to reject that need to be “first in the door” just in case. I felt it, but I didn’t act on it–and that ended up being its own feeling of power.

    But I also think the new space/layout really reduced the moments of negativity and the grabbiness. More room to lay the clothes out didn’t really reduce the piles but it did allow people more space for discovery, and they didn’t “police” each table the way they’ve done in the past (full disclosure: I volunteered in that role last year; it was stressy), so everything felt more open. It made what is already a wonderful event even better.

    So if anyone reads this and is coming to future Fleas for the first time, take a deep breath and don’t feel like you have to be the first person banging down the doors to get in. There were tons of great items still available when I was leaving, today, and that was with only an hour or so to go.

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