When I consider the most memorable instances of fat-calling (that is, the public declarations of anti-fat bias that follow so many people of size day in, day out) from my life, I often remember a father of two who I collided with on a Majorcan beach. He held a child in each of his hands but still paused to take me in. I don’t know if his instinct was to apologise, as people typically do when they accidentally knock into strangers. However, I cannot help but assume that it was the sight of me — the weight of me — that stopped him from doing so.
"Vaca bruta," he muttered violently. "Stupid cow."
Immediately following this insult, one of the man’s children giggled gleefully while the other looked at me in utter confusion. I was left open-mouthed; not because I’d never been called a "cow" before but because it was such a blatant display of prejudicial education. That man clearly thought that fat people were repulsive. He also clearly thought it acceptable to teach his children to believe the same.
Seven years later, "cow" remains the most popular insult hurled my way in public (and on the internet too, actually). I get called a "cow" far more regularly than a "pig" or a "fat bitch" or a "landwhale" or a "lard bucket". I get called a "cow" and then told I am also smelly and dirty. People do not hesitate to shout about how I "take up too much space". Some like to suggest that I consider "moving back to the farm".
As with any other fat-call, there is something fairly dehumanising about being compared to cattle; about being reminded that so many humans continue to believe bodies like mine are unworthy of basic respect or courtesy. As with any other fat-call, however, there exists the possibility of reclamation. We can turn each and every fatphobic slur into something beautiful, if and when we have the emotional capacity and desire to do so.
Autumn/winter style reports might seem like an unlikely source for the reframing of fatphobia in our personal lives but as the temperatures begin to drop each year, one particular trend can serve as a vessel for precisely that: cow print. To the average straight-size fashionista, cow print is very likely just another cute thing to add to the sartorial repertoire. Cows are adorable, after all, and black and white is a timeless combo if ever there was one.
For the plus-size among us, however, cow print can be something else entirely. It can become a way to acknowledge that, yes, many individuals do think of fatties as "cows" but no, we do not have to give a singular damn.
Cow print clothing and accessories have been on my radar since 2019. It was a photo of digital creator Lydia Okello that first alerted me to the existence of this glorious aesthetic. In an Instagram snap, Okello wore a cow print jacket. They accompanied the look with dark sunglasses and a striking short back and sides ‘do.
Okello’s imagery has long been an inspiration to me but there was something about that particular photo that had me coming back to their grid multiple times a day (and, admittedly, which prompted me to purchase exactly the same jacket). They looked powerful but also kind of done. A "not taking any shit" vibe permeated their stance and visage, and I couldn’t help but think that the cow print was the thing tying it all together; a not-so-subtle pushback against the haters who believe that comparing a fat person to a cow is undeniably clever or hilarious.
Since first stumbling upon Okello’s OOTD pic, I’ve been blessed to see many other fat beauties proudly rocking all things vaca. "I’m not going to lie, I love wearing cow (and other animal) print clothing," says queer, plus-size fashion student Emma Ilka Armstrong. "I definitely feel empowered when wearing it, so I could imagine this being my mind saying being called a cow is not a bad thing."
"I myself love cows so much," she jokes. "They’re smart, lovely and, might I say, really freaking cool? If we look at it from that point of view, who wouldn’t want to be a cow?"
Of course, there are plenty of fat consumers (much like thin ones) who will have picked up a cow print ensemble simply because they like the look of it. Fat people should not feel obligated to "make a statement" or "powerfully reclaim an insult" every time we step outdoors. Sometimes we just want to wear clothes and not think about them: a simple, everyday act that so many of us are not privy to because we have long been conditioned to think of our bodies and what we put on them at every moment of every day.
"I just want to wear what I feel comfortable in," muses Armstrong when asked whether she has ever considered cow print clothing as a symbol for fat liberation. "If I’m 'making a statement', that’s just a plus. I want future generations to grow up knowing that if they leave the house in something they feel good in, they won’t be judged for it."
I do not doubt that a lot of the plus-size cow print imagery I’ve seen over the last few years was not created with the intention of being overtly rebellious or rule-breaking. Regardless, though, my heart has been warmed each and every time I have seen a fat individual dressing loudly and proudly in this black and white aesthetic. For some of them, making a statement might have been intentional; for others, wholly irrelevant. Through this print, however, we can ultimately embrace the cow we have long been told we are.