Cat Polivoda introduces herself as a local fat feminist, shop owner and professional pool-party planner. Bubbly and effervescent in person, she offers illuminating, intelligent insight about one of her passions: fat activism. A born-and-bred Minnesotan, she started her career in New Orleans and recently returned to the metro area to open her brick-and-mortar shop, Cake Plus Size Resale – one of the best kept secrets in Twin Cities plus-size fashion.
Cat is a fierce fashionista. Her social media accounts are peppered with prints, patterns and fitted clothing. She shows up comfy in a sweatshirt dress and sneakers on Monday to do inventory, swaps out that attire for a tube top and a trendy trousers for Tuesday’s style sessions, and wows in a bright-orange maxi dress while participating in a Wednesday panel. But what stands out even more than the colors of her clothes are her deliberate efforts to make Cake Plus Size Resale a community space.
Offering a safe space to the plus-size community requires doing things differently. Some of this relates directly to the shopping experience. One of approximately 35 plus-size thrift shops in the country, Cake specializes in providing sizes XL to 4XL, and 5XL to 6XL when available. In the United States, plus sizes are usually denoted as size 14 and above, and are generally harder to find across all fashion brands.
As a result, Cat’s business has specifically designed the shop – from the placement of clothing racks to fitting room specs – around the bodies of its customers. “Here at Cake, plus sizes are the priority. Our fitting rooms are roomy. I make sure people can navigate through racks at the same time and no one is going to be uncomfortable,” she says. The décor also embraces this attitude: Body-positive art by local artists adorns the walls and comfortable, armless seating is sprinkled throughout the shop. Bucking the industry-standard sack-like, lumpy plus-size options, Cake makes sure to stay on top of contemporary looks so that customers have access to fashion that’s trendy and relevant. “It’s not just, ‘Grumble, grumble. I guess I’ll buy the one that looks the least bad,’” she says, sharing a normal plight of plus-size shoppers.
“Statistically, they say 67 percent of women [or people who wear women’s clothes] wear plus sizes. that’s like, majority fat people.”
Over the last 10 years, certain retailers have tried to make clothing options more inclusive. Brands such as Universal Standard, Asos Curve, Torrid and Eloquii are actively trying to serve the market, while Dia&Co offers a subscription service with styles and sizes that range from 12 and up. Unfortunately, the fashion industry at large still barely serves plus-size customers, despite a recent study noting that more than 68 percent of women [people who wear women’s clothing] identify as size 14 or above. In response to this data, designer and Project Runway host Tim Gunn contributed a scathing op-ed directed at the fashion industry, urging designers to make clothes for the modern woman. “Many designers – dripping with disdain, lacking imagination or simply too cowardly to take a risk – still refuse to make clothes for them,” he laments in the piece.
“It tells me that people are really hungry for these kinds of spaces. where people can be in a room…where most people look like you.”
While the shop is lined with affordable, fashionable resale clothing, Cat has also made Cake Plus Resale an anchor in serving the community through public events. Her most popular event to date is called Fat Splash, a summer pool party exclusively for plus-size people. Following the pleasant success of the first Fat Splash during the summer of 2018, Cat set out to host the party at a larger venue in 2019. “It was amazing,” Cat gushes. “There were 150 tickets, and in less than 12 hours, they were gone… So we set about planning a second one. Same time, same place, two weeks later,” she recalls. Her team was blown away when the second event sold out in less than an hour. “It tells me that people are really hungry for these kinds of spaces where people can be in a room…where most people look like you,” she says. The Cake team also co-hosts an annual plus-size burlesque show in the fall with the Rose Academy of Burlesque and partners with The Big Fat Super Swap four times a year.
In addition to providing community space and events, Cat and her team also work on building an accessible, welcoming business and platform in other ways: Cake’s Instagram stories always appear with meticulously-edited live captions; staff represent a range of body types; and they encourage naming preferred pronouns. These three elements are directly informed by the fat liberation movement, which is, in turn, directly informed by the disability and LGBTQ+ liberation movements.
“People will say, ‘Oh, no, no, no! You’re not fat, you’re beautiful.’ and I say, ‘Yeah, well, I’m both…thanks?’ I don’t have to be one or the other.”
Breaking all the rules that 1990s and 2000s teens were taught about body image while growing up, the fat liberation movement adds fuel to Cat’s fire in educating the world about why these previous lessons were toxic. In particular, she wants to do away with the assumption that thinness equals beauty. “People will say, ‘Oh, no, no, no! You’re not fat, you’re beautiful.’ and I say, ‘Yeah, well, I’m both…thanks?’ I don’t have to be one or the other,” she remarks, rolling her eyes. For those who are just stumbling upon terminology like “body positivity” or “fat liberation,” Cat’s website helps break it down with some simplicity. She recommends “5 easy starter lessons” and some basic resources to help understand the two relatively modern pushbacks on medical and societal perceptions of body size:
- Recognize that weight & health are not one-in-the same.
- Know that you are in charge of your body, not other people’s. When you harbor judgements about other people’s bodies, it negatively impacts you.
- Work to practice positive self talk in your life.
- Surround yourself with body positive media & messages.
- Advocate for equitable treatment of all people.
Most folks have been taught to see the word “fat” as a negative. Cat prefers a different approach: She intentionally reclaims the word by using it to describe herself. “I am who I am in large part to how I show up in the world, and my body is a part of that,” she says matter-of-factly. She explains that fatness is just another detail of diversity. As diversity, equity and inclusion efforts across the country strive to recognize intersectional identities that all exist at one time, such as race/gender/class/sexuality/(dis)ability, Cat points out that fatness is another identity that is often forgotten in that equation.
From her perspective, representation is critical. “For me, I think there should be more plus-size people everywhere. I want more fat people on stage, as CEOs – I want more fat people everywhere because I care about fat people in our community.” In particular, Cat and other fat activists recommend believing fat people when they talk about their experiences. Job discrimination, medical discrimination, education discrimination, bullying and routine rudeness happen to them on a daily basis, and it can be dehumanizing for friends and family to dismiss their experiences.
“fatphobia is something that can impact all people, but most directly impacts and endangers fat people.”
Cat dives more into the nuances of these topics in her podcast, Matter of Fat, which she co-hosts with friend and fellow fat activist, Saraya Boghani. Billed as a body positive podcast with Midwest sensibilities, the ladies highlight community voices with a special lens on body size, body positivity and fat liberation. Their philosophy on the topics they cover is relaxed. “We’re not here to say who is fat and who isn’t. We aren’t the ones who get to decide this. But we do want to talk about how we think about this and where we start to draw the lines,” they say. Now in their second season, two duo is tackling everything from Weight Watchers to Lindy West’s Shrill to burlesque in an effort to continue the dialogue and to challenge the assumptions the general public makes about fat people and their lives.
“I hope that what I’m doing can remind people that they’re just fine how they are, that there’s a lot to be celebrated within your body and also outside of your body. I mean, it’s just my body, you know? This is just me, but there’s a lot more to me.”
All in all, Cat just wants plus-size people to go about their daily lives feeling beautiful and vibrant in comfortable clothing that fits their bodies, whatever their gender identity or presentation. While society has a long way to go on negotiating its perception of fatness in everyday life, this Twin Cities shop is on the front lines of that movement as the people behind it work to dismantle stereotypes and fatphobia, and to make every larger body that comes into the shop feel safe and welcome.
Production Team: Diana Fraser, Jim Kron, Eric Pagel, Nathan Reopelle, Terry Gray, and Alyssa Fuller.
Special thanks: KFAI Community Radio, Saraya Boghani, Cake Plus Size Resale, and Cake staff & customers.
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