Tore Hallas on fatness and fashion

Tore Hallas is part of our Summer Read - a series of interviews that celebrate talent and that may challenge, shed new light on or even re-ignite common truths about how we bring out the talent in ourselves and others.

Told to journalist Kasper Steenbach.

Tore Hallas was one of the main characters in Mads Nørgaard – Copenhagen's WINTER 22 campaign 'Free to create'. Hallas, born in 1984, graduated from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and works primarily with video art and photography, working around the themes of fatness and homosexuality.

Why have you agreed to be in this campaign?

I was very much in doubt whether I should say yes, because the fashion industry hates fat people. It detests us. It would prefer not to see us in its clothes. And I myself have previously been critical when artists collaborate with the fashion industry because they end up applying to the fashion industry's terms and, frankly, they sink down to its level.

For example, when an artist or art institution works with clothing - in collaboration with the fashion industry or not - and does not automatically include plus sizes, then fat people are actively excluded from experiencing their work. Would it be accepted if you made a work that, for example, only heterosexuals could experience? No, right?!  Why is it okay to exclude me because I'm fat when we can all agree that it's not okay to exclude me because I'm gay?

You could perhaps say that I participate in the campaign more as a private person than as an artist, although the two things can never really be separated. And I said yes, because here is finally a quality brand that has decided to be somewhat inclusive. But let me emphasize: Mads Nørgaard could still do much better: You are not inclusive enough, Mads! And you must do something about it ASAP. But it is a step in the right direction, and as far as I know, it is the first Danish menswear brand in its class to do so.

It gives me great personal satisfaction to participate, after I have been excluded from this kind of thing all my adult life, but one can question whether it is a good idea as an artist to do commercial collaborations, and I have said no to many other things before this. And then I also said yes, because I had never thought that I would be asked to be a model for anything.



How do you experience the fashion industry as a consumer?

Extremely exclusionary. Very few quality brands have plus sizes and the selection is small. Especially for men. And then there are all the extra obstacles built in. Something that few people are aware of is that most plus size brands have an indirect 'fatness fee' because you can only buy the large sizes online and there are usually shipping and return fees. And the sizes vary much more in the large sizes, so you never know what to order.

Most fat people over a certain size who are even slightly interested in fashion have some sort of clothing-related trauma. Not being able to choose what you want to get into, but simply making do with what's available, can screw with your self-image.

And the fashion industry's fat phobia appears everywhere. Also in, for example, shoes and accessories. I myself had an experience with two large and expensive brands recently, where even their cross body bags were much too small for me. We are talking about bags that should hang from the shoulder! The assistant in one store was also so embarrassed because I walked in and acted like I wanted to buy the whole store, and then even the bag didn't fit. I noticed that she was speaking frustratedly to her colleagues when I left the store: frustrated with the whole impossible situation and probably also that she couldn't make a sale. Some brands would rather avoid fat people being associated with them than earn the money we want to spend. That hatred of the fat body is so great that it seems to win over the basic principles of capitalism. Their fear of being seen with us gets right into our bones – or rather, our fat, I should say. And that is reflected in the rest of society.



Does the fashion industry discriminate in other areas?

Fashion is often elevated to an art form or an essential form of expression, but whenever people talk about fashion in that way, they forget that it is one of the most exclusionary of its kind. Clothes are the expression of the privileged. Things like economic class and fatness define access to and exclusion from freedom in that form of expression, and because it primarily affects those two groups, we don't care - the poor and the fat are not wanted.

Race also plays into the relationship with clothing. As a non-white artist colleague explained their experience to me, a thin white person is allowed to dress in ways that a fat non-white person would be derided for. They are looked upon with suspicion, unless they use extra energy to signal with their appearance that they are good middle-class consumers. Young men in hoodies have of course been used as an image of fear by politicians, but we know what they mean by that: it’s not white men's hoodies they're trying to justify their racist policies with.

And I could definitely imagine non-binary and especially transgender people having similar experiences because clothing is so much part of our perception of gender. For example, read Luka Holmegaard's beautiful collection of essays 'Look', where a thin non-binary person writes about how their gender identity is related to clothes: clothes as an examination of the self. A study that a fat person in a similar situation would otherwise be excluded from to some extent. So what would a fat trans person's experience and opportunities for identity exploration be here?

There is always pressure on minorities of all kinds to have to do something extra. I can't go to the supermarket when I look like crap without getting weird looks, because fatness and stains on a shirt speak to a certain prejudice. But my thin boyfriend can do that, no problem.



Could you imagine making art about this topic?

Yes, I could easily do that, although I have no plans to do so. Clothes are certainly not unimportant, but there are things that are more important to me as an artist. Right now I'm working more with what's under the clothes. When I work with fatness - because I also work with other themes - I work with the physicality of the fat body, and especially with all the structural and interpersonal discrimination that fat people experience in their encounters with the thin world, and almost always in a queer context. That is, fatness as something that sets you apart from the world around you. And not being able to dress like everyone else, or simply as you want, is something that to some extent others you to the world in a very visible way.