Let’s talk mass befuddlement as a mid-sized person, or as some might say, the 10-14’s of fashion, whatever that means. Personally I’m the size 14-16 girl digging to the very back of the rack hoping that the store might carry my size, they usually don’t, but when they do, the fitting rooms become my next battle. Trying on clothes is hands down the worst part of shopping; it sucks all of the fun out of my love for clothes and trashes my confidence in the process. Don’t even get me started on the lighting, or when the only mirror is in a communal space, I’m looking at you Aritzia. But, perhaps my worst nightmare is hearing friends in the rooms beside me falling in love with each piece while I wipe sweat from my forehead and suck-in my every last organ in hopes that the jeans I’m trying on will miraculously fit.
The sales-clerk comes knocking on my door, she says: “How’s everything going in there hun?”, “Uh, good thank you!” I say, as I shed a single tear looking at my reflection. Humiliated, I walk out handing my entire pile of clothes back to her. I hold onto one ill-fitting shirt because I’m too embarrassed to admit that not a single thing fits my body. I walk back into the store, placing the shirt on the rack before quickly leaving. Radical self love is awesome, until you’re picking apart your body in a store that is not marketed for you. I know this story all too well. I’m not big enough for most plus-size stores, but too big for straight sized stores.
That’s the problem. The fashion industry is built on a system of White, Euro-centric, able-bodied, thin people. Size 10 model Myla Dalbesio appears in a Calvin Klein ad, Robyn Lawley turns up in the Swimsuit Issue, Lena Dunham wears shorts. “And, they’re plus-sized!” we crow, in shock or triumph. Then, the eyebrow-raising: “Not really, though.” Not being thin, doesn’t mean being fat. “You’re so brave!” “You’re so confident!” But for what? Being fat doesn’t mean being brave, we are simply existing. Mid-size euphemisms like “real” and “pleasantly plump” are backhanded, if these women are real, what makes thin women? What makes fat women? If a size 10 model is real and her plumpness pleasant, then what does that make me?
While size-inclusive brands like Aerie and Modcloth work to include a broad range of unretouched models, Duke, an eating and body image coach explains that “a lot of media outlets are trying to have their cake and eat it too when it comes to body-positivity. Everyone wants to appear to be pushing the envelope as far as body diversity is concerned, but not push it so far that our commonly held beliefs about ‘health’ are called into question. Mainstream body-positivity right now basically includes women who are bigger than straight-sized models, but are not so big that they challenge the obesity-epidemic narrative.”
Perhaps this confusion stems from the fashion industries need to label. Why do we need to confine bodies to a label? Why are some bodies restricted in where and what they can shop? Why are the trends I like only available in certain stores? Why are these trends unavailable in more size inclusive stores? What does this say about who can shop trends? We’re constantly fed the message that fat is inherently bad, therefore, growing up I forced myself to squeeze into straight sizes for fear that wearing better fitting plus-size pants would label me as bad too. Fatness had been an overarching theme in my life as I’d always been hyper-aware that my body wasn’t the same as my friends. I faced a war with fundamental discomfort as my upbringing brought compliments like “you have a pretty face” or “you’re so confident”, each instilling the belief that everything from the neck-down was unworthy. My basketball coach promoted the idea that being fat subconsciously meant that you were unhealthy, so when our team received a training plan, mine was the only one equipped with a personalized meal plan. Being a woman of size in a culture that values thinness has challenged my relationship with fatness as I’ve always known my body violates the ideal figure of womanhood. What has helped me, however, is representation, conceptualizing fatness, and questioning what is normalized in Western dichotomies of appearance.
Empowerment is made possible through visibility, and as I continue to discover fat bodies and role-models from different races, sexualities, and classes with barring levels of able-bodiedness, I can finally dispel the myths associated with fatness that flourished throughout my upbringing. Some of my favourite fat activists include Francesca Perks, a fashion blogger with her own brand called “a bit fat”, and the Instagram account, “yrfatfriend“, who normalize discourses of fatness. My evolution with fatness was especially influenced by these fat activists as they inspired me to contribute to the Canadian womxn-led publication, Maggie. In this piece, I explored the constantly changing expectations for female bodies and the notion that fatness has gone in and out of trend throughout history as it becomes both fetishized and criticized.
While I still can’t say that fitting rooms are necessarily my favourite place, my message here is that fashion befuddlement is real, it’s relatable, and it’s a whole lot more common than you think. So keep making your clothing inspo boards, keep following the trends you like, and definitely don’t forget that Urban Outfitters’ sizing does not determine whether or not your body is meant for fashion.
Below I have included a few links to size inclusive brands (XXS-7XL, some with custom sizing at no additional cost) with varying price points to accommodate for different socio-economic needs.
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