fashion

This is the reality of being a woman and shopping for plus-sized clothing.

Picture this.  You need to buy a new toaster.  Only you live in a parallel universe, where toasters are only available at very specific stores, and you’re a person who can only eat toast. For whatever reason, nothing else will work for you, only toast.

Now you know you can’t get toasters at any store.  You go to your local shopping mall.  Only you walk all over the place, and you just don’t see any toasters for sale anywhere.  Finally you ask for advice from the info desk, and they look at you a little disapprovingly and say “Umm, I think there’s one toaster shop over on the far side of the mall.”

Author Kath Read is sick and tired of the retail experience. (Left image provided, right image via iStock)

So you hike over to that side of the mall.  As you go, you pass store after store that sells kettles, microwaves, food processors, saucepans, blenders, can openers, every kind of kitchen gadget you could ever imagine... only not one of them sells toasters.  And if you go in to the shop and merely mention the word toast, they look down their noses and say “No, we don’t have anything like that here.”  Or worse, some even say “Oh we wouldn’t want to encourage people to eat toast, that’s unhealthy.”  Which doesn’t help you at all - you unfortunately don’t have that option, the only thing you CAN eat is toast.  You just need a damn toaster!

Eventually you find the only toaster shop.  But their toasters are all pretty much the same, a very plain, old fashioned shape of two-slice toaster.  Some of them might be a different colour, or they might have an extra button, but they’re all very close to the same thing.  And when you look, there are absolutely no four-slice toasters, which you really need, with the amount of toast you need to make.  You ask the service person and they say “Nah, we only do two-slice toasters.  We do sell them online, but they take up to six weeks to arrive.  I think the department store might have a few of the four-slice ones.”

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So you shlep over to the department store, and walk through another zillion kitchen appliances that you can’t use, hunting for toasters of any kind.  Eventually, down the back of the store, shoved between the stockroom doors and the breadmakers, is a tiny section of about four shelves, clearly not looked after, with half the boxes open, some on the floor, and everything a bit dusty, of toasters. 

“Nah, we only do two-slice toasters.  We do sell them online, but they take up to six weeks to arrive." (Image provided) 

You pounce on those toasters, and most of them are still plain two-slice things, but finally, right up the back in a half squashed box, you find one four-slice toaster.  You grab it and take a good look at it.  It’s ugly.  It’s really awful, doesn’t suit your kitchen and it’s poorly made.  It also costs twice as much as the two-slice toasters and four times as much as any other kitchen appliance in the store.

But it’s the only one, and you have to have toast, it’s your only option or you won’t be able to function.  So you buy it.  When you get it home and use it, it makes AWFUL toast.  But what are you going to do?  It’s the only one you could find and it took you all day to find it.

This friends, is what it’s like to be a woman over a size 20 shopping for plus-size clothing.

I am a size 26 - 28 fat woman (I prefer the term fat, to me it is a simple neutral descriptor, and feels better than euphemisms like “curvy” - I don’t see fat as an insult) and this is what shopping for clothes is like for me.

In a perfect world, it would be great to “drop the plus”, as the popular hashtag promotes, so that plus-sized women didn’t have a separate label.  If we could all walk into any clothing store and get the exact same options as everyone else, with all clothing offered from a size 0 through to say, a size 36 or beyond, we wouldn’t need these labels.  We could get rid of various sections, and just go and grab whatever we needed.  I would love to live in that world.

"We could get rid of various sections, and just go and grab whatever we needed.  I would love to live in that world." (Left image provided, right image via iStock) 
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However, the sad reality is, the world isn’t like that.  Clothing to fit larger bodies is actually scarce, and what is available is more often than not, of poor quality, unfashionable style and higher price.  Which gets worse as the sizes get larger.  There are few options for women over a size 20, and as you get into the 24+ region, the size options narrow even further. 

If we get rid of the term “plus-size”, then how do I find those few scarce options that are for me?  Do I have to wade through all the stock, 90-95% of which simply does not come in my size, to find the few options that do?

Now I know, there are those who are going to say “But being fat is unhealthy!”  To that I respond, what has that got to do with me finding clothing to fit my body?  Even if it were true, all people need clothes, even ones who are ill, have disabilities or injuries.  It’s an uncomfortable truth for many people that there are fat people in the world, and that we have always been here, and always will be, and we need clothes. 

Perhaps there are those of you who feel we need to be punished for being fat, we don’t “deserve” clothing.  Well let me put it to you this way... do you know what the alternative is to there being available clothing for fat people?  It’s fat people going naked!  I live in a sub-tropical city.  It’s hot here, I’d be THRILLED to do away with clothes altogether and just chill out in my undies or in the buff.

How does that grab you?

Kath Read is a feminist and fat activist from Brisbane, Australia.  She blogs at Fat Heffalump or you can follow her on Facebook.

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