fashion

I'm size 14-16 and needed two outfits. Instead, I had a meltdown.

There I stood before the fitting room mirror (partially) in a black sequined gown. A woman, terrified.

You see, I'd done a pretty good job of avoiding the unflattering mirrors, cellulite enhancing lighting and cramped cubicles for as long as I could, but with two weddings within days of each other - and just a few weeks away - I knew I could not procrastinate any longer.

The quest: Two outfits. 

Nay. Two cracking outfits. 

I was a woman on a (reluctant) mission.

Plus-size? More Like 'My Size' - Ashley Graham addresses TEDxBerkleeValencia. Post continues after video.


Video via Tedx.

But I was also a woman who had successfully avoided clothes shopping since COVID began. 

With a surgery which had me out of the gym just a few months before the pandemic struck, and the 262 days of Melbourne lockdowns that ensued, I had gained weight. How much? I'm not entirely sure. But pre-COVID I was around a size 10 to 12, and now I've landed somewhere between a size 14 to 16. 

For me, someone who has struggled with "puppy fat" as a child, school bullies, and fluctuating weight my whole life, it stung.

And I know, I know... Be easy on yourself, you had a surgery - with complications - and you must give your body time to heal. It will take as long as it takes, and you're going to be okay. Isn't that most important? 

And be grateful. Be grateful, because if the worst you've come out of a global pandemic with are some extra kilos, when millions have lost their lives, really, please stop. Immediately. And get some perspective.

And be kind. Be kind, because your weight does not define your value, even though society has conditioned you to think otherwise. You are beautiful and fabulous on the inside and out, or something else a positive quote on Instagram told you, okay. Okay?!  

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But as I stood in front of that mirror, my boobs squished and bursting from the key hole neckline, fabric taut across my thick thighs, and a back zip that refused to budge over my ass, I judged myself. 

And then the shop assistant did too.

"How are you going in there, darling?, she whipped back the curtain. 

"Ohhh, yes. Let me see there," she said, tugging at the sides of the dress. "Mmmm, that zipper doesn't seem to want to move does it? We definitely need a bigger size," she exclaimed before announcing to me - and the whole of High Street, Armadale - "Sorrrrrry. We just don't have that in your size!"

I could feel my cheeks begin to burn. I went into my shell faster than a hermit crab, and quickly slunk out of the shop. 

But get on with it. Surely, at the next shop you will fare better.

No. I did not. 

"Sorry. Size 12 is the largest size we have in stock."

"Nooo. Our biggest size is a 14."

"We only ever received one size 16, and two size 14s. But they sold out on the day they arrived. No, I don't think we will be getting more in."

After pacing the length of the street, I came home with... nothing. 

And then as I pulled my car into my driveway, the tears arrived. An avalanche of emotion and ugly crying.

I was 14 years old all over again, and wearing a daggy tankini to the school swimming carnival across from the bikini-clad 'cool girls' with their belly button rings. 

I was 16, and unable to button myself into the hipbone grazing bootcut jeans that every girl wore on casual day. 

And I was 18, and endlessly searching for a pair of knee-high boots that would effortlessly glide over my calves. 

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Just like that, after a few hours of fruitless shopping, I was reduced to... a bit of a mess. And urgghh, I'm cringing as I admit it to you, but it's true.

Because with everything going on in the world today - pandemic, wars, floods and all the lives and livelihoods lost in between - here I was, sobbing in my car because I... can't find a pretty dress? 

Come on, Rebecca.

But deep in my self-indulgence, I felt so unworthy. Other. Different. Weird.

I'm not though, really, by way of size anyway. In fact, I am precisely 'average'. Size 14-16 is the average size of the Australian woman.

So, why so excluded? And pray tell, where are our clothes? And the cuts, textures, colours and options we deserve?

And no, that does not simply mean clothes that are produced for a "standard" body shape that are then scaled up to a size 14 or 16 - although even this bare minimum seems a far reach currently... and a low benchmark for inclusivity. 

I mean, clothes that are not an afterthought, but are mindfully designed for a curvier body shapes of size 14 and 16 women. And for shorter women too. Yes, we also exist! 

Okay, fashion may be having a moment with bare midriffs and side cut outs and backless dresses, and while many women may feel powerful and confident in these styles at any size (Praise be! You are my idol.), I and several of my curvy girlfriends of the spanx-generation do not. Right or wrong, we are still in the mindset of conceal and flatter. 

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For me, nothing feels better on my body than the classic lines of a figure hugging midi, or a plunging long sleeved maxi, or a statement shirt teemed with high-waisted pants, and the silhouette of a strong suit.

And I finally found it. 

It took three more shopping expeditions, to Chadstone - just the biggest shopping centre in the country - before mission accomplished and I found my two outfits. But even then, one piece had to be ordered in from interstate, and the other was literally the last one left in the whole of Australia. 

I am obsessed with both outfits and how they make me feel, and my self-confidence has been restored... until the next mission arises.

But when did the 'privilege' of a nice outfit for a special occasion become 'a mission'?. 

Oh, and let's talk about price too. I began with a self-imposed budget of $300-$400 a piece... But by the time I found something that fit, let alone, that looked good, I didn't care how much I had to pay. And so inevitably, I did go over my budget. 

But between price, mindful design and availability, why are women sized 14 and 16 being increasingly denied access to fashion?

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And deplorably, this exclusion is experienced to an even harsher degree by women who are size 18 and over. Their plight is one met with even more frustration, confusion and disappointment in their needs not being met. 

Irrespective of size, we are all worthy, and should have access to options. 

Just three years ago, I was fortunate to sit in the front row as US model Ashley Graham strut down the runway at Melbourne Fashion Festival. A vision in a thigh-high peacock green Jason Grech gown, the room took a collective gasp in awe. 

I am no Ashley, but I have never felt more seen. Or full of hope, that we, curvier women are increasingly being represented in fashion, and that can have show-stopping dresses too. 

But somehow, we seem to have gone backwards. And now, I desperately want to feel that hope again.

Keen to read more from Rebecca Davis? You can find her articles here, or follow her on Instagram, @rebeccadavis___

Feature Image: Supplied/Mamamia.

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