A recent Twitter conversation got me thinking about the impact of how we, as a society, judge people based on how they look. If you’re ‘too thin’ the thinking seems to be that you’re shallow and overly concerned with how you look, emotionally damaged and anorexic, and something of a control freak. If you’re ‘too fat’ you’re clearly lazy and undisciplined, emotionally damaged and a comfort eater, and have no control to speak of.
While I’m willing to concede that this type of prejudice is just as hard for skinny girls to deal with as it is for those of us who tip the other end of the scale, I find it hard to believe that the ‘too thin’ crowd is forced to deal with the same sort of all-embracing limitations as big girls.
For big girls, it isn’t just a matter of being judged for our size. We are also forced to look unfashionable and like our clothes were made for geriatric elephants. Apparently it is impossible for bigger women to look sexy, so why bother making anything that would make them feel it.
As a larger women in South Africa, you can pretty much forget about finding anything fashionable in your size. It doesn’t really matter how much you’re willing to pay. In fact, the more expensive and exclusive the boutique, the more likely they are to only stock things for women who look like clothes hangers. And we’re talking wire hangers here, not the good and chunky wooden kind.
While YDE may stock a fabulous selection of hot and trendy pieces by equally hot and trendy local designers, know that this store is not for you if you wear anything bigger than a size 12. Since very very few of the local boutiques or designers* will stock your size, you will be forced to shop in places like Woolworths (but not the designer ranges). Here you will find things in which your grandmother would feel frumpy and staid. Expect shapeless dresses and shirts, gathered everything and elastic in places that elastic just shouldn’t be. Now and then you will find flat-fronted pants in a cut that doesn’t turn your thighs into sausages. However, they will gape so badly at the waist that everyone will be able to see your plus-size knickers. (More on that later.)
If you have read a single fashion magazine or watched a single TV show about looking your best, you know that everyone from Oprah to Gok Wan will tell you that your underwear is the most important part of your outfit. Unfortunately, if you’re on the larger end of the market in South Africa, you will find it close to impossible to find attractive, comfortable underwear of good quality at a reasonable price. If you’d like your undergarments to be beautiful as well as functional, you may as well start a savings fund simply to be able to buy a few good pieces every few years. If you’re lucky. Otherwise, be prepared for underwear that has the sex appeal of a large beige military tent.
Do not look for lace or silk underwear that fits well. It is hopeless. Apparently, large woman only want to wear ugly ‘shaper’ knickers in shiny synthetic beige and black fabrics. Never fear though – you’ll definitely be able to find an ugly firm-support bra to match. (Perhaps the assumption is that this is all we Should wear: things that try to make us look thinner. Who cares if we’re hellishly uncomfortable?)
If you’re willing to shell out R300 and upwards for a pretty bra, you might (and I say Might) be able to find something at one of the underwear chain stores like La Senza. I don’t even know whether the seriously expensive boutiques stock larger sizes because I can’t afford to spend R1000 on a bra and prefer to avoid torturing myself by browsing beautiful things that I can’t have.
To add even more insult to injury, it would seem that all South African stores believe that if you’re large, you must be tall. Apparently, the existence of a short and heavy person is inconceivable. If, like me, you are under 2 metres tall and wear something larger than a size 10, prepare to spend a lot of money getting alterations made to everything from skirts and dresses to pants. I have bought many a pair of pants that have had to have 20 centimetres chopped off at the hem. Go into a Levi store and try to get a 38 waist, with a 30 length. I challenge you. While you’re in there, try to get a pair of jeans in a size 40. No can do. Unless you want to wear something from the ‘Eva’ range, which consists of about 4 styles that all look the same and for some inexplicable reason have shiny embroidery all over the back pockets. Because if you’re a big size with a big bum, you really want to draw attention to it. Obviously.
Even shirts will be made infinitely longer as the size goes up. This means that all shaping that is meant to happen around the waist will sit somewhere around your hips. This is a lovely look. My suggestion is to invest in lots of belts. However, if you want a wide belt that clasps instead of buckles, be prepared to give up on the dream or wear one that cuts off circulation to the lower half of your body and creates a delightful muffin-top effect.
If you don’t believe me and think that shopping for larger sizes in South Africa is anything other than an exercise in futility and frustration; go into a store – any store will do, but those that stock designer labels (imports are the worst) are particular winners – and have a look at the available sizes. You will find plenty in the super-small to large range. If you’re lucky you’ll find a few things in an extra-large. If you want anything bigger than that you’re screwed.
I just don’t understand this. Do South African stores get sent the tiny sizes that don’t sell elsewhere? Surely there are people in other countries wearing Diesel and Benetton** who are bigger than a size 10? Surely?! Or are local buyers stupid enough to think that only thin chicks want to wear designer togs/have cash/care about how they look?
Now I know what many of you are going to say – anyone with dedication and commitment can diet and spend hours at the gym, whittling themselves down to an acceptable size.
But what if I don’t want to.
Maybe, just maybe, I am comfortable with being a big women. Maybe I don’t think that my worth, beauty, sexiness or ability to look fashionable should be linked to the size on the back of my pants. Maybe I don’t want it to be 10 times harder for me to look good than it is for thin people.
I want to buy clothes that fit – and fit well. I want to buy clothes that make me feel sexy and attractive. I want shopping to be easy. Most of all, I want to stop being forced to shop in shitty stores where I am treated like a second class citizen just because I want something bigger than a size 12.
* My apologies to Amanda Laird Cherry and Stoned Cherry. Two of the few SA labels that make bigger sizes and – more importantly – cuts that suit larger figures.
** Diesel and Benetton are at the top of my shit list when it comes to importing a variety of sizes. Benetton doesn’t stock anything bigger than a large. And their large is a normal person’s Barbie Doll. And I am yet to find anything bigger than a size 10 in a Diesel store.