My Grudge Against Plus Size Clothing

I’m not your average jeans and T-shirt girl.

That’s because I have a love-hate relationship with my denims. I remember numerous times having had to sit cross-legged on the floor (dance rehearsals, general Indian ritual stuff) cringing at the thought of the inevitable: Back Gape. With a pear-shaped body and ‘handles’ that have seen some love, I’m sure I’m not being overly dramatic when I say the perfect pair of jeans do not exist for me.

However, my battle with booty has little to do with plus size clothing. Having a pear-shaped body does involve an extra effort while shopping, since your top and bottom halves are a number of sizes apart. But a recent trip to Debenhams got me thinking about all the size 12+ women (considered ‘plus size’ by the fashion industry) and their ordeal in finding something to wear out of the limited options available.

All the brassiere styles stocked in DD onwards were…. White.  And a few Black, thrown in as an act of kindness. Oh, maybe half a style in Nude because hey, even a big girl needs variety.

This triggered me to come up with my new favorite hashtag, (at the end of the article) and the following rant below:

1.     The Terminology Itself

Fashion has enough exclusions already to hamper any self-esteem. When all a girl really wants is a chance to fawn over the new Spring Summer collection with her girlfriends, and complain about the exorbitant prices, she is shunted all the way back into ‘Plus’, right next to ‘Maternity’. These classifications are so ingrained in retail culture that few seem to realize their datedness and misogyny .

Writes Katelyn Lilly in The Odyssey, “The support and intent is there really, {by girlfriends} but it doesn’t make it any less demeaning. Making women separate to shop for clothing forces an invisible wedge between us, one that promotes an incredibly damaging internal monologue of shame over the differences that make us who we are.”

2.     The Options

Elastic waistbands. Tent tops. Rinse. Repeat.

If a woman were to define her style she might say minimal, or vintage, bright, or even sophisticated. But with a few basic options in limited colours, it becomes a Herculean task for a plus woman to find enough options to wear, let alone find her taste. “I don’t even know what it’s like to walk into a store to pick what I want instead of just what’s going to fit.”, says Katie Sturino, fashion blogger at The 12ish Style. Why put all of them in a one-style-fits-all-shapes box?

3.     The Campaigns

Normal-sized, able-bodied, airbrushed glamorous women grace the beautiful plus-size campaign for Simply Be UK. The problem?

“Accepting a size 12 [fashion] model doesn’t help a size 28 woman find a pair of jeans. A lot of people are saying, ‘Why aren’t you happy there are more options?’ And I’m happy there are, but it’d be great if you featured a model who’s size 28, too.”

Mango launched its plus size line recently in India, and I honestly had to read the fine script (gasp!) and watch the campaign videos to understand that it was meant to cater to larger women. Misrepresentation of the full spectrum of plus sizes implies inconsideration to the rest of the audience and is another blow to their fragile self-esteem.

4.     The Sizing

India is a country of as diverse sizing issues as is the geographical terrain. “It is particularly perplexing in our country, where average body sizes in Mizoram, for instance, are totally different from those in Kashmir. A standardized sizing chart is a gradation of body measurements in the range of extra small to extra large based on averages derived after measuring the body diversities of a population. These are peculiar to a country, race and region. For instance, neither do a small-sized Indian woman and a small-sized German look similar, nor can they wear the same-sized garments. Similarly, a large-sized man from Haryana and a large-sized man from Nagaland won’t fit into the same “large” shirt.” ran an article in LiveMint.

Instead, brands try to fit everyone in the same frustrating S-M-L box. Why can’t catering to an extensive sizing chart be seen as at least a business opportunity if not anything else?

5.     The Neglect

UK-based blogger Callie Thorpe feels that plus-size shoppers are ‘fat-taxed’. “The last time I visited [Regent], the plus size section was on the lower ground and felt hidden away in a corner, nothing really caught my attention because, it all kind of blended together. I wasn’t inspired or drawn to anything which is really kind of rubbish and often leaves you feeling rather deflated when surrounded by great items on other floors that are bright, and innovative.”, she wrote in a post “Why Are Brands Not Promoting Their Plus Size Lines.”

Either the marketing strategy is too lazy or big retailers who stock plus-size options never want to advertise those sizes. It’s like the brands are saying ‘You’re welcome’, to the plus consumer.

6.     The Prejudice

The Fashionista ran an article, ‘Are Plus Size Women the Problem with Plus Size Fashion?’ in which plus-size blogger and retail consultant Sarah Conley made a pertinent point, “As much as we think we want to see people who look like us, it’s not really showing through in customer behavior, which is really unfortunate. I think that people who say they want to see a more diverse group of women, whether it’s body shape or size, they’re not always following those wishes and demands with their credit cards.” This observation was made when companies conducted tests to decide their models, and found that the same dress sold better on a size 8 than a size 14 model, every time.

7.     The Indian effect

Anyone who has a clue about the Indian ‘arranged marriage’ scene knows that ‘slim’ is right up there next to ‘fair, tall, beautiful and homely’. To put it plainly, being plus size in India can be as painful as thigh-chafe. Other than having to put up with judgmental  auntie’s who will assure you that you will never get married, you will also be offered shapeless squares that pass off as plus size ‘kurtis’; because showing bulge is a public offence. There are brands like Mustard and Alta Moda out there doing a good job, but ‘plus size’ is nowhere near becoming a mainstream category anytime soon.  Moreover, the representation of plus people on Indian media is as rare as a sensible matrimonial ad. Comedian Bharti Singh is one name which comes to mind, but her jokes are also mostly reserved to a self-deprecating, almost apologetic brand of humour, and her journey to fame has most certainly not been an easy one.

8.     The Upside

Yes, we have come a long way from that 1920s Lane Bryant ad of ‘Slenderizing Fashions for Stout Women’. Today, there are great blogs, campaigns and generally a lot of noise from the plus-size community which has brought brands- both mid-market and luxury, up to speed with the desires and needs of these customers. ‘Curvy’ is now an accepted shape in fashion circles, and is almost synonymous with sexy.  Stereotypes are laughable, feels Mary Alderete, CMO of online women’s retailer ModCloth. “Want to know what our number-one selling dress is this week? The rainbow dress, and it’s sold out in all of the extended sizes already!” she says, referring to sizes large through 4X. The dress is boldly colored and covered in chevron stripes.

Talk about body-positivity has been doing the rounds for sometime now (hello Beyonce!) and Instagram has been lapping it up. Gone are the days of ugly tiered-skirt or high-waist skin-colored plus-size swimwear. The future, though still fairly distant, certainly seems bright.

Closer home, in the land of the voluptuous Khajuraho sculptures, we have also taken leaps and bounds as far as body image issues are concerned. Lakme Fashion Week recently featured plus women on the Indian ramp for the first time, in collaboration with the plus-size brand aLL. Nepali illustrator Kripa Joshi made waves with her endearing comic strip, Miss Moti. Less typically feminine bodies, those of gym instructors and yoga teachers, have been featured in a cover shoot in Elle magazine.

But we still have miles to go. Maybe we should go back to our mythology books and architecture for inspiration? After all, #CurvyNotACrime.

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7 Comments

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