“There’s a power in naming a need that’s gone unfilled,” Autumn writes, and for me — at least when it comes to clothing — the word “plus-size” goes leaps and bounds toward naming — and therefore creating public space for — that need.
Given the glorious inconsistency that is women’s sizing, I’ve spent the majority of my life since the beginning of adolescence hovering in the questioning range. The “questioning range” is a body size where I wonder — question, even — whether a straight size store will even have clothes that fit me or whether I’ll need to go somewhere that includes plus sizes. My body measurements say one thing, but the fit of the clothes in the store may or may not agree with that. And when it’s off, it’s often off by a long shot.
The few times I’ve erred on the side of too big, it’s been relatively straightforward and stress free. “Yep, looks like the smallest size we carry is too large for you. Here are several other stores you might try.” No muss, no fuss.
If my error slides the other way — maybe because the store claims to carry clothes that should fit me — the situation becomes stickier. The power dynamic in discovering one is too fat to shop at a store is quite different than discovering one is too thin.
I remember holding up a teal — teal is My Color — stretchy babydoll top, size XXL, up to my collarbone to try to envision how it might fit me. Another shopper came up to me and asked, not impolitely, “Can I try that on before you stretch it out? I think it might really be my size.” I was stunned enough to just hand it over. I don’t think she meant to be rude and maybe didn’t account for the idea that she’d basically implied, “You’re too fat for that, so I should get it first.”
I remember entering a different store and having a sales associate approach me from the back of the store. “Can I help you?” she asked.
“I’m just looking, thanks,” I replied, which is my standard answer for most sales associates everywhere.
She continued to hover, and after several minutes of not finding my size on any of the racks, I asked whether the store had anything in my size.
Her nostrils flared, so much that I’d swear to you I could see her brain. She sniffed. “We only carry plus sizes online. What made you think you could shop here?”
I’d like to say I told her off. I’d like to say I filed a complaint with her manager. But the then-me, who is maybe even less confident and assertive than is the now-me, simply turned and fled the store. I have not been back.
And of course there are the many, many times I’ve scoured the racks for what should be my size only to come up empty. Mostly I just turn and go. Sometimes, however, I steel myself and ask for help. And to be fair, some stores are helpful and some are apologetic that they’re simply out of stock. But, being an active person, every once in a while I shop for active wear.
Sometimes I make the mistake of doing so at a store with a fitness focus.
There is a disturbing trend to the responses.
“Huh, we had one. I guess we must have sold it.”
“We don’t get many people asking for that size here.”
“There’s not much demand for that size. Not many big people do [insert X physical activity].”
(To all active wear stores everywhere. Maybe you fail to see the demand because you fail to accommodate it. There are only so many times I can be demoralized in person.; it’s easier on the Internet.)
Stores with plus-size sections are my havens in this. They tend to be the ones most understanding of the idea that, “Hey, fat people do [Activity X],” whether that’s interview for jobs, go dancing, or attend AcroYoga class. Moreover, they’re the ones that let me feel like I’m entitled to shop for clothes in public without feeling like I should apologize for either my fashion sense or my body size. And that if a particular store doesn’t carry my size, it’s not an inherent value judgment about me.
In the future, I wouldn’t mind a world where a broader range is incorporated into mainstream body sizes. But until then, plus-size vendors help me accept that there’s nothing wrong with being me-size.