While I’m on a roll of ranting about things that piss me off, here’s another one: the recent trend of blaming the lack of plus size clothing options on the supposed buying habits of plus size customers. This piece in TIME, and this one on Fashionista are two examples, and they make me so viscerally angry that it’s hard to respond articulately–but I’ll try.
“[R]eal change for plus-size fashion will come when customers make more conscious purchasing decisions,” claims the TIME piece. Hahahahaha, no. Real change will come when companies realize that fat women are people and start making clothes in our size. It’s kind of ridiculous to insist that fat women’s shopping choices must be the issue, when our whole problem is that we don’t have enough options to choose from in the first place.
In the Fashionista article, a blogger named Sarah Conley claims that plus size women are unwilling to buy higher-priced items. I’ve seen this claim so many times, and it annoys the shit out of me for a bunch of reasons:
1.) How can retailers know that plus size women won’t buy higher-priced items if they almost never offer them? It’s like giving a group of people a choice between peanut butter sandwiches and spaghetti with meatballs, and then claiming that group has no interest in filet mignon.
2.) Plus size clothing already tends to cost more than straight size clothing. Women who wear straight sizes may be more likely to invest in the occasional expensive, high-quality statement piece because they can get the rest of their wardrobe cheaply; women who wear plus sizes have far fewer truly cheap options. A lot of plus size clothing (I’m looking at you, Torrid) is both pricey and low-quality. And most stores that sell both straight and plus sizes charge more for the latter, even though the cost of the extra fabric is negligible.
In addition, plus size women often have to pay more to find bras in our size. I’m lucky that the Playtex 18-hour bra fits me comfortably and is super-cheap on Amazon, but most fat women I know spend ridiculous amounts of money to get bras that fit, while big-box stores and department stores are full of cute, cheap bras in smaller sizes.
3.) Fat people, especially fat women, face workplace discrimination–so we make less money and therefore have less to spend in the first place.
4.) Even if it’s true that fat women genuinely have no interest in high-end designer pieces, that doesn’t explain the lack of affordable options in our size range.
Further down in the article, Conley huffs that “many women are spending money on cheaper things that they don’t necessarily like just because they’re available in their size rather than waiting to spend more money on a few special pieces they really love. ”
What are we supposed to do while we wait–walk around naked? Most fat women don’t have the luxury of waiting around for the perfect, high-quality piece–we need clothing right now for work, or to wear to a friend’s wedding, or to work out in.
She mentions tailoring as an option that more plus size women should take. Although I’m pro-tailoring, I think it’s ridiculous to expect that all fat women should do it rather than, you know, ask for clothing that fits us in the first place. Why should we have to put in the extra time, money, and energy to get our clothes tailored when straight size women can walk into almost any store and find clothing that fits them?
That brings me to another factor that always gets left out in these victim-blaming discussions: the extremely limited availability of brick-and-mortar plus size options. While the online options for plus size clothing have expanded dramatically in the last few years (and I will be the first person to celebrate that with balloons, confetti, and cupcakes), our options for in-person shopping remain–pun intended–slim.
As a woman who usually wears a size 22, I’ve pretty much given up on in-person shopping except for thrift stores, because there are so few stores in the Boston area that carry my size. I’m lucky that I can find clothing that fits me online relatively easily–I know what shapes and sizes tend to fit me, and as long as I stick with them, I don’t have to return many of my purchases. But for a lot of women, online shopping is an exercise in frustration that involves returning almost everything they buy. And then there’s the cost of shipping and returns, which is prohibitive for many women, and just annoying for others.
An anonymous blogger quoted in the Fashionista piece complains that plus size fashion “[has] become such an angry section of fashion,” as if fat women are just irrationally mad. It’s not like we face discrimination and harassment for our size, find few representations of ourselves in the media, and pay extra in both time and effort for the limited, lower-quality clothing options we do have, or anything…no, we’re just whiners who refuse to be grateful for whatever crumbs the fashion industry throws our way.
The lack of plus size clothing options is a direct result of society-wide fat-phobia, full stop. It’s not the fault of fat women, whatever our buying habits.