Thank you. Thank you for writing your article. I have been a fan of yours for a very long time, and I believe that the fashion industry, especially up and coming designers, have a large amount of respect for you. I’m hoping that your call to designers to “make it work” for plus-size women will have an effect longer lasting than the 15 minutes of social media presence your article will inevitably have, as stories about the football players and celebrities will soon take over. I can at least say it has had an effect on me.
You see, I am of the group of women who belongs in the “larger than a size 12” section of retailers. A section that, sadly, consists of two or three racks and one or two shelves that display a less than underwhelming amount of clothes that would fit my body. This section usually sits shoved in the back side of the women’s department, further away from what is deemed “regular sized” women’s clothes than the maternity section, squashed between intimates and dressing rooms. When I shop in any plus sized section, it is made clear to me by both the placement of these clothes and the size of the selection that I am, for lack of a better word, an annoyance to the fashion industry.
Due to the rise in what neoconservatives call political correctness, or as I’d more affectionately and appropriately call a societal consciousness committed to greater inclusion for those who are different, the fashion industry has been pushed to create more clothing for women like me. Though it is clear by what designers are producing that they’re doing it because they feel they have to, and as a result the product feels like a throwaway, an obligation, a “Here are the scraps, take what you can get” favor to the average-sized American woman.
Similar to the way disgruntled old racists roll their eyes and say, “Oh, I forgot, we’re not ALLOWED to use the N-word anymore,” I picture concept meetings at big box retailers where men in suits joke about how they have to carry plus-size clothes or the liberal fatties will come after them. I hope I’m wrong.
I hope that these meetings are filled with people like you, Tim, who are realistic, understanding, and pragmatic about the demand for plus-size clothing that is fashionable, affordable, and fits well. But what does it say about the industry as a whole that when I picture retailers discussing plus-size collections it feels like simply a nod toward inclusiveness, as you called plus-size designer Ashley Neil Tipton’s win on Project Runway?
What I want you to know, Tim, is that I was not always a plus-sized woman. I used to be a size 8 or 10, and while I had trouble even then accepting my body, at least I could shop in every store, every section, every style and know there would be a size for me. In the last four years I have gained a lot of weight, making me a size 18 or 20 depending on the store, the clothes, and the material. The way I view fashion and the way I view shopping has completely changed. I no longer enjoy it. I used to love trips with my mom or my friends to the mall, grabbing 20 items to try on even though the dressing room limit was six. Now, I’m lucky to even find six items that I feel would fit my body and when they do, the clothes hang on me, because it seems that to be plus-sized in American fashion means you’re supposed to hide your body at all costs.
I break down every now and then to my boyfriend, who despite what society says about women my size, loves my body, and I cry about how much I hate my new, larger curves. The way my stomach hangs, how my thighs and calves are thick, and how my boobs require a specialty sized bra to contain them. I was humiliated when a pair of knee high boots I wanted and received for Christmas last year wouldn’t pull up over my calves. I am embarrassed when I shop with my size-8 mom and have to separate from her in the store, heading to the back where they keep clothes for me. I weep, literally and often, about how I need to lose weight because I used to be so much thinner and now I don’t feel pretty.
After reading your article, I want to tell you that I am struck by the realization that I actually don’t hate my body as much as I thought. That these thoughts of needing to be smaller usually stem from the fact that nearly all of my clothes are ill-fitting. They grab and pinch the wrong areas and they hide and conceal my shape, if they even fit at all. I came to the conclusion after reading your piece that if I had easier access to clothes that fit my body now the way clothes used to fit my body, I wouldn’t feel so ugly. If I knew what it was like to be able to easily find, afford, and fit into that perfect pair of jeans again, my life would feel transformed.
I experienced a glimpse of what that is like last year. Though it took hours of searching, I finally exchanged the boots from Christmas with a pair that had a stretch panel in the back of the calf, allowing for them to slip easily over my wide calf, even while I was wearing jeans. I felt sexy in those leather, knee high boots. A night and day difference from Christmas morning when I cried over how, even though the boots were my size, they still didn’t fit. What you have helped me see is that the way I feel about my body is not my fault.
I have long been assuming that I need to tailor my body to fit the clothes, and your article has made me realize that it’s actually the other way around. It’s designers’ duty to create clothes that not only fit, but flatter every size and shape. It is stores’ responsibility to ensure affordability for clothing of all sizes. With the right outfit, I now believe that I could look in the mirror and see the sexy, beautiful woman that my boyfriend sees when he looks at me. So thank you, Tim Gunn, for telling the fashion industry that every woman deserves to feel beautiful, even me.