Plus-Size Shopping: Making Body Love and Acceptance a Part of Your Wardrobe

Image by PlemeljrBy Erin McKelle (Intern, 2013)

Shopping. This experience is usually quite different for those who are thin (or what society deems as “normal”) and those who are fat (or what society deems unacceptable). The fact is, clothing is tainted with thin privilege, being designed to be worn by those of a petite stature. If your body falls outside of this, it’s going to be noticeable because how clothing is made and proportioned. Clothing isn’t made for those with large breasts, shapely legs, or jiggly stomachs. No wonder nothing ever fits: it was never designed to in the first place.

Let’s just do some simple math: the average American woman is a size 14 (and who invented these “sizes” anyway, and what on Earth are they based on?). In “regular” stores, that is often where plus-sizes start. H&M starts their plus sizes at size 14, Forever 21 starts at extra-large, and Zara, the largest clothing store chain in the world doesn’t carry any plus-size clothing nor anything above a size 12. Let that sink in. The average woman in this country is considered to be too big by the fashion industry.

The exception to this “most bodies are bigger than what the fashion industry produces” rule is, of course, are those who are smaller. The archetype of a thin woman, the very women you see modelling these clothes, not to mention the small mannequins wearing them in the actual store, have bodies that are celebrated.  Because the society and the fashion industry celebrate thinness, there are many more clothing options to choose from if you are thin. It’s a way of socially rewarding thin bodies for fitting into our cultural standard of beauty. Also, they don’t have to pay more for clothing in their size or be corralled into a special section. Shopping is made to be easy and enjoyable by our culture for bodies it deems acceptable and beautiful.

If you fall into the plus-size category, here are a few things you can do to make shopping an experience that’s not self-esteem crushing:

Shop in Stores that Carry Your Size

If you wear a size 18, don’t even go into Hollister, Abercrombie and Fitch or Brandy Melville. Abercrombie and Fitch has taken a very proactive fat-phobic stance on body image. CEO Mike Jefferies has commented on how his brand is meant to be exclusionary: “The companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody; young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla.” He’s also said that he “doesn’t want larger people shopping in his store.” (After his comments were brought to the attention of the Internet, the brand’s reputation took a major hit, thanks to body positivity!).

Unfortunately, there still aren’t very many stores that make clothing for most sizes. But, I don’t think shopping in a store you know doesn’t carry your size and fat shaming yourself, or willing yourself to fit into a size you aren’t, is healthy. There is nothing wrong with your size and it’s important that you recognize this by wearing and accepting what your size is. Admittedly, this can often be unclear as sizes often vary by brand.

With this in mind, it’s a good idea to measure yourself and use a size chart like this one to get an approximation. There are also different size charts for different brands, so if you are interested in one in particular, make sure to look it up online and see if it offers its own size chart. A few great brands I would recommend are Cato, Dots and Torrid. They offer a really great selection and the clothes aren’t boring or plain—they are just as stylish and cute as clothing made in smaller sizes.

Wearing clothing that is actually your size is important; you deserve to feel comfortable and confident in what you are wearing. I know that I’ve had way too many days where I’ve bought a size too small because the store didn’t offer my size. I would end up wearing the piece once or twice and feel extremely uncomfortable the entire time I was wearing it.

If you stick to stores that carry the sizes you wear, there won’t be any shame involved in shopping (as you won’t run into the “nothing fits me” dilemma), not to mention saving yourself a lot of time and money. I didn’t want to admit to myself that I was a size 16/18 in pants, so for years I just didn’t buy any pants. I then decided one day to check out the store Cato, which carries sizes 14 and up. I was amazed when the first pair of shorts I tried on fit me perfectly: no bulges, squeezing or tightness. Wearing your size is really an empowering experience no matter what the number on the label says.

Do Your Homework: Think About What You Want

Our media and culture tell you that if your body doesn’t fit the standard, you should just cover up and hide yourself. There are so many fashion “experts” that give you so-called “tips”, such as to tell you to wear clothing with side panels to appear thinner, to wear clothing that “flatters” your figure or to stick to one color to appear elongated.  Instead, they should be telling you to LOVE your body exactly the way it is! You don’t need to change anything—how you want to look and what you want to wear is your business. You are beautiful no matter what clothing you choose.

You should wear the clothing styles that you want. If that means wearing shorts, bikinis, and tank tops, great. If it means wearing a dress every day, fantastic. If you just like to wear casual, athletic clothing, awesome. It doesn’t matter what you like, and what you decide to wear says nothing about your self-worth. Ignore the notion that only thin people should wear revealing clothing. Wear what makes you feel good. Take some time to reflect on this before you shop.

Don’t Allow Fit to Dictate Your Self-Esteem

It can be really easy to feel bad about yourself when you discover that you’ve gone up a dress size, you can’t button up a beautiful pair of jeans, or you just don’t feel like you look good in anything. This happens to almost everyone. Remember, clothing does not say anything about you or your worth. You uniqueness is what makes you beautiful. Clothing isn’t going to change that.

Remember, shopping doesn’t have to be a terrible experience. The key lies in not letting your self-worth and confidence be jeopardized or determined by a size. You have to love yourself, no matter what you’re wearing. Your self-worth is intimately linked to your thought process, the choices you make about what to put on your body, and the kind of messages you tell yourself. Clothing can be a source of empowerment or shame, depending on how you approach it. Loving yourself the way you are, and wearing clothing that makes you feel good is what counts.

Image by Plemeljr via Flickr under a Creative Commons license. 

Related Content:

A Sizeable Issue of Global Proportions

Size Me: Finding Perfection When You Can’t Find Your Size

The Sizing Nightmare: What Do Labels Tell Us About Ourselves?  

One thought on “Plus-Size Shopping: Making Body Love and Acceptance a Part of Your Wardrobe

  1. True story, and not quite different in Germany. When I’m shopping with my boyfriend, he finds it even funny when I keep on thinking and thinking if that sort of fit, colour, etc. is “appropriate” or “flattering” for my body type (as I perfectly know I’m a pear type and always try to stick to fashion rules). Ironically, my body form consciousness (so that I don’t wear short, “unflattering” or very tight clothes) is exact what makes my environment respect me and my style. I like my size 14-18 body in the right clothes that don’t show too much of it, but I cannot love it naked (paradoxically enough, my boyfriend can). Quite a tricky thing with “flattering” oneself, so!

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