It’s August, and that means it’s Women’s Month in South Africa, so I felt it would be the perfect time to launch something that has been eating away at me for a very (like … VERY) long time. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been overweight. I’ve done the yo-yo dieting thing and I’ve tried the exercise thing. But the truth is I cannot bear exercise. I really don’t enjoy it – I know there are many people who can’t go without a daily run/walk/workout, but try as I might, I just can’t get into that. So I’m incredibly unfit.
I think one of the things about exercise that I’ve found most off-putting is when I’ve been to a ‘Beginner’s Class’ – only to discover that everyone else seems to know exactly what they’re doing, they’re on a fitness level that’s way off the charts, and the only beginner in sight is me … or, my other pet peeve … people who say they’re SO unfit, and who then leave me in their dust when we go for a group walk because they’re burning up the calories with a brisk jog! So … yup … done with the exercise routine. But that’s not what this Women’s Month initiative is all about (although I’m more than happy to move onto a whole other discussion when this one’s done!).
Introducing … LARGER THAN LIFE! One of my biggest challenges as a Plus-Size woman, is clothes shopping. For many of us who are ‘large’, looking presentable is a huge (excuse the pun) preoccupation that I don’t think many others are aware of. I find that because I’m big, I’m often not taken seriously; I get overlooked in a group of people, often to the point of being ignored; or, on the opposing end of that scale, I’m sometimes patronised. I work in the social media/events industry, where the emphasis is on looking confidently visually appealing. Needless to say, I generally don’t tick all of the required boxes!
So for me, when I go out looking for things to wear, particularly items that I’d like to wear when I attend work meetings and events, I know what I’m after, and what’s going to work for me. Also, life is hectic (of course I’m talking about what life was like pre-Covid – life now isn’t as hectic, it’s just stressful, especially because I usually don’t know what day of the week it is!), so I don’t want to travel and shop too far out of my comfort zone. I want to go to shops and malls that I’m familiar with to find things to wear, right?
And what do I find in these shops that are meant to be familiar friends? Usually sizes that go up to about an L … maybe an 18. If a store does have a Plus-Size department (by department, I mean 2 rails tucked away in a corner somewhere), there might be some items that look like they’ve been fashioned for the set of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ (if you’re under the age of 45, Google it). Let’s not talk about the shapes that look more suited to jelly moulds … when the moulds haven’t actually worked!
So I got to thinking … surely I’m not the only one in this frustrating situation? And I bravely ventured onto a few social media groups to broach the subject and see if other Plus-Size ladies would be willing to engage on the subject and be featured on the blog. I did get a few responses, and I formulated a list of questions, which I feel it’s only fair that I myself answer here. I also asked them to submit at least 2 photo’s of themselves that I could include in a blog post about them and their own retail experience. But the main thing I found was that larger ladies, are so used to being fat-shamed, so accustomed to being made to feel guilty and embarrassed at being bigger than the ‘accepted’ size that society dictates they should be, that people were unwilling to come forward and participate. And I found that to be extremely sad.
These are the questions that I posed to those who responded, who you’ll be meeting in the coming weeks, and these are my own answers:
Please tell me a bit about yourself … married, single, kids, job, hobbies, favourite foods, favourite series binges? However much or little you want to let me know is absolutely fine.
I’m married with 4 kids, aged 25, 22, 17 and 16. My eldest (daughter) is married and my other 3 kids live at home. I work in social media marketing, specialising in (when there isn’t a global pandemic) theatre, TV, film, music, lifestyle, books and events. I’m also a presenter of a weekly book show on a local community radio station. I love to read, and although I do love TV, I find that lately I haven’t managed to watch as much as I used to – I loved the series Grace & Frankie (Netflix) and was so chuffed that I managed to get through all 6 seasons! I have a penchant for all the wrong foods: fried things, creamy sauces and anything chocolate although I think I might be getting better at moderating my eating habits!
What size clothing do you usually wear? If you could let me know according to the S, M, L, XL etc. chart, and also the 16, 18, 20 etc. chart, that would be great!
I’m usually an XXL/XXL or a 22 or a 42/44, depending on where I’m shopping and what type of fabric the item is and whether there are buttons involved! (Usually that means I’d need a bigger size – but I tend to avoid button-up tops or dresses as they don’t suit me).
Where do you usually shop for clothes? Where would you LIKE to shop for clothes, but can never find stuff in your size?
I have started buying more online – well, especially now during lockdown, but even before that. I really started to dread the whole fitting room experience! I buy off Superbalist (great, easy return policy), Truworths Earthaddict is one of my favourite ranges, but really expensive and I’ve found a lot on sale there, but the rest of Truworths stuff’s sizing is really small. Cotton On, need to really cotton on!! Their sizing is absolutely tiny and even if you’re lucky enough to find an XL on their rails, the actual size of it is ridiculously small!! They do have a Plus-Size range, but not in all their stores. Also, their pricing is really high for the quality of their clothing. Woolworths … hmmm, on some of their ranges they go up to larger sizes (be aware, their pricing also increases according to size), but they don’t seem to adjust the shape of the garments accordingly so the fit is often not quite right, which is a great pity. I’m lucky to be able to travel overseas – when international flights aren’t bloody well grounded – (also my Mom lives in London) and I’ve shopped in Zara in 2 other countries – larger sizes were easily in both places, however, not in jolly old SA!! I don’t know why that is.
What do you consider to be a reasonable price to spend on clothes?
A casual T-shirt – R250
A pair of jeans – I don’t wear jeans, so I’m sorry, I really have no idea. I do love harem pants though, and I think that for a really comfortable pair in a lovely fabric, R300 – R450 would be reasonable.
A dress (if you wear dresses, I know many prefer not to) – up to about R750/R800
A smart blouse – R450 (I really don’t like blouses!)
A jacket – probably up to about R1200
A pair of shorts – I don’t wear these either (I have short, pudgy, VERY pale legs) but I’m thinking around R350
What frustrates you the most when you need to shop for an item of clothing? (This can be as many things as you want to list – it doesn’t need to just be one thing!)
* What happened to items being available in a variety of colours? Stores don’t seem to do that any more. If I manage to find something really amazing, I want to be able to buy it in at least 2 or 3 colours, but it will only be available in 1!! * I can’t stand it when I see something I like and the size is ‘One Size Fits All’! Ha bloody ha!! Who created this fantastical, mythical fairytale?!
Do you only shop for clothes when you specifically need something, or do you browse and buy things as you see them if you find things that will fit you?
As frustrating as it is to find clothing that fits me, I still love shopping! I like to browse, and I suppose I’m ever hopeful that I’ll find gorgeous items that will fit me, when I’m least expecting it! (I’m still not doing the whole fitting room thing though – even after Covid!!)
Are there any particularly awful shopping experiences that you’d be willing to share?
I can’t really think of one in particular (PTSD – I’ve just blocked them out of my mind), but I really dislike having to shop for special occasions – that stresses me out beyond belief!! And then I leave it to the last minute and then even my stress is stressed!
If you had the opportunity to talk directly to retailers about the way they make and market clothes for Plus Size women, what would you say? This can be anything from a few words to a long rant, if you’d like to really have your say!
We come in all sorts of shapes (round is a shape) and (larger than life) sizes! We DO exist, and we DO actually want to look feminine and MODERN! We are just like everyone else, just BIGGER! We go out (well … ok … I won’t say it again), we socialise, we have family, friends, lovers, hobbies, interests. We’re not Whimpering Wallflowers, so please stop treating us like we are, or like you think we should be. Stop hiding our clothes away in corners, stop creating clothes that YOU think we should be wearing … in dull colours, and uninspiring patterns. Ask us how we feel for a change. We actually do have a voice, and it’s time we started using it!
*** If any of this resonated with you, I’d love to hear from you, and I’d really love to feature you on my blog. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org ***