This is part of the #LargerThanLife Initiative … sharing stories, building our community, strengthening our souls.
Meet Marilyn Cohen De Villiers … a recognised South African author, best known for her well-loved Silverman Saga trilogy: A Beautiful Family, When Time Fails & Deceive and Defend (take a look at www.marilyncohendevilliers.com). You’ll see from reading Marilyn’s views on plus-size life that she’s most certainly an accomplished writer, but you’ll also quickly discover how extremely amusing she is. Her fabulous tongue-in-cheek humour had me giggling away, and although I’m vertically challenged in the opposite direction to Marilyn, I could certainly relate to many of the issues that she talks about.
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.
What to say? I’m a writer – novelist and journalist – and (lately) an online English teacher (the bills must be paid); single (sounds so much more affirming than “widowed”) with two adult, emigrated daughters and four grandkids (one born as I write this). I walk – good for my physical and mental health; and hate cooking but love cooking competition series like Masterchef (Australia and Britain), Great British Bake-off, Great British Menu etc etc. Discovering FitChef about three years ago was a mental and physical health lifesaver. FitChef keeps me healthy and my weight relatively under control except – I binge, on whatever takes my fancy during my once-a-week Covid-19-restricted venture to the shops for my seven-day supply of supplementary fresh fruit and veges. I usually run out of my seven-day supply of binge rations on day two (sometimes day one) of my semi-isolation.
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 have a versatile wardrobe filled with graded clothing from “looking pretty good”
(size 12-14); to normal (size 14); to comfy/fat/time-to-cut-binging (size 16-18). While my weight fluctuates with monotonous regularity, there is one “plus-sized” past of me that never fluctuates – I’m Bigfoot. I have lost several centimetres in height over the past few years, but still look, and feel, like Gulliver in the Land of Lilliputians when I’m in a crowd of women. But even as age takes its toll on my vertical enhancement, my foot size remains constant – big (size 9 for everyday shoes; size 11 for walking shoes).
Where do you usually shop for clothes? Where would you LIKE to shop for clothes, but can never find stuff in your size?
Fortunately, I’ve never had too much trouble finding clothes. As in the past, my mantra is: “if it fits, and looks ok, buy it”. That could be why I’ve never been really been interested in fashion and my wardrobe today is dominated by black slacks and “pretty” tops with a serviceable, go-anywhere black jacket for work; and jeans/crop pants and a top/T-shirt for casual wear. It all became so much easier to shop when, in the past few years, someone finally clicked that there are millions of women who are larger than a size 12 – or 14. Woolies introduced the Penny Coelen range which went up to comfy sizes; Donna Claire (now just Donna) was a great breakthrough in Plus-sized fashion; and now I usually shop at Milady’s. I always find something I like at Milady’s. My sister, who lives in New Zealand, suffers the same challenges I do (albeit she’s a little less vertical and a lot more horizontal than I am) and whenever I visit, I take clothes for her as her choice in NZ is even more limited than it is here. So clothes are sorted. But shoes??? That remains a nightmare.
It goes like this: I see a shoe I like in the window of a shoe or fashion retailer. I walk in and go straight to one of the shop assistants. “What size do your shoes go up to?” I ask.
“Size eight,” she responds. “Thanks,” says I, and I retreat.
In the past few years, Woolies started stocking a few (a very few) of their shoes in Size 9. But not all Size 9s are created equal and many are still pretty short (especially the flat pumps) – and often pretty wide too. My toes are somewhat squashed, and I can comfortably fit a couple of wedges down the sides. But if I persevere, scratching around on the bottom shelves where the elusive Size 9 boats lurk to hide their embarrassment from their dainty Size 6s and 7s siblings, I sometimes find something that will do. The best Size 9s I have come across are Crocs – especially the sandals (NOT CLOGS – I won’t be seen dead in those). I’ve bought some nice Crocs boots too. These usually fit me well – and I can order them online. They are comfy and quite smart. However – walking shoes (or running shoes for those who jog) – remain a problem. A big, big problem. You see, Size 9 is just not big enough if you wear a Size 9. Your takkies really should be two sizes larger than your everyday shoes. Any smaller, and your toes get hammered against the top of the shoe and your toenails go black. For years, I had no choice but to wear men’s shoes. Most were too wide, but at least my toes were preserved. Then – a breakthrough. The SweatShop started importing a couple of larger women’s shoes. Up to size 10.5!! They are a little too small and I still get the occasional black toenail – but they sort-of fit. Nicely. And I don’t look like Olive Oil any more. While I wish The SweatShop would import women’s size 11s, I cannot understand why the other sports shops like Sportsman’s Warehouse, don’t carry any women’s running/walking shoes in sizes larger than 8 and occasionally 9.
Still, I shouldn’t complain. I know a top model – literally – she was SA’s Top Model of the Year a few years back and a Miss SA Semi-finalist. She tops a willowy 6’1” in height and wears a size 6 – 8 in clothing. She’s skinny and gorgeous. And in constant pain as she sweeps down the catwalk, a radiant smile on her face, with her Size 11s squeezed into “standard sized” stilettos. When she isn’t modelling, she wears men’s takkies and sandals.
What do you consider to be a reasonable price to spend on clothes?
- A casual T-shirt – R150
- A pair of jeans – R300
- A dress (if you wear dresses, I know many prefer not to) – Nope don’t own a dress!
- A smart blouse – R299
- A pair of shorts (crop pants – I wouldn’t be seen dead in shorts) – R250
I usually shop on sales whenever possible. I’m the last of the big bargain hunters. I seldom (if ever) pay more than R300 for any item of clothing, except for my walking
shoes which cost an arm-and-a-leg.
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!)
I hate it when you try on a size 14 or 16 or 18 or whatever, and the item was clearly
made by some very, very small Asian person for some very, very small Asian women. Surely local retailers can check to see that the sizing they order bears some resemblance to local sizing and the size and shape of local women. I can go crazy when you try on something in one colour and it fits, so you buy a second one in another colour (remember my mantra?) – and find out when you get home that despite them both having the same size label, that is where the similarity ends. The one you tried on fits, you can’t get the other over your knees (if pants) or over your boobs (if a top).
Clothing quality – I had to take back two items of clothing to Pick n Pay recently because in one, the seam was not properly sewn – there was a hole where the machinist had sewn right off the fabric before picking the seam up again 2cm further along; and in the other, a rip in the sleeve had been neatly edged like a button hole to prevent it ripping further. All that work just to save an arm.
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?
If a shop has a sale, I will usually go in a browse, looking for a bargain that fits and is not too ugly (which is often why it is on sale – because no one would be seen dead in it). I think the last time I shopped for anything specific was trying to find something to wear to my daughter’s wedding.
Are there any particularly awful shopping experiences that you’d be willing to share?
Did I mention buying bras? And swimming costumes? Nightmares!
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!
I think I said it all regarding shoes. And sizing. And quality. Oh yes – bras! Why are the hooks on bras so flipping soft and weak? They unravel after just a few wears. It’s not that I’m wearing bras that are too small. Once I replace the hooks with decent hooks, the problem is solved. So why can’t the manufacturers use the same sturdy hooks they used to?
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