For perhaps the 700th time, I awoke to find my Facebook feed was again invaded by an ad for yoga clothes. I am not a fan of yoga, but I have nothing against yoga gear in general. Hard to hate clothing that is soft and comfy and stretchy and layers well, and in Northern California, you are surrounded by it at all times.
What irks me, though, is that pretty much none of these companies offers sizes above 12-14. Which, for the record, is just a smidge smaller than the average American woman. So not only am I interrupted by an ad, it is for something I literally cannot wear myself. And once again I’m struck by the question: Why don’t these people want my money?
According to a 2016 study, 67% of American women are a size 16 or above, yet sizes which accommodate us make up only 19% of the retail market. Still, that market pulled in more than $21 billion in 2021. So let’s play with some approximate calculations: two-thirds of U.S. women receive less than one-fifth of the retail market for clothing. So retailers are leaving something like another $40-$50 billion on the table. Every year. Why?
The answer is deceptively simple. Most of the people creating fashion are bigots. Clutch the pearls! The industry which promotes heroin chic and under-developed 14-year-old girls as beauty standards for grown-ass women is run by bigots? It sure as hell is. Bigots who profit mightily off of selling insecurity under the guise of sexual power and happiness under the guise of beauty.
It’s so much more than just a narrow view of what is beautiful. It’s an economic power structure made possible by intentionally devaluing women and brainwashing us to devalue ourselves, driven by the patriarchal morality of profit before humanity. By this reasoning, my calculations don’t hold up at all. Women of all sizes being happy with themselves might drive down sales, since we’d stop trying to fulfill ourselves through retail therapy and start only buying things we really like that actually fit us. Spoiler alert: Every woman is targeted, and no matter how well she does or doesn’t meet the beauty standard, she is made to feel that she is never enough.
As with all patriarchal industries, any change to the status quo is viewed as an existential threat. Apparently, a fat, happy woman who feels at home in a shop that respects both her body and her purchasing power is the fashion industry’s Destroyer of Worlds, and therefore cannot be allowed. This is, of course, utter nonsense. But so is all bigotry. And like all bigotry, it is just another emotionally fraught framework meant to disguise and protect the economic interests of the current powers that be.
We are trained to self-segregate because we are easier to control in segments. “Fat vs. thin” is just another in a long line of artificial constructs we have bought into, and invariably results in circular arguments and concern-trolling about beauty, health, and righteousness. Pitted against each other, we never have the time or energy to question why we engage this way, to ask who benefits from our discord.
I have little power in this structure, and I’m not a modern Doña Quixote going after the windmills of this titanic industry. What I can do is speak to the other cogs in this machine that relies on everyone doing their part to keep it running, and say: Stop buying into fashion’s limited beauty myth, stop arguing the merits of your position, and start questioning your perspective and impact. Only then can you stop being a bigot and a pawn.
If you answered yes to any or all of these, then you are indeed a bigot, and you support a bigoted economic power structure. Your business rationalizations may have hidden this fact for a long time. But not anymore. Stop denying it and look at yourself and your business honestly, not defensively.
“It takes more material so I have to charge more.”
Oh, that’s why you offer discounts to the extra-small among us? Oh wait, you don’t do that? You just price the XS-L sizes the same because you’ve accommodated the difference in material into your pricing model, but refuse to do the same to include larger sizes?
“I try, but the stores won’t buy larger sizes because they don’t sell. It’s just the business.”
$21 billion says otherwise. When was the last time you asked them? And do you normally make it a practice to do business with stores who exclude specific demographics? How does that logic work if a store discourages or harasses Black customers? Or refuses to serve LGBTQI folks? Still “just business”?
“The designers just don’t have larger sizes to offer us.”
FIND NEW DESIGNERS. Look at the amazing network of “plus-size” (how I hate that coded term) fashion bloggers who — thank goddess for their self-appreciation and ability to beat back their internalized, industry-led self-hate — showcase gorgeous fashion from evolved designers every damn day.
“ — ”
Do you think your silence hides the fact that you just don’t think women bigger than a size 14 have any beauty to highlight, so you won’t even try to design for them, don’t want to buy a larger mannequin, insert-your-choice-of-anemic-excuse-here? Or is it that you are actually an incompetent designer who doesn’t understand 3D bodies and can’t or won’t do the math?
I hope that more designers and retailers will want to be the change I want to see in the world. Until then, I encourage every woman over a size 14 to use the power you do have and open up this conversation with everyone you come across, especially those in the fashion who make you feel unwelcome and disrespected with a dismissive shrug. Demand what you deserve, because these people ignoring us aren’t going to wake up on their own.
Photo of Lizzo courtesy of Facebook
Nicole Maron is a UX researcher, activist, and writer who delights in checking your premises against her own special blend of data-driven insight, intellectual honesty, and verbal swordplay. Her writing can be found at Medium.com/@nicolemaron.
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Size 14 used to be impossible to fine, so I’m glad that places are including it. I remember needing size 14 pants – 12 was too tight, 16 was too loose. “Regular” stores (Target, Kohl’s, etc) stopped their sizes at 12. The (far too few)plus size stores started at 16. One of the workers in a plus size store even told me, “It’s weird because ‘regular’ sizes stop at 12, and ‘plus ‘sizes start at 16. 14 is like a no-man’s-land.”
Excellent example of why all brands should offer universal sizing. We shouldn’t have to go to size-segregated stores to begin with, the 14s among us falling through the cracks of a broken fashion industry. Thank you for sharing your experience.
2 Comments on The (un)acceptable bigotry of fashion