In the Blog

On shopping while fat

October 3rd, 2010     by Julia Horel     Comments

I gave up dieting three years ago this month, and in that time have gained enough weight to go up three sizes. At no time is my changed shape harder to navigate than when dealing with clothes: trying on clothes from my closet, putting together outfits, discarding old clothes that no longer fit, and shopping for new clothes.

Not only have I gone up three sizes, I’ve crossed the line between “straight sizes” and plus sizes, settling (for now) at a 16W (different from a straight-sized 16: typically cut fuller in the hips and bust). This means that many straight-sized stores are closed to me now; many top out at a 16/XL, but sizing differences between labels means that many of those 16s are too small for me. I’m seeking out plus-size-specific stores now, of which there are few in Canada, and plus-sized sections in stores that have them. I try on XLs and 16s in straight-sized stores with a grain of salt, telling myself not to take it personally when I can’t get a leg into a pair of pants, reminding myself that it’s the clothes not fitting me, not me not fitting the clothes.

I’m learning to spot potential well-fitting items by their stretchiness or generous cuts. I’m learning which stores are friendly to my size and which are not. I’m taking the advice of my mother from ten years ago: “if it’s not great on you, it’s not worth your money.”

I’ve been living this fat acceptance/size acceptance/body acceptance thing for three years, but this stuff doesn’t come automatically, and it doesn’t come easily, even to people who have been fine with their bodies all their lives. It’s a constant process, and a fraught one.

I’ve long given up being hung up on the size listed on the label. The 16 doesn’t fit? Try an 18. No one looking at me is going to know I’m wearing an 18, but they will know if I’m squeezing myself into something that doesn’t fit, and I’ll be uncomfortable, too.

This weekend, I went on a solo shopping trip and ended up at Winners, browsing through a rack of dresses. I chose a few sweater dresses to try on. In the dressing room, I rejected three dresses quickly, but was torn about the fourth. It was a thick, stretchy, cozy sweater dress with a cowl neck, and it reached about an inch above the knee. I could see myself wearing it with leggings. It could be a perfect fall dress. It was incredibly comfortable and it was well-priced. The problem was that it emphasized my round belly.

Accepting my size is a gradual process, and it seems that accepting my shape is one of the final frontiers. There is a pervasive notion that women’s bodies, even those of fatter women, are attractive so long as their bodies are hourglass-, or, to a lesser extent, pear-shaped. There’s “acceptable” fat and “unacceptable” fat.

A former hourglass, I’m still not quite sure how to feel about my belly. It’s where I now carry a lot of my weight, and it’s made me decidedly apple-shaped, particularly over the past year, as my body has seemed to settle into itself. On a personally aesthetic level, I don’t mind my belly at all. It’s soft and curved, and it gives me a rounded shape I quite like. I imagine I’ll be a cute pregnant lady when my partner and I are ready to have a child. I don’t cringe from my reflection in the mirror, naked or clothed, and don’t seek to hide my belly or “suck it in,” so long as I’m alone or in the company of my partner or friends.

In public, though, I still feel almost obligated to disguise myself, to play at being an “acceptable” fat shape, to imitate a defined waist and hide my belly. I’ve heard stories from friends and strangers about people asking non-pregnant women when they’re due, and I don’t want it to happen to me, though I know I should be able to tell the person not to be so invasive and laugh it off.

The sweater dress, much as I loved it, emphasized my belly, and in the end, I put it back and left the store. I’m getting there, but I’m not there yet.

Tags: body politics

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