Clothes, compliments and shopping

I have a very hard time taking compliments. Especially ones on my clothing or sense of fashion. As a “tweenie”, I consistently find myself too small to fill out plus size stores’ 14s, but too big to fit into the XLs at the stores at the mall. Naturally, I’m not a small woman weight wise. At 5’2” and 165 lbs, give or take, I haven’t been fashionably or even acceptably thin since I hit puberty or decided that eating properly was a good thing to do. So even today, there’s a small part of me that whispers that I don’t deserve compliments. See, I’m too fat to be pretty. Too fat to look good in my clothes. Too fat for anyone to want to date. Add in my aversion to makeup, hair dye, and basically all beauty products but soap and water, and you’ve got a recipe for self-loathing.

Oh yes, woe is me. Y’all probably want to play me the world’s tiniest violin now. I’m not so delusional to think that my body insecurity is all that original or exciting. In fact, it’s that my poor body image is so unremarkable, and so common, that makes me so very angry. Most women think like me. That’s what’s so terrible.

That anger, I know, isn’t healthy. But at least it isn’t shame and counting calories and skipping breakfast and feeling cleaner and more virtuous the emptier I feel. I think that’s all that I have left: anger or shame. There really isn’t anywhere else to turn. I mean, why should I even think that I deserve to shop in a brick and mortar store? After all, I’m so fat and lazy and unclean and undesirable. I think that, and I know that other people think that when I complain, so I get mad. Really mad. Spitting mad. I want to buy some fucking clothes, dammit, that fit me. Not people who look like I did at nine, except stretched to six feet. Skinny people need clothes too. But shit, for once I would like to walk into a store and grab something—anything—off the rack and know that if it doesn’t fit it’s because it’s a bad cut for my shape or I grabbed the wrong size. I hate knowing that the store doesn’t carry my size and that there is never going to be an empire-waisted breezy blouse, no matter how much I want one, that fits over my Rack of Doom™ because everyone just refuses to make, and market, and sell clothes to women like me.

Sometimes the anger makes me a bitter person. It’s the same virtuous self-destruction as the eating disordered behavior, just the other way around. I sneer at coworkers, their cheeks hollowed from self-starvation, as they pick at salads. Every forkful of my veal marsala rings with a peculiar sense of triumph. No, I’m not counting calories. No, I haven’t heard of the GI Diet. No, I want real sugar in my tea. No, I’m not going to bemoan the hideous gluttony of holiday meals. See that woman over there? Yeah, the one with the pencil skirt in a size 2, calves the size of my wrist. I bet she’s not as happy as me. I’ll cook some salmon now, in actual butter, to show you all how much I’m not like her. I don’t want to be like her.

Except that’s a lie. I really actually do want to be like the smiling hollow faces in fashion magazines. I want my clavicles to be a fashion statement. I want a flat stomach without red stretch marks and breasts that don’t require hideously large grandma bras and underwire that cuts into my armpits.

Sometimes, I want be a man. It must be nice to eat until you’re full, have a bit of a pouch, and still be just a regular Joe. It must be nice to hang with your friends and not have to listen to them talk about working out and losing weight and their fat thighs and counting calories at Christmas and dress sizes and how naughty beer is. Beer is like the staple of manliness. Shit, it must be fucking awesome to have a beer and everyone think that it makes you a swell dude. Fat chick with a dark lager doesn’t have the same connotation, I’m afraid.

Okay, so most of all, I want to feel good about myself in a culture that thinks I’m going to die at thirty from diabetes, single and surrounded by cats. Because I’m not going to die at thirty. I’m pretty sure of that. If I do, it’s going to be a freak accident, not doughnuts.

Most of all, I want to be able to take a damn compliment. I also want people who compliment me on my clothes to do so without the condescending, “wow, I said something nice to fat chick today for karma points” attitude. Because it’s not like I have the luxury of walking into a store and using ten minutes and my innate sense of style to put together something that looks good. It takes four or five stores, tons of self-loathing, the agony of shopping in public, three times more money (bargain clothes: only for skinny people), and four hours of alteration for that fab skirt you like on me. So compliment me on not giving up on fashion. Compliment me on putting up with shit that you don’t have to. Compliment me on finding time between being a full time law and philosophy student and a part time back-office retail clerk and studying and dealing with my crappy health to waste hours and hours on not looking like a trainwreck.

Because when you’re fat, looking like a trainwreck takes twice as long as it does for a skinny person to look good. So when you compliment me on my clothes, don’t do it because you feel sorry for me. Do it because I do look fabulous, thanks, and I’m a fucking saint for being able to take hours of my busy life find two breezy empire-waisted blouses in the fifth largest city in the country that fit me, whereas it would take you five minutes.

Just don’t expect me to be too happy about it. It’s kind of a poor conciliation prize to meet the standards of people who spend exponentially less time than myself on shopping and alterations because my body is too ugly to pollute their clothes racks. Yes, thanks for noticing that I spent obscene amounts of time on my appearance so that I don’t meet your standards for slovenly fat chick. Now, could you and your skinny brethren make some fucking clothes in my size?

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Posted on July 30, 2009, in Beauty Ideal, Feminism. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Yes. Could we legislate notices be placed on the front of restaurants & stores?

    Restaurants: no/smoking; minimum age is {infant; toddler; puberty; voting}; gratuity is forced/optional

    Stores: we fit {standardized image of body shape shown with min/max dimension–not size numbers–product which is regularly stocked}

    Information like that would save me tons of time if it were posted up front.

  2. (bargain clothes: only for skinny people)

    Amen to that, sister.

  3. Same goes for op-shops. It is cheap to shop at thrift stores and to artfully mix vintage and contemporary peices to great effect…if you’re thin. If you’re fat you’ve got two basic choices: hideously expensive plus-sized lables (enjoyable mostly for all the gorgeous women in there :) ) or crushed velvet skirts and other Gothic accoutrements :p I totally relate. Except that I’m not really interested in clothes. Clothes shopping is a twice-yearly chore for me and about as fun as pulling teeth.

    • God, I know. Plus-size labels are outrageously expensive. Also, fuck gothic shit. I never wear black unless I can help it. I’m basically committing a cardinal sin against the “slimming” demands of fatshion, but I have a white cat that sheds and I look like Dracula in dark colors. At least that’s one thing that plus-size stores have for them: loads of bright colors and fabulous prints.

  4. I often notice something weird when shopping. The rack at almost any given store will be full of sizes 0 and 2 (or X-Small) and 14 and 16, but devoid of everything in between, especially the sale rack. That means that every major retailer in America is completely fucked when it comes to logistics management. I’m a size 10. The average size in the US is 12. Most women fall between 4 and 14. Yet these chains seem to stock their stores as if we women really all did match the ideal put forth in ads. There aren’t that many women that thin, which explains all the 0’s and 2’s on the clearance rack. It took me forever to figure out what was up with the 14’s and 16’s, though. What it is is that these chains make no effort to alter their designs to fit actual women, but rather just scale up the base size. You’d think someone would figure out that they’re blowing potential profits, right?

    • Yeah, it’s actually that they scale the base size up, based on their “fit models”. For a plus-size store, the fit models are typically 14/16 and very tall. For normal stores, the fit models are 2/4 and taller than average. Both are the ideal hourglass. So plus-sizes hang on me because I’m short and more like a 14 than an actual 16 or 18. But “normal” stores? Fucking forget about it. I don’t have size 2 tits, and I have fat in my midsection and back. The horror right? So all pants, regardless of style, cut into my gut but then hang around my skinny ass. Or I get pants that don’t cut into my gut, and they hang even more around my ass, have no shape, and constantly fall off my high waist. Because, gee, short people have short torsos.

      When I was totes anorexic and barely into puberty—probably because not eating had delayed the onset of my period—(around the ages of 12-14) I was a size 2. Shopping was a fucking breeze. Everything fit, everything was flattering, and the only alterations I had to do was because I was short. Now that I’m actually healthy but—according to the bullshit BMI scale—”obese”, nothing fits. I have a sewing machine on my dinner table that I have to use constantly.

      Fuck you fashion, fuck you.

  5. Sorry, I meant to say, “I’m a size 10. The average size in the US is 12. Most women fall between 4 and 14. Yet stores can’t seem to figure out that they ought to have more of these sizes on hand and less 0’s.”

  6. Undercover Punk

    Ok, well I’m no skinny-mini either. I used to be, in my self-abusing and self-denying days. And yes, everything looked GREAT on me. Barely had to try it on. I could wear ANYTHING I wanted. But now I have to try everything on. And I rarely buy anything.

    Here’s what I really wanted to say, though, and you can be mad or disagree if you want, I probably shouldn’t say anything at all because this post is a totally legitimate rant and I’m not protesting it at all… its my perception that fashions for non-conforming/non-model body types have become much more accessible over the past 10 years or so. Particularly with the empire waist phenomenon. I’m way into the PETITES section too. I have a short torso and long legs. But the petite lengths still work best in both tops and pants. And petite lines have become much more popular and prevalent over the past few years. So, point being, not to take away from ANYTHING that you’ve said, maybe there is some small glimmer of hope that things are getting slightly better??

    And I am NOT saying that the fashion industry doesn’t exist, by definition, to make us feel badly about ourselves so that it can make money by selling us clothing that we hope will fill the void of self hatred it has helped to create. We still have a loooong way to go before off-the-rack fashions are flattering to all body types. Assuming such a thing is even possible considering the mind-boggling diversity of female body shapes and sizes. Do you think?

    And lastly, I compliment people all the time. I only say what I mean. And I think saying nice things when we thing them is part of *creating new value.* So maybe you can foster YOUR OWN VALUE by considering that compliments might be authentic? :)

    Oh wait, PS. thrift shops in my neck of the woods feature a large variety of sizes, including entire racks of plus sizes. I am a hard-core” treasure hunter”. I live for that shit!

    • Ha, no… I don’t think that you’re protesting. You’d have to be a lot more inflammatory and stuff for that to happen. You are totally right though, clothing for non-model body types have become more accessible in the past 10 years (yay internet!), but still lag far behind model-body type clothing accessibility. My beef with petites is that there are no petite plus-sizes. You’re either fat and tall or short and thin. If I’m lucky, I can get into a petites L or XL, but most of the time, I’m sized right out of them even though the lengths of the clothes are perfect for my shortness.

      I didn’t mean to imply that all compliments are patronizing and not authentic. When I get a compliment from a fellow feminist or fat woman, I can be reasonably assured that they actually do think that my clothes look good. Sometimes though, I detect that “hey, you don’t look like a slobby fat chick!” part of compliments, and sometimes I interpret it being there because of my inability to take compliments. I don’t doubt that it’s there much more than it is for thin people.

      I had loads of luck at second-hand and thrift stores back when I had time to shop and I was a little thinner. Remember, I have absolutely enormous breasts, and finding a cute shirt that doesn’t show too much is an added level of difficulty. Plus, law school is totes a time suck.

  7. I agree, Undercover Punk, I think it has got better in the last ten years. Capitalism’s finally got its shit together and started to realize that there’s actually a market for this stuff. However, there’s still relatively little variety and it’s usually much, much more expensive. That said, it’s much easier for me to find clothes now at a size 16-18 (US 12-14) than when I was a size 28 (US size 24) teenager. It’s also probably more demoralizing for women who were thin until their mid- to late-twenties and who once had the luxury of buying clothes off the rack. I’ve never had that degree of choice or much more than a cursory interest in clothes so it doesn’t bother me too much. As long as I don’t look too matronly or am reduced to wearing latex and crushed velvet, I’m happy.

    I

  8. Hello,
    Very well written and very informative article, keep up the impressive writing, Thanks Jerry.

  9. “Beer is like the staple of manliness. Shit, it must be fucking awesome to have a beer and everyone think that it makes you a swell dude. Fat chick with a dark lager doesn’t have the same connotation, I’m afraid.”

    Don’t know if it will matter, but “fat chick with a dark lager” has connotations of AWESOMENESS to me, personally (or, “any chick with a dark lager,” really). I would love to hang out with you at my local and knock ’em back. I think having a beer makes you beyond swell.

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