How to fight the fitting room

I've shed more than my fair share of tears in fitting rooms throughout the years.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably at one point been in a fitting room in a store at your local mall and shed a few tears. Maybe you’ve stormed out of the fitting room in pure frustration, too.

Here’s the scenario: you’ve scouted the store for a few cute items to wear at a party you have coming up in what you think is your size (for me, usually the biggest size available), go into the fitting room optimistic and hopeful, and begin trying on.

One by one, articles of clothing are vetoed because they don’t fit, and by the end, you’re staring at yourself half nude in the fitting room with tears welling in your eyes.

Then the self loathing starts: “You’re so fat.” “You need to lose weight immediately.” “You are so disgusting.” “You make me sick.” Hell, I’ve even pulled at my stomach and arm flab before out of frustration, cursing it’s very existence.

This scenario is all to familiar for many of us around the world; the battle of trying to fit our unique and beautiful bodies into clothes that get smaller and smaller by the day, feeling the pressure to lose weight so you can conform to a body norm determined by major fashion retailers.

Here’s the reality – in the United States, plus size is usually considered to be anything above and including a size 14. 68% of American women wear a size 14 and up and the average woman wears a size 16 or 18.

Yet in an analysis of 25 of the largest multi-brand retailers (who, when combined, includes over 15,000 brands) by Edited, only 2.3 percent of their women’s apparel offerings are plus size. Furthermore, there is almost no selection for plus women in the luxury market, with it representing only 0.1%.

Here’s a great article where I found this information by Racked. Take a read through it. It has some staggering stats and info on the plus size market and it’s lack of representation.

My entire life, I've always had trouble finding clothes that fit me.

Even at my smallest, when I wore a below average size 10-12, I still could not walk into any store I wanted and have every item fit me. It was always a Russian Roulette of what would work and what wouldn’t, and even then, at my smallest, I remember shedding tears in many fitting rooms feeling like I wasn’t thin enough.

All I’ve ever wanted was to be able to walk into a store and know with certainty that I could find something that fits me. It seems like such a simple concept, doesn’t it? I’m a woman who is considered plus size, have a job, and have money to spend on clothes that fit me, so therefore, I should be able to find something just like anyone who isn’t plus size is, right? Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy.

It would be remiss of me not to recognize that even at my current size, I still fall on the smaller end of the plus size spectrum, and yield a sense of privilege over other folks who are beyond size 22. As hard as it is for me to find clothes, it is even harder for many other women.

For some reason, retailers are ignoring a huge demographic of women (and men!) who have the means and desire to purchase plus size clothes. This, to me, demonstrates just how fat phobic our society is. People with money want to spend, and retailers are completely ignoring what could be billions of profits. So what’s the damn deal?

I’ve been told countless times that if I want to wear trendy clothes or shop at a certain store, maybe I should use it as motivation to lose weight.

Fuck. That. Shit.

Fuck you for thinking you have a right over my body to tell me that I need to change to adapt to what your standards are.

Fuck you for ignoring the fact that I have money I am willing and want to spend on inclusively sized clothing.

Fuck you for continuously glorifying diet culture and the thin norm in an attempt to make anyone who doesn’t fit into your narrow box feel like garbage.

As much as I am over this absolute nonsense, I recognize that there is still a way to go. But, until this world becomes a bit more inclusive-sized clothing friendly, I’ve managed to come up with some tips and tricks when I do need to go shopping that help me not feel like such a mouldy piece of bread by the time I’m done.

Here are my tips for a positive and stress/tear-free plus-size shopping experience:

The day of the shop, wear comfortable clothes. For me, that means something that’s loose, soft, stretchy, and makes me feel good. Usually, I reach for my Aerie leggings and oversized sweatshirt and flat boots/runners.

Leave the coat, scarf, mitts and purse (if possible) in the car. Nothing is worse than trying to shop and having to lug a million and one things around with you. For an experience where you already might be feeling a bit testy, I think it’s important to reduce possible stress and irritants wherever possible. Less things to carry means less stress (in my opinion.)

Choose your stores wisely – shop at stores you know will fit, and avoid those that don’t. There are certain stores in my local mall that I just KNOW will not fit me. They won’t, plain and simple. And in the off chance that they have one or two items that might work, it isn’t worth it to me to try a million things on that don’t fit to find them. So, while I think these stores are bullshit for not being more inclusive in their sizing, I can’t physically do anything about that the day of. So, I just don’t bother giving them any business.

Ignore the sizes on the tags. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that the sizes on the tags are pretty much a joke. In one store, that I won’t mention, I can get comfortably into one top (say a size 8), and can’t even do up another (say a size 14). Sizing is so inconsistent. In addition, let’s be honest. I used to think my value was determined based on whether I could get into the L over the XL. And that’s complete bullshit. Fuck the tags, fuck the sizes, and choose clothing that looks like it will fit. Ignore that number/letter because at the end of the day, it’s completely messed up and will change not only from store to store, but from season to season within one specific store.

Be brave – try things you normally wouldn’t try because you think you ‘don’t have the right body’. My entire life I’ve never purchased a tank top without the intention of wearing a sweater or blazer over it because I thought my arms were gross. My standard of comparison? If my arms didn’t look like those on the Instagram models, then they were too fat and therefore should be covered. You know how many things are immediately vetoed if you don’t want to show your arms? That small pond of inclusive sized clothing got even smaller when you remove sleeveless, strapless and tank tops.

When I recently went shopping for a partnership I did with Lambton Mall, I stepped a bit outside of my comfort zone and tried on a sleeveless dress. I found out that I LOVED it, and thought in that moment just how many outfits I’d have missed out on over the years because of my fear of no sleeves.

Be patient and don’t get discouraged. Regardless of your size, there will always be pieces that you just don’t like, even if they do fit.

Even though we have slim pickings, I don’t buy anything just because it fits me. In my experience, if I buy it only because it fits, I probably won’t end up ever wearing it anyways. As tempting as it is to do the hallelujah it fits dance and take it home with you forever, staring at a bunch of clothes you bought just because you were able to get it on your body in your closet is just as upsetting knowing you spent all that money on stuff you really didn’t love. I believe we should all have a right to be picky about what we wear.

I know that these tips won’t solve all of our clothing (or lack thereof) problems. The real change needs to happen at a systemic level, and it will require a monumental shift in the way society thinks and perceives plus size folks. At the end of the day, we need to remove the stigma and shame around fat, and do away with the toxic diet and thin culture that we were all raised with.

So what can we do though? Making it through a shopping trip without crying or getting stressed out is one thing, but what can we do to change things all together and make sure we have more options available to us in the future?

We can use our voices

Retailers, you need to do more. You need to be better. Having a limited plus size section on your website isn’t enough anymore. Having the occasional XXL in your straight size section isn’t enough anymore. Having only specific items of your regular collection available in plus size isn’t enough anymore.

Together, we need to hold these retailers to account, and let them know that doing the very bare minimum is no longer an excuse.

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