I was reading this article on Mummys Pages (not sure how I ended up there) but I have also read other similar ones about UK celeb, one time singer and TV now and then pop up Jamelia who in a nut shell feels that plus sized clothes should be available only in specialist shops and not an integral part of the regular high street fashion stores.
Her reason for this is that to put those clothes in the mainstream shopping spaces normalises obesity and can promote an unhealthy lifestyle. Something she feels we should not be allowing to happen. My new healthy self thought “she has a point” but then I got to thinking…
I remember a year ago or so, exploding with indignation when a guy blogged something similar and I was kind of embarrassed with myself for changing my mind so easily now I’m out of the obese zone. I kind of had an inner conflict feeling like I’d left my overweight brothers and sisters behind and become one of ‘them’ the skinny folk (not quite). I needed to think more about how I really felt about this subject and not just do it with my ‘I’m alright Jack’ hat on, because I know, only too well how fast I could slide back into obesity, believe me I know and I know what a fight I have forever to keep myself from that slide. So no, I decided to think about this not as a slimmer, healthier, fitter, happier person, but think about this as who I am, a fat person currently in control.
I thought about the days when finding plus sized clothes was a specialised job, there were select stores on the high street which stocked fatty fashion and that was it, or you made your own…with no patterns. Evans and Rogers and Rogers were the two main ones I can recall and then Rogers and Rogers, who now sell out of Matalan stores, I only saw in London. and The offerings were not very good… thinking back to the 80s and early 90s, lots of the plus sized stockists were apparently aiming at middle aged ladies or people who worked in offices and didn’t mind wearing polyester florals and ill fitting trousers and odd shaped jackets. Strangely even the specialists didn’t seem to understand the larger figure and what it needed to dress it to make it look and feel good.
For a young girl/lady these offerings were mostly over priced for the often poorly made garments that they were, but at the other end of the market you had quality in celeb offerings from the likes of Dawn French (UK comedian) who opened a cute little boutique in London right near my friend’s flat called Sixteen47 which sold tent like creations at what then seemed extortionate prices to the more wealthy large lady. A little look for Sixteen47 just now showed that the prices are less extortionate these days, they have an online store and the garments are rather less tent like to an extent.
It was rare to find clothes in regular high street fashion shops such as Top Shop, Chelsea Girl, Miss Selfridge and later Next below a size 10 or above a size 16. I remembered this all with a shudder, even calling to mind some of the hideous outfits I wore, knowing they looked crap, feeling crap, hating myself and hating that I’d had to spend a fortune to feel and look horrendous.
BUT I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the misery of some of those shopping trips spurred me on to start a diet. That awful feeling of nothing fitting or looking right, being faced with your fat self in the changing room mirror or even worse in those days walking in to try to squeeze yourself into something and being met with the horror of communal changing rooms. The desire to wear nice clothes, the hatred of the fat shopping trip, the way I had to walk by every other shop on the high street searching for the same one shop that sold what might fit me was awful. It affected my social life. I hated girlie shopping trips, would never ask my slim friends to come into the fat shop with me and would try to steer them towards shoe shops, accessory shops and make up stores. I had TONS of shoes and nail varnishes and make up and hair accessories but just one or two outfits… outfits that I didn’t like but had had to settle for. I still notice with young chunkier girls how they still, in spite of the massive choice now available on the high street, tend to spend more on shoes and jewellery and change their hair colour every five minutes than buy lots of clothes so there is maybe a lingering still of what I used to feel.
Times have changed, most mainstream fashion outlets on the high street and online make clothes up to size 22, 24, 26 or beyond, including the big supermarkets and many of these offer beautiful, trendy garments at reasonable prices in not too shabby (but varying degrees of) quality. Higher end fashion, at higher prices is also becoming a big business when targeted at the obese ladies and all at a time when never before has health and fitness been more heavily promoted.
Isn’t that bizarre? When I was a young fatty with nowhere to buy clothes, I didn’t know anyone who went to a gym, I don’t even think there were many gyms around. I remember keep fit classes at the local church hall becoming popular in the late 80’s and then the Jane Fonda explosion and from there we got to here, a gym on every street corner. Nobody talked about healthy eating unless they were trying to lose weight and we didn’t have a clue, lettuce and yoghurt was about it in terms of our education.
Things have shifted so much in the fashion world that if you are not plus size some of the plus sized shops make clothes from a size 14 to pick up the top end of slim, so size 14 ladies are able to pick up real bargains and some lovely clothes from the plus sized outlets as these smaller sizes, catered for by other high street shops get left on the rails for sale time. I know this, I do it myself. I have frequented the plus sized shops for so long that I know what goes down in there, for someone who has always been a 14 they may never dream of entering a plus sized shop and I’m glad because I get to snap up all of those bargains let alone the accessories which skinnies miss out on. So i guess that’s a positive in all this which supports specialist shops but only for my own selfish interests.
So, where do I stand on this now? I’ve had to think about it and for me, recalling the horror of not being able to find clothes to fit, being at the mercy of the plus sized specialists who didn’t have to try with style, all they had to do was make it BIG and price it HIGH and the obese folk bought it as they had no choice, I would hate for anyone young or old to go through that misery. It definitely left scars on me, for sure and I thank the campaigners and bloggers who have and still work to influence clothing makers to think about style, fashion, fit, body shape and not just make shapeless sacks.
So on that count I support the expansion of plus sized fashion into mainstream. There are people who are sick of dieting, sick of the yo yo who cannnot lose weight and who have given up and decided to be happy as they are, many of these people are healthy, fit active people, more so than lots of skinny people I know, they are living their lives, raising their kids, pursuing their careers, dating, getting married, travelling and they have a right to be able to feel fabulous doing that. Who is Jamelia or anyone else to say they do not have that right? Besides this I know people who are slim but have massive boobs who have to wear plus sized tailoring to fit their body shape, high street stretch in a 14 will do the trick but if they want to dress it up in something sophisticated or as I say tailored for work or whatever they have to go into plus size to get the fit. Why should they not be able to find what they need on the high street at an affordable price just because their shape dictates their size on the rail?
In terms of business. If there is a market businesses will exploit it. As I said earlier the pressure from bloggers and plus size fashionistas is increasing and they are alerting manufacturers and designers to the demand. No longer is the fat woman a middle aged mother of 6 stuck at home happy to wear an elasticated crimpolene skirt and polyester vest top with nylon cardigan on top… oh no, big ladies now are business women, models, celebs, entrepreneurs, independent ladies with disposable income all of their own and they want fashion.
Business doesn’t care if women are getting fatter because they’re selling them clothes, businesses don’t have conscience or half of the world’s food manufacturers would be out of business. All they want is profit and if there is a group of large women holding out money and shouting suggestions they are not going to ignore them, so how Miss Jamelia proposes to halt that business cycle of identify the market, meet its need and make money I’m not sure. And why not? Why shouldn’t businesses make clothes fat people want, they didn’t make them fat, the don’t sell mega packs of chocolate and cut price packs of biscuits and bottles of sugar laden soda… oh wait, some of the them do, in fact Asda has the doughnuts and muffins in the doorway section WAY too near the clothes really. Are they subliminaly saying, have some doughnuts its OK we sell big clothes? Hmmm, I wonder.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, does shaming or forcing someone with obesity to lose weight actually work? Ever? No. Well at least not in my experience. Given the way lifestyles have changed since the 1980’s in terms of what and when we eat, how we live our lives, would taking away big clothes from mainstream stores make people change and lose weight? I doubt it.
So while I can see where Miss Jamelia is coming from I don’t agree with her, I think it’s more complex than her simple view considers, I wonder if she’s just looking for a hook for another documentary to be commissioned during which she tells us how amazingly fit and healthy she is and how we all need to be like her (last time it was single parenting).
People have a choice. Some people choose not to change their body size or their activity levels, not all fat people are obese, not all obese people are ill or unhealthy or unfit or inactive, nobody deserves to have their quality of life damaged because someone tried to force their hand to do something they struggle with. I remember feeling forced to diet after a misery inducing shopping trip and it’s not fair, I wasn’t even that fat, I was a young girl, I should have been happy, I should have been carefree, I shouldn’t have been ashamed to go shopping with my friends, I shouldn’t have been compelled to buy a ridiculous amount of shoes, I should have just been able to buy some clothes. If I had been able to do that maybe I would have felt more normal and engaged more with other activities and not got fatter and fatter and used food more and more as my crutch. In fact I remember peeling off from friends heading to trendy boutiques and buying some cakes and gorging them on the way home on my own, had there been a place I could buy something alongside my friends those cakes wouldn’t have entered my body and sat on my gut for years and I might have gone out dancing in my new clothes that night.
I get it, I do, I see her point but the more I think about it the less I agree with her. I read lots of American bloggers who say how difficult it is in the US to get good plus sized high street fashion and it hasn’t done anything to reduce obesity there has it? I don’t think it would here in the UK either. Jamelia was entitled to her opinion and these debates are always good to have, they make you think, challenge the way you think and keep things real. I’m glad that I’m not out of touch with how morbid obesity felt and how it happened, it will all help me to stop it happening again.