How the high street alienates plus size bodies, and why I’m mad about it.

Take a deep dive into the world of plus size fashion with Lily, your chonky explorer. Learn all about the frustrations people who wear a size 20+ face when trying to do something as simple as buying a dress. Or being treated like a human being.

Hi, I’m Lily, and I’m fat. And believe it or not, I wear clothes. In fact, I love clothes shopping – particularly in person, so I know what the fabric feels like and how well it fits. For my fellow plus size people (I’ve categorised plus size as anyone above a size 20), I have drawn up this handy list of where in Bristol you can buy plus size clothing in person. Drum roll please…

  • Yours Clothing (The Galleries)
  • New Look (Cabot Circus)

Wow! You’ve got a wide variety of two whole shops! Two shops out of 72 in Cabot Circus, The Galleries and The Mall.

In the massive Cabot Circus, there are 34 shops dedicated to women’s clothing. Only one of them carries their plus size range in-store, New Look (and it is a rapidly shrinking section.)

In Broadmead, there are 18 shops devoted to selling clothes to women – and yet only one of them stocks plus size clothing! Yours, a shop that caters to plus size women.

In The Mall, there is nowhere that stocks above a 20 (and yes, I did ring every shop just to make sure. Someone from Quiz excitedly told me that they sometimes carry an 18… thanks, but no thanks.) I was genuinely shocked to find this out. It makes me feel unwelcome in their passageways of shiny shops, as they clearly don’t want fatties like me wandering around and ruining the aesthetic they’ve cultivated by catering to people below a certain waist measurement.

Can Capitalism…help?

In 2016, the charmer that is Jeremy Hunt called obesity a ‘national emergency’. Also in 2016, according to Public Health England, 61% of the population was overweight. If we’re such a rapidly ballooning country, why can’t we buy clothes in person in more shops? If I’ve got capitalism right, there should be businessmen racing to cater to plus size people, as a growing (no pun intended) market and yet, no. Empty units in shopping centres aren’t filling up with ranges designed for a dimpled thigh or a rounded stomach – they remain empty and forlorn. From my point of view, this is a wonderland of opportunities to make some business savvy person a large sum by benefitting from the lack of options for people who don’t fit into the highstreets’s narrow world view of ‘beauty’.

People below a size 20 are presented with such a wide variety of options. Clothing for them adorns each rail and each shelf in the 72 shops available in these shopping hubs of Bristol. Have you ever thought about buying something just because it fits you? I have – it didn’t even look good. I was just thrilled to find it. The suggestions from some of my more thoughtless friends to go and buy something cheap from a charity shop or Primark do annoy me – thanks for the suggestion, lads, but it’s not that simple. Accessible, off-the rack clothing that is quick to find and purchase doesn’t really exist, especially not for a ‘going out’ outfit.

Have you ever thought about buying something just because it fits you? I have.

There’s also this weird, unspoken assumption that people who are considered plus size wish to be hidden. Is this why we are expected to wear nothing but clothing in black, grey and navy?

Why are we relegated to covering ourselves with baggy, unflattering clothing that hides the contours of our bodies? Imagine if the general public had to be confronted with- gasp! – skin that wasn’t stretched taught over a skinny frame.

I’m 21 years old. I want to be able to wear the clothes my peers are sporting (except those inexplicably popular leopard print stretch flares, no ta.) I don’t want ‘ironic’ printed T-shirts, baggy jumpers and poorly fitting jeans. You will also never catch me in a butterfly print, but clearly that’s all designers think plus size women need in their lives.

Online shopping….

So why I don’t just buy all my clothes online? You would have a valid point if it weren’t for the fact that women’s clothing sizes vary massively across different styles and different brands interpretations of what each size actually is. It would be incredibly naïve for me to believe that I could order a 22 at Pretty Little Thing because a size 22 fits me in Sainsburys (Clothes from Sainsburys slap, btw, and nobody can convince me otherwise.) Popular retailers often don’t scale their sizes accurately, resulting in a less than perfect fit that squeezes my chunky arms too tight and smushes my buxom bosom. I’m desperate to buy something cute and sexy from Pretty Little Thing or Little Mistress, which are brands that do offer a plus size range, but I am apprehensive to order because I am afraid of the embarrassment that could be triggered by not being able to fit into their interpretation of a size 22.

There’s also a distinct lack of choice. If a person under size 18 wanted to purchase a dress of any kind from New Look, they have a choice of 758 styles. On the same website, a person who is above an 18 has a rather limited selection of only 55 options. That is a mere 7% of the choice non-plus size people have. It’s a similar tale on ASOS, where a ‘normal’ sized person can choose from a huge 6,217 dresses… the same can’t be said for their Curves range, which offers 557 dresses (of which 557 dresses, just over a quarter are black.)

‘Promoting Obesity’

Some people claim that brands selling plus size clothing and using plus size models is ‘promoting obesity’ and to that I loudly proclaim… What The Actual Heck? Face the facts, people, fat people exist and we are, horror of all horror, HUMANS, just the same as you. I also find it very difficult to believe that anybody would see a picture of an overweight woman and think, ‘Yeah, that’s my ideal body shape. I can’t wait to be constantly ostracised and judged for choices I make, just because I weigh more than your average person. Although, I’m mostly excited for a doctor to publish an article in the Telegraph telling me that my potential partners aren’t going to want to have sex with me, because she can’t understand that fat people can still be damn sexy.’

Face the facts, people, fat people exist and we are, horror of all horror, HUMANS, just the same as you.

Yep. Dr Sarah Burnett actually said that in 2015, after singer Jamelia said that shops shouldn’t stock clothes for obese people because ‘they need to feel uncomfortable about their unhealthy size.” Jamelia, babes, I’m sure you’d be far more uncomfortable if obese people were reduced to wearing no clothes at all.

If these people think that shops selling plus size clothes promotes obesity, and that plus size models promote obesity then I don’t even want to imagine what they think of me. A fat person who dares to have a personality and a sense of style, instead of simply lingering in the shadows. An overweight woman who regularly performs in nothing but her underwear and who revels in the positive attention that my ‘undesirable’ body attracts. Shock horror, people don’t gag when they see me in the street.

At the end of the day all that I really want, what I really, really want is for clothing companies to treat their plus sized customers like everybody else. Mango, H&M, River Island, Dorothy Perkins, M&S, these are all retailers that have stores in Bristol, and these stores also all have plus sized ranges, but only online. I think there is a fundamental problem when a store does produce these items of clothing, but is too conscious of keeping large people out of the shop to actually sell them.

So, until there are some more plus size shops in Bristol?  The high street can kiss my fat arse.

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