My friend asked me last night, seemingly out of the blue, “Do you ever wonder why stores separate their plus size clothes?”
The truth is, it didn’t cross my mind until she asked it. But I haven’t stopped thinking about it since because, really, it seems like a classic microagression–a small, perhaps mundane, but not insignificant–manner by which to separate people who lie outside of what, at some point, became considered the norm. Not that it should matter, but a 2016 VCU article cited data claiming that over 60% of women in the US wear clothes that are plus or extended sized. Another article notes that plus size women account for 28% of the clothing market (Binkley, 2013). With an affected population that substantial, it’s even more glaring how insensitive we can be.
A 2016 article published in Body Image links anti-fat attitudes, body shaming, self-compassion, and fat-talk in female college students. They found that internalizing body-shaming led to engaging in fat-talk, among other negative anti-fat attitudes. They found the converse to be true as well–that self-compassion leads to better psychological well-being and less engagement with objectification and self-denigration. The health education and communication implication of all this is to promote self-compassion (Webb, 2016). It isn’t hard to imagine that segregated stores don’t play into a healing cycle very well.
Though there has been a recent movement for models that match all body types, the retail industry still largely caters to a frankly thinner than average body type. Consider the last mannequin you saw that wasn’t unrealistically proportioned. I can’t recall a single one…
One article says these social pressures, among others like harsh lighting and narrow spaces in dressing rooms, are driving plus-sized women to opt towards online shopping (Money, 2017). Despite some small successes, Money says, men and women of size “are clearly tired of limited options and unwelcome shopping experience”.
The thing is, my friend’s question wasn’t one out of the blue. She had gone shopping with her cousin. It should have been a fun outing– bonding, enjoying rare time together, catching up and picking out clothes for each other. Instead, they parted ways near the entrance of the store.
Binkley, Christina (2013, June 12), “On plus side: New fashion choices for size 18,” The Wall Street Journal, Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB100014241278873 23949904578540002476232128.
Money, C. N. (2017). Do the Clothes Make the (Fat) Woman: The Good and Bad of the Plus-Sized Clothing Industry. Siegel Institute Ethics Research Scholars, 1(1), 1.
Webb, J. B., Fiery, M. F., & Jafari, N. (2016). “You better not leave me shaming!”: Conditional indirect effect analyses of anti-fat attitudes, body shame, and fat talk as a function of self-compassion in college women. Body image, 18, 5-13.