My Top Is Not Out of Control

Drawing by Jodee Rose

So I’ve been shopping for clothes lately at ye Olde Fat Clothing Stores.  In one store I couldn’t find tights that weren’t “control top”, another only carries “control top” leggings.  I keep getting e-mails about “Tighter Tummy Technology.”  Padded sports bras promise “glamour” and “lift” but  wouldn’t hold my boobs down walking to my car, and yoga pants with spandex inserts to “tighten and flatten” abound.

The straw that broke the fatties back was on the Lane Bryant website, when I accidentally clicked shapewear instead of sleepwear (Trigger Warning: body shaming feel free to scroll past)

People are allowed to wear whatever clothes they want, my question is – must we have this constant drumbeat of advertising that as fat people if we aren’t going to lose weight we need to wear clothes that make us look like we did, or that makes us all look like fat hour glasses with flat fronts?

If you are someone who wears these clothes and shapewear then please hear me when I say that I totally and completely support you in doing that- this is just about my feelings about my body and the shopping experience that I want – I have no interest in telling anybody else how to live.  I will fight to the death for your right to wear whatever you want, I would ask if you are willing to get on board with stores that cater to fat people creating a shopping experience that is a little less easy to construe as body shaming.

In that vein, allow me to say this:

Dear stores that sell clothes to fat people,

My top is not out of control, my tush doesn’t need to be trimmed or toned, nor, while I appreciate alliteration, do I require Tighter Tummy Technology.  I don’t need Glamour or lift in a sports bra – I need to finish step class without two black eyes. I do not need the people who work at your stores to suggest shapewear to help me “look my best” wearing the dress that I’m no longer buying because the person working at your store suggested that I don’t look my best in it right this minute.  I am unwilling to trade my ability to take full breaths for super-duper slimming zoned compression of any kind. I would, in fact, be happy to die without ever again hearing or reading the phrases super-duper slimming, or zoned compression unless it is a new basketball defense.  I came here to shop for clothes at one of the very few stores that caters to people my size.  I did not come here to be bombarded with advertisement that suggests I should try to use the “miracle” of Spandex to smush my body into some other form – if I wanted to feel like crap about my body I would go to every other store that exists, turn on the television, or read the comment thread in almost any article that exists on the internet.

I am aware that other women want these products and I celebrate their right to purchase them, but it seems to me that if they want that they’ll be looking for them so you could tone it the hell down because right now your campaign to tone, tuck, tighten, and trim me really puts the “b” in subtle if you know what I mean.

I’ve already talked about my feelings regarding the concept of “flattering. I wear clothes for a lot of different reasons – to cover my body, to decorate my body, to keep my boobs smashed down at the gym and for many, many other reasons. I do not wear clothes to make my body look like a different body, I do not believe that I need to mold my fat into some different size and shape.  I am not asking you to stop selling these items, I am asking for the ability to find clothes that don’t try to “control” any part of my body, and I am asking for a shopping experience that seems a little less like the constant body shaming I get from people and businesses that aren’t trying to get my money.

Thank you.

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53 thoughts on “My Top Is Not Out of Control

  1. Boy oh boy, thank you for this one! I went shopping for jeans this week and nearly all the pants at Dress Barn Woman had “tummy tamer” panels. When I told the salesclerk I had no need of tummy taming and wanted pants that I could BREATHE in, she looked genuinely bemused. I don’t think it was directed at me or my fatitude, it was just as if I’d announced I had no need of gravity, tyvm. She kept on brightly bringing me tamer pants, saying “oh, but the mesh in here is really light, yada yada.” I finally said (truthfully) that some of us with GI medical conditions find those panels to be painful. That, she was able to hear, but not my philosophical preference for just pants. Sigh.

  2. If you want to really get your blood pressure soaring, try the Spanx website. I just wrote a piece about shapewear for the UK plus-size magazine SLiNK, as it’s an issue I’ve been struggling with, philosophically, since I became invovled in size acceptance. As you know, I was torn on the issue. But it was reading the websites, the cutesy names of the pieces and the descriptions that went with them, that finally got me to come off the fence. My tum is out and proud!

  3. What’s ironic is that they push this stuff but try finding a t-shirt that’s long enough to cover your arms! Or try to find a wedding dress that ISN’T sleeveless! I prefer to have my upper arms covered, my own preferences in that regard though I’m trying to get a little more confidence in that area but seriously, it is hard as can be to find t-shirts with long enough sleeves. Many are barely long enough to be considered a t-shirt!

    1. Exactly! Or the majority of their tops, and even their sweaters are so low cut you have to wear a cami or tank underneath, if you are the type that doesn’t want to show a lot of cleavage, like I do. There are so many mixed messages out there and it’s sad that Lane Bryant, who is supposed to cater to big women, have been going down the path of making them feel like they still aren’t good enough.

    2. Indeed, this is a beef of mine as well. I have to buy my scrub tops a size up these days because they’ve taken to making them with these dainty little non-sleeves. Ditto t-shirts. Grrrr!

  4. Sing it, sister!

    The thing with all the ‘slimming’ clothes is that they don’t change the configuration of my body, they just very slightly rearrange the fat so the bulges they claim to get rid of simply move to a different spot. In the meantime, I can’t breathe properly, which is kind of important to me.

    Like you, I support people wearing whatever damn fool thing they please. If a friend of mine wants to wear Spanx, I’m not going to even try to dissuade her. If someone believes that ‘tummy tamer’ panels in their pants are wonderful, that’s fine by me. Different strokes and all that.

    All I want is the option to choose what I would prefer to wear.

    Oh, and Janeen? In re: the endless strapless wedding gowns, ever since Kate Middleton married Prince William, sleeves have started creeping back into wedding wear. Give it another year or two and people are going to start talking about how tacky and dated strapless is and how nobody could possibly want it.

    These things go in extremist cycles. I still think there’s room for bothy sleeves and strapless, as well as tummy control and tummy not specifically controlled.

    1. Yeah but the strapless thing has been going on since BEFORE I got married over nine years ago! Gah! I totally missed out on that 80’s and 90’s dress period with you had all of the sleeves. I got around it by having my dress made but still, kind of drove me nuts that so many dresses were sleeveless.

  5. Bravo Ragen for this column, if nothing else!

    My pet peeve? Bras. I work an 8-hour day at an office. Right now, we are so busy that we have been offered overtime, which means I am working a 10-12 hour day, doing brain-intensive work. Although I try to maintain good posture, I usually hit “epic fail” on that sometime after lunch – and it’s a long way from 2:00 to 8:00 with a bra whose underwire is poking you in the side-boob under your arm.

    So I went to look for bras without underwire. Have I mentioned, I hate shopping for bras? Not to mention, I hate shopping for anything right now, since I am working so much that I just want to crawl home and veg till I have to get up and do it all again. So I wanted bras without wire, but that would “do their job,” so to speak.

    The oh-so-helpful salesladies kept pushing underwires, never mind my stated reasons for not wanting them. I don’t care if 42DD without wire looks like a granny bra – I am wearing it to work, where (trust me on this!) absolutely nobody will see it. I also want bras whose elastic will not roll and condense itself into one of my rolls, because that hurts.

    I ended up leaving the store with no bras, then buying good ol’ Playtex18-hour online – with no wires, and no pushy salesperson telling me I’d “look my best” wearing an underwire. Lady, mostly I want to be able to get through my workday without pain, and without having to go to the bathroom every half hour to “adjust”!

    Is that too much to ask?

    As for “tighter tummy” pants, oh please. The synthetic crap those panels are made of soaks up my sweat and the smell doesn’t wash out. After a few wearings, those pants smell like a locker room. No thanks! I am almost 52 years old; I don’t care about my “tummy.” I do care, very much, about not stinking!

    1. I have that problem too! I hate, hate, hate! Shopping for bras. I have two places in the city that carry my size. All of them have underwires. So I ask “What happened to wire free?” the sales lady actually said “Once you get over a 38B everyone should wear a wire!”

      No thank you! I don’t like wires, I may be a 38 H at 23 years old but I want my wire free bras thank you!

      1. I ran into the same thing recently looking for new bras. The salesperson also was trying to get me to buy underwire. She backed down when I told her that I’m nursing and underwires are not good for that (clogged ducts). She tried to give me this whole thing about needing more support and I explained that since I was buying a new bra for the first time in FOUR years, the wire free bras will provide PLENTY of support compared to what I was currently wearing (which had almost no support at all). I mean, at least my new bra holds the girls up! I can’t say that about my old bras!

        Granted, I do have to say that I like the look of an underwire but really, for me, it’s only good if I’m going to be going around without a shirt. And in some shirts I own, it’s almost indecent! I had that problem the last time I bought one and between that and the horrible discomfort, sorry but I’d rather get a wirefree bra!

    2. If your bra is causing you pain, you might be wearing the wrong size. I used to hate wearing bras, and still don’t enjoy them that much, but I found an article about sizing yourself and discovered I was wearing the wrong size. I still am not a huge fan of bras, but they don’t hurt anymore. Although if you aren’t experiencing any pain since you’ve gone underwire-free, it may just be because underwires can be really painful and they seem to shape them to fit all shapes. Not trying to tell anyone what to do, I’ve just become a big advocate for making sure everyone is properly sized since it made a huge difference for me. Still, I could complain a lot about the difficulties in finding bras without underwires, and don’t get me started on the crappy size selection most stores have. 🙂

  6. Yeah. I don’t mind if they offer those kinds of products, but I get really pissed when those seem to be the ONLY options. I was especially disappointed with the changes at Dress Barn. They used to carry reasonably priced basic slacks in a variety of colors that actually fit me (petite length in a 16W or 18W size) and that laundered well. I’ve been wearing them for YEARS. Now they don’t have them anymore.

    On very rare occasions, I do wear a shaping garment. I have a bike shorts style shaper in black and beige. It’s really light compression, and it doesn’t impair breathing or pinch. I wear it when I actually give a damn about the way people judge whether or not my jiggly thighs look bumpy or smooth (such as a job interview.) Even though it is not uncomfortable, I cannot imagine wearing it every day. I recently wore it to a job interview, and it took me FOREVER to find panty hose in my size that were not control top. (In general, I hate control top hose, but there is no way in hell I’m wearing control top hose AND a shaping garment.)

  7. OH MY GOODNESS! This is just BRILLIANT! Ragen, you have such a gift for expressing what I have always thought, but have never articulated. And I’m loving all the comments above, too.

  8. I always wear shapewear under my dresses because I like how it smooths out my silhouette and (I know this sounds wonky) when I’m singing opera my stomach feels very well supported, not compressed. And I don’t like jiggling. But that’s just me, and I’m doing it because it makes me more comfortable in my own skin. C’est la vie.

    I haven’t shopped for jeans in ages because I really don’t look good in them, never have. Have they all gone “tummy support”?? That’s sickening. And the one time I tried on Spanx it felt like I was trying to squeeze myself into a sausage casing.

    My best friend got married 4 years ago and had a devil of a time finding a dress WITH sleeves. I think she wound up doing something clever with a long sparkly wrap.

    1. Yorkie, did you have the same giggly reaction to “My Top Is Not Out of Control” that I did? My initial reaction was that someone accused Ragen of screaming her top and I just had to shake my head and remind myself this is not an opera blog. LOL

      1. That’s hilarious – I was a music major in school (clarinet) and had lots of opera major friends so when I wrote the title I wondered if any of my opera fan/performer readers would think of it that way.


  9. First of all: control-top yoga pants?! Not only does that sound exhausting (basically doing yoga in a girdle), i wouldn’t be surprised if it’s dangerous in some way.
    Yeah, i have worn spanx in the past, just under a skirt to keep my thighs from chafing when i don’t feel like dealing with pantyhose. But i’m not convinced that if you’re past a size 12-14 they actually make much of a difference in terms of how skinny you look. Maybe they take off the appearance of a few pounds, but it’s really not fooling anyone.
    Also, i’ve found that if you wear spanx or control-top stuff under a dress that is cut very close or is form-fitting, and the spanx doesn’t go up high enough on your abdomen, it can actually make the “muffin top” look more pronounced.
    Yeah. Most of that shapewear stuff is a bit of a scam, methinks.

    1. Hadn’t seen the control top yoga pants (a definite WT?) but I did run across a push-up sports bra when shopping once. Clearly unclear on the concept of what a sports bra is supposed to do!

  10. I hate control wear. I like being comfortable! Why would I want to feel squished all day?
    But then plus size women’s shops irritate me anyway – probably because there is little in the way of choice of providers. Why are they obsessed with 3/4 length sleeves? I have scars, I want full-length! All I can get is a basic T-shirt, the nice stuff is all 3/4 length. Been irritating me for years, that.

  11. I hate underwire bras, I will never wear them again. I’m a 44DD, and I stick with Playtex 18-hour and JMS simple cotton bras. I’m sick of salespeople ignoring my stated preferences. I discovered Eddie Bauer long-sleeve t-shirts in Tall sizes – the sleeves are long enough to come to my knuckles! They shrink up a little in the wash but are still long enough. And I buy my jeans in Juniors Plus sizes – astonishing to me that at age 49 they fit me better than “Women’s” sizes – and they don’t have stupid “control” panels.

  12. Yes! I am so tired of the scaling back of choices in plus size retail. I am on limited income and the discount store I shop most has, over the last 3-4 years, cut the 4x/5x items from the plus size department. This is especially true of sleepwear. I refuse to wear uncomfortable ANYthing so spend most of my days slouching around in 15 year old capris and tee shirts. When they eventually wear out, I am so screwed! While I’ve got your attention, Ragen, what do you think of catalogues that supposedly sell plus size garments only, but use extremely thin models? I list that as one of the things that sends me over the top, rage-wise. I try not to purchase from those companies, but sometimes there is no alternative. Thanks for your insight and for giving me a place to piss and moan.

    1. I refused for 15 years to shop at Lane Bryant because the model on their wall was AT MOST a size six. “Oh, but she’s a Tall,” I was told. I told THEM to stuff it. If my body isn’t good enough to display their clothes, then my money isn’t good enough for them either. *incensed*

  13. Thank you so much for writing this! I had a c-section and appendectomy 3 months ago, my old clothes didn’t fit me right so I went to get some new ones and everything in an 18 has those stupid slimming panels, even yoga pants! It literally hurt to wear that stuff. I ended up having to get lounge and pajama pants. I just want a pair of pants I can wear comfortably, without feeling like I can’t breathe.

    1. Ewwwsh, you poor thing..! After my Sektion my gut was so swollen and sore I had to cut nicks in the top of the underwear elastic just so it wouldn’t hurt so much. I can’t imagine having two incision scars to deal with!

      1. luckily I didn’t have two exterior incisions, they did the c-section first and the appendectomy after they took my son out. 3 months after the surgery I’m still sore.

  14. I hate “slimming” clothes. I always feel like I’m stuffing myself into a sausage casing. While at almost 50 I have come to appreciate a bra that lifts my boobs a little, I do not care to have my tummy “tamed” or my butt “wrangled,” or any other such thing.

  15. Although i know that wearing shapewear won’t make me look like a size 2, for some reason if i don’t wear it to go out …i feel weird. What i don’t understand is why bra’s that are sold to larger women don’t have wider side panels and more coverage in the back area?

  16. Another great post Ragen and lots to think about from other replies to this. I too don’t want to be told what part of my body to push into some hideous spanx or whatever. Lets face it, most of have enough common sense and experience to know what we like, feel comfortable in and want to wear, for whatever reason. I too don’t care what other women choose to wear, but I do worry that it’s usually other women seem to be the ones preaching to other women and or trying to get them to convert to what they are doing? That’s just my view and what I’ve noticed here in the UK. I have to admit I had a lapse(lost my mind?)about 18 months ago and orderd a spanx type of garment from a mail order catalogue, to wear with a particular dress. for some strange reason I thought I’d look and feel better “falsely flattened down in tummy/hips area”, but I couldn’t believe how awful and hideous this “thing” was and would have laughed out loud after trying it on, except I could hardly move/breathe!

    SlavicDiva, you made me alugh with the comments you made and I too feel that at 51, I have more important things to worry about and comfor and ease are my number one concerns. I also imagined that the aroma after wearing these garments for some time would be awful? Cammie, I also agree with you that having thin/skinny models in plus size clothes adverts/promotions is so annoying and stupid. Recently there was an advert on Facebook from a UK popular plus size retailer, Evans, for Christmas dresses that had these models in them, Women rightly commented back that it was ridiculous to have this as how could we tell how these clothes looked on us? But I agree to that are limited places selling to us, you feel you just have to grin and bear it mostly?

    I don’t think we will ever stop getting these endless daily messages, if articles in even non trashy publications are anything to go by. Recently there was an article in a respected weekly publication here about a very popular baking TV programme and one of the judges/bakers is a 70+woman Mary Berry and she has to try plenty of cake. One comment is, “For while she remains dazzlingly slender, she has to eat a staggering amount of cake.” She herself then says, “When judging, I taste all the cakes. I have a decent piece, then only something simple for supper. I do try to eat a lot of salads” There was also further reference from the female journalist who wrote the article about how it was amazing how slim the baker/judge was.

    I also read in another edition of this magazine about a reality show judge/cheoreographer , who is now at least in her late 60’s/close to 70, when asked what she most disliked about your appearance replied, “My bum/bottom-too big”. I must add that to me she is slim/thin/average, not that that means anything. Another question they asked her was, what was her secret vice and she replied, “Stuffing my face with chocolate&eating it very quickly, pretending it won’t sit on my hips”. I have on a previous occasion read that she says she’s permanently on some diet and while I know this is mostly because she’s a woman on TV, how sad is it and that women interviewers and others all still collude in this?

    To top it all and continuing in same vein(I’m on a roll now!)I caught sight of the magazine stand in a supermarket recently and it had a star of some small time soap opera TV programme here in the UK on the cover. She is vety large size woman and has apparently gone onto a reality show here called, “Strictly Come Dancing” and my in thoughts on this are they always seem to have someone they can poke fun at, so she must be it, but was shocked(or maybe I shouldn’t be?)that her headline was, “I have lost at least 3 dress sizes”)I didn’t stop to read further or want to know what it involved, but yet another blow to us larger women?

    Best Wishes, Marion UK

  17. What I’m concluding here is that ALL of us need a new clothing company. We need a company that designs clothes that actually fit us the way we WANT to be fitted, and look good on us as built – without the addition of “panels” and such crap. Are there any designers among us??????

            1. I recommend “Making It Big” online shop–although they may only appeal to the more ‘mature’ of us. At least they use size 24 models, none of this ‘size 12 is a plus size’ crap. Junonia is a plus size sportswear online catalogue that also uses large models and carries things like ski suits, wetsuits and tennis skorts. I have not looked recently, but they did have a line of yoga wear that might suit your needs. It is a bit pricey for me (disability), but I have got some good deals on clearance.

    1. Answering out here because it’s a pain in the neck to keep reading narrower lines. 🙂

      Making It Big is good quality, to be sure. But here’s one of my biggest pet peeves about much of the plus-size clothing out there: it is completely matronly to the point of sexlessness. Do they think I should be so ashamed of my body that I want to hide every inch of unnecessary skin?

      That absolutely does not fulfill what I’m looking for in clothes. I may not want to flaunt my body, but I absolutely don’t want to hide it either. I just want some normal-looking clothes like the rest of the populace gets to wear.

      Both MIB and Junonia are hella pricey, to boot. So is Igigi.

      1. Yes, it is hard to find sexy plus sizes, and then when they slap on the “Fat Tax”, impossible to afford them, too. Like I said, I just slop around the house in my pjs mostly.

      2. I’m now doing most of my clothes shopping online at Fashion World, they have a good range of sizes up to a UK36 and have even started a small range of clothes for different bust sizes, so you order your size and from the one closest to your cup size so the top will sit better. They don’t use very large models, but the ones they do use seem to be about a size 14 – 18 and they don’t remove the little body imperfections from the pictures.

        My only complaint is I still have trouble getting a bra my size, I’ve had to go up a back size (which wasn’t available last time I was looking) because they do not make anything commercially that will hold me, let alone do any of the things sales clerks like to boast about.

        However once I get past that I can chose from a variety of styles and colours and sizes for going over the top, so I can pick something to be baggy or more fitted.They are not perfect by any means, but they are better than my only high street alternative Evans and much more reasonably priced too. I can get jeans, top and 2 bras for the cost of a single item at Evans and the quality on most things is pretty good.

        I just wish I could try things before I buy them, but the closest to that is a personal account and a decent returns policy.

        1. Well gals I will see what I can do! I have to make. Dress nd my teacher wants me to use a size two model and I just said “No I am going to size it to my body, after all I will be the one wearing it.”

          1. Good for you!! Why should you put your creative energy into something you couldn’t wear/use? Artists paint what moves them and designers design what appeals to them (not talking about commissions here). I hope your dress is just what you are envisioning.

  18. I very much agree about the clothes and attitude about what is available in Lane Bryant. Why would I want to be constantly uncomfortable in the clothing I wear? Yet I’m curious about what you think of things like corsets. I don’t wear them for reasons of shame etc, but because it’s a fun costuming choice at genre conventions (like a comic or sci-fi convention or a renn faire.) I certainly don’t wear them all the time, like I said who’d want to be uncomfortable all the time? The interesting thing is that I find much better clothing choices in terms of size and size acceptance when looking for pieces among these types of clothing sellers.

    1. I’m personally much more a fan of corsets than traditional shapewear because corset tightness is controlled by the wearer, and because they aren’t seen (anymore) as “necessities” to look good. Of course I’m for people wearing whatever they want for whatever reason.


  19. I have so much trouble finding underwear, but I could wear stuff from the Avenue until they went nuts over the flesh torturers. At my size, it’s all gonna wiggle and jiggle, and I don’t give a damn. I do care about friction sores on my naughty bits. Grrrrrrrrr

  20. ” puts the “b” in subtle” I just love that phrase so much. Thank you for using it!

    And I so agree with the unnecessary low cut of many blouses at major “big girl” retailers. I now have a huge collection of tank tops and camisoles to deal with it. Wait, that’s the whole point of the low cut, isn’t it??

    And now I feel stupid.

    1. See, my problem is that all the retailers that sell clothes in my size make me look like someone’s grandma. I’m 42! I want to be able to look good, not just matronly! Funny when we see the problem from the flip side of the coin. 😀

      1. I’m 40 and I also want to look good. But when I argue before the court of appeals, I need the cleavage concealed. Because I’m there to fight for my client, not myself.

        So the novel message to retailers is . . . Not all fat women need the same style of clothes for every occasion! Wait, no, that’s a message to retailers about all women, come to think of it.

  21. I went to Lane Bryant today…and while I have some shapewear, that I actually buy a size larger than suggested so I don’t suffocate, I don’t wear it on a regular fact, I think it was a complete impulse buy on a icky body anyway, I was shopping for jeans and thinking of this post as I was, and I actually tried on the tummy control jeans, because they were the only ones in the dark color I wanted…they were very uncomfortable…so I was talking to the sales girl, and she was wonderful..I told her I was so not interested in tummy control jeans and she found me two pairs of dark jeans, slim bootcut and a strait leg that fit like a dream…no tummy control..and a decent rise (not low cut) that actually covered my backside enough..I think I’ve learned to be firm in what “I” want..and it makes a difference in how sales people respond..and sometimes you gotta ask if there is something else…

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