Maybe It’s the Clothes

My friend, who is thin, told me that she was talking to another fat friend of hers about  how trying on clothes made her feel bad about her body. Her fat friend said  “When clothes don’t fit me, I think to myself ‘These clothes are not well made.’”

I say a big hell yeah to that. How often do we blame our bodies and not the clothes/situation?  How often to we give credit to anything but our bodies?

We say “These jeans don’t look good on me because my ass is too big.”

We say “These jeans make my ass look great!”

Why do we blame our bodies when clothes don’t fit well, but give credit to the clothes when they do? (The subject of “flattering” clothes is a whole other blog post, as is the idea that we have flaws” that we should hide with clothing.)

We bemoan our perceived imperfections in the mirror, but if we like the way we look we give the credit to the “skinny mirror”.

What if we’ve been sold a crock of crap by companies who make billions of dollars by convincing us that we are the problem and their products are the solution?  What if our bodies are perfect and anything that doesn’t work for them is just wrong for us?

If you don’t like the way that pants look, consider that it’s not you…it’s the pants.  Maybe take them off while saying to yourself – these are obviously somebody else’s pants. If you look fantastic in pants, then consider the fact that it’s you – your awesome rocking body that is making mere pants look sexy – they sure as hell didn’t look that good on the rack!  If we have issues finding clothes that work for us, the problem is that people aren’t making clothes correctly for us. That’s a real problem and it does well and truly suck, but let’s be clear that the problem isn’t our bodies – it’s the clothing manufacturers.

We have the option of appreciating our bodies, forgiving the things that just aren’t good enough for those fantastic bodies, and then taking whatever action (if any) we choose to about the issues with the clothing and fashion industries, all while putting the problems where they belong, which is far away from our bodies.

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36 thoughts on “Maybe It’s the Clothes

  1. Brava. I totally agree. We tend to blame ourselves when something is wrong and give credit to others or things when things are right. Excellant observation and well stated.

  2. Great post, Ragen. The first day I picked up a pair of trousers that didn’t fit and said, ‘Oh well’, was a revelation for me. The trousers didn’t fit. Oh well. Not actually the end of the world.

    I don’t think people (by people, I mean ‘people who most closely epitomise the standard ideals of beauty’) realise the sort of pressure that is exerted on people who don’t meet those standards to change. My body is my body. Sure it will change over time – it’s gotten bigger and smaller over the years, but the general shapes of clothes that suit me and the colours that suit me and the clothes I feel most comfortable in – they haven’t really changed at all.

    I bought a pair of shorts this year. First time in years and I’m planning on wearing them in public – where people can see me. Why? Cos Ireland appears to have been rediscovered by the sun and it’s just too bloody hot to wear long trousers all the time! (Can’t wear them at work, but that’s not a fat-person issue, that’s a safety issue :))

    All those yrs I spent dieting – when I was a size 16, I hankered for a size 14. When I finally fitted into one item of size 14 in one shop, I declared I was never again buying a size 16. (To be fair, I haven’t, I skipped 16 entirely in my route to a size 22!) All the time I felt like it was my fault, my lacking that was leading to no choices or poor choices or whatever. It’s not my fault. A piece of clothing not fitting or not suiting me is just that – a piece of clothing that doesn’t suit me or doesn’t fit me.

    Oh well.

  3. Shopping for clothing has been my number one “oh my god I am so disgusting!!” struggle, and is at this point the only time body negativity rears its ugly head in my life. (So, that’s sort of a win, right?) I’ve gotten much, much better about it — even on my worst days I can remind myself that 1) I hate shopping, period. Even for books, and I live for books, and also 2) if — if only! — the sizing actually meant something (never mind that even if it wasn’t arbitrary our bodies are all made and shaped differently, so a size whatever isn’t going to fit everyone who fits into size whatever the same way), then I could maybe see being upset about having to get that particular piece of clothing in that particular size. When I know that I can range sized depending on cut, style, and manufacturer, at this point I strive to simply laugh. Some days it’s easier than others.

    1. Me too. Shopping is still very hard for me. Also, is it just me, or are dressing rooms always really warm? I can’t try on more than a few things before I feel like I am sweating too much to possibly feel good about anything, ever.

      1. OMG, I thought that was just me. I usually end up feeling like a disgusting pig cause I’m sweating so much.

        I cannot begin to tell you how much better I feel about myself now.

  4. Unless the garment truly is poorly made (wonky seams, uneven hems, etc.) I don’t blame the clothes for being poorly made. But I don’t blame me, either. I just figure some people and some clothes go together well, and others, well… don’t. It’s sort of like all the guys I’ve known over the years who I enjoy knowing but would never have dated on a bet. We simply weren’t a good romantic fit for one another. Likewise, it doesn’t matter how much I love the classic lines of Dior’s New Look. That line didn’t look good on me when I weighed a hundred pounds dripping wet and it isn’t going to work on me now. We were simply Never To Be.

    My only problem with clothes (aside from trying to figure out how to afford to buy any!) is how difficult it is to find clothes in my size range that I can try on to see how they and I go together, in colors I like, that aren’t served with a side of body shame.

    I don’t want ‘tummy tamers’ in my trousers or swimsuits. I don’t need colors that make me disappear mousily into a corner. I seriously do not need my clothing to be mostly made of polyester and spandex.

    What I would like is a range of colors and prints, a range of styles to try on, a few items in all-natural fibers at affordable prices, and a choice of more than one store to purchase them at in person.

    It really doesn’t seem that much to ask.

    1. Yes! It’s not that the clothing is (necessarily) poorly made, it’s just not made for you.

      And clothing manufacturers need to put more variety in their clothing. For example, some women are busty, so why not make some busty dresses, and some less-busty dresses? I saw a dress on a fat fashion blog I read that was re-designed with a high neckline for the “plus” size version. Hey, maybe some of the thinner girls want a high neckline, too? Or maybe some of the fatter girls want to show off some cleavage?

      People of all sizes like all sorts of clothes, and I wish clothing manufacturers would realize this.

    2. NO SHIT. I live in an area with four seasons: tornado, Death Valley, football, and ice. Polyester doesn’t work for ANY of them. Also, it tends to make me break out in a rash. And not one of the medically interesting ones, like butterfly rash, or the one I had in ’82 that was so symptomatically identical to smallpox that Mom and I got left in the waiting room for something like an hour while my doctor called… you know, I thought it was the CDC, but it may have been the health department. Anyway, this lady came in, looked at me all over, and said it was probably allergies, but I had to go straight home and couldn’t even go outside for six weeks, and Mom had to call every day to give an update.

      Anyway, yeah. Polyester. I can’t stand the stuff, yet at least 2/3 of the clothing in my size is 100% synthetic, and 4/5 of the rest is contains synthetics. I snatch what I can wear at thrift stores (I’m a thrift store fashionista), but it seems like there’s less and less all the time.

      Keep in mind, it’s pretty much actively taught in fashion design school and culture that fat women don’t deserve nice fabrics. That attitude kind of makes me want to let heads roll.

      1. “Keep in mind, it’s pretty much actively taught in fashion design school and culture that fat women don’t deserve nice fabrics.”

        Could you expand on what’s said in fashion schools?

        1. This is secondhand information–I backed off the industry once I found out how much fat wank there is–so I can’t give any stories that happened directly to me. However, before I got too sick to work, I spent quite a while doing sales and some teaching and sewing in the sewing industry. Specifically, I worked in one of the world’s top Baby Lock dealerships. (I’m terrible at sales, btw, but great with kids’ classes and anything tech-related, and I started learning to sew when I was three.) Several of my co-workers had spent time, in a couple of cases many, many years in the fashion industry, and we had experts and designers in all the time to give lectures and special classes. I’m also friends with several design students, and I tend to be their sounding board.

          Anyway, to the meat of the issue.

          In an earlier thread, I mentioned that plus design gets little or no attention in probably 90% of fashion design courses. I vaguely recall something about being able to focus on, say, plus sizes or clothing for trans men or women, anything outside the fashion mainstream. That, however, only applies to four-year courses, and at least in my area, they’re all two-year. If you get accepted to one of the really prestigious programs in New York or London or Paris or Tokyo, you may have even less chance to break the mold.

          For one, the industry now looks back at pictures of Twiggy in her modeling heyday and says, “How disgusting! She’s a blob!” That stems from several things, but the seminal point of fashion’s obsession with thinness and a specific figure was the 1948 release of Dior’s New Look. (That was also what undeniably dragged the medical industry on board.) This is drilled into every student from the moment they set foot in the door, and they’re often encouraged to be just as thin.

          Another point, and this is probably the biggest one, is that students have to buy their own fabric. There’s more yardage difference between a 00 and a 20 than you’d expect. Hence, they get into this circular mindset that they can splurge for straight sizes: rayon or silk linings, lots of linens, organic cottons, wools and high-wool blends, even more exotic fibers like alpaca, and don’t forget real leather. On the other hand, plus sizes have to be made from the budget racks, with lots of polyester and poly blends, nylons, rough or overly slipper synthetic linings that are difficult to work with, very low-grade silks if any, cheap vinyl, flawed leather, and a minimum of cellulose (plant) fibers, including viscose/rayon, because good linen and cotton cost beaucoup. Don’t even think about buying something exotic off the rack; there are only so many places that carry pineapple fiber cloth, which costs a fortune, and garment-grade hemp (aka, not burlap) may cost you a small mortgage.

          Finally, the average design student isn’t taught how to properly draft a pattern. There’s a big difference between a designer and a seamstress/seamster. Sure, they can make them in one size, then enlarge them straight out, but raise your hand if you have exactly the same proportions now, width vs. height vs. depth, that you did 50 pounds ago. That’s why we have so much trouble finding shirts with necklines that show our necks and not our navels, and bikini underpants that don’t come to our bra bands. Worse, quite a few designers then go back and only add a couple of inches of extra length to women’s plus clothing. You know, the same amount they add to the fronts of MEN’S plus, if not a bit less. That’s why we so frequently find shirts that rise up to show not only our stomachs and backs, but the jeans with a rise proportional to a size 0 pair. I mean, who DOESN’T love that look? Two asses AND a muffin top? BONUS!

          So, yeah. It’s a process of indoctrination, which really isn’t any kind of indoctrination since it’s already been drilled in, along with financial restraints and poor education. Some designers are fighting back, fortunately, and there are students who choose to go against the cutthroat drama. Some drop out and create indie labels, some graduate and create them, some get assimilated anyway, others end up doing assembly line construction (which is a very real possibility for a fashion student–I’d call it paying dues, but a lot of them never leave).

          I would like to see some fashion schools open up for the bad kids. IMO, it’ll start happening within the next 20 years, including schools that specialize in double-digit sizes (not including 00), and maybe a couple that focus on fashion-forward clothing for people with physical limitations ranging from paralysis to seizures. I mean, we’re standing here, screaming at the industry, “GIVE ME STUFF I LIKE! THEN SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!!!” How much longer is such a greedy industry going to be willing to stand there and ignore whole new seas of revenue for the sake of arrogance?

  5. I love this. I usually have the worst time clothes shopping, especially when it comes to pants. It never occurred to me they’re clearly for someone else.

  6. Oh crikey yes! All my adult life – all 45 years of it – I’ve hated clothes shopping with a deep and nauseating passion. If a garment fits, it’s either eye-wateringly expensive, or a horrible fabric/colour/quality, or … well, you get the picture. I’m an English size 24/26, US 20-22, and pretty much ALL of my clothes shopping is now done online. Yup, it has the ‘can’t try it on at point of purchase’ disadvantage, and increasingly the garments are poorly made of inferior material, but that second point is common to all clothes that aren’t extremely expensive nowadays. I’m privileged enough to come from a family where making one’s own clothes was a normal skill, but still… I’d love to be able to walk into a large department store and pick up pretty, well-made, nice-fabric clothes in my size. It’s the failure of the stores to stock such items, not my failure to fit what they have.

  7. YES! I love this… It’s like when something (say, a phone) is poorly designed and we start blaming ourselves for being so stupid, or like when a door that says “pull” is pushed by every. single. person.

    It’s only bad design, i.e. things created without the consumer / user in mind.

    A lot of web pages are poorly designed, too.

    Thank you, Ragen. Our bodies and brains are amazing, we don’t need badly designed stuff to make us feel bad about them.

  8. This is especially important to think about in the context of celebrities. People admire how well Celeb A looks in blue jeans and forget that Celeb A gets all of their clothing tailored; the jeans look good because they are almost literally made to fit their body (and in the case of red carpet looks that is often literally the case). We definitely need to stop beating ourselves up for not looking flawless in clothing off the rack and realize that the majority of what’s out there is not made to fit us but rather non-descript Person X or Sample Size Model D.

    1. I was going to post this exact thing! I’ve seen it time and time again on tumblr. And of course most of us can’t afford to tailer our clothes. (Even celebrities say it’s not worth tailoring everything unless it’s for a major event.) So, we’re stuck with what’s on the rack or making our own. (I’m lazy when making my own clothes, only doing basic adjustments for length, width, adding pockets, etc.)

  9. I have had my share of feeling ‘too fat’ for clothes, but having gotten boobs at the age of 11 and having realized shortly after that that nobody makes tops for large busts, I have largely blamed the clothing manufacturers.

    I really need to get on that sewing for myself plan.

  10. I’ve also found — with certain items that are well made and that I envision becoming high-use items — that when I can say “it’s the clothes,” I am far more willing to entertain the idea of changing — that is, tailoring — the clothes to fit me.

    For example, I thrifted a really nice collared shirt yesterday. It actually does fit well when it’s on. However, the cut and fabric of the shirt — conservatively cut pullover blouse made of non-stretch material — makes it rather difficult to get into and out of. If I were thinking “my body is wrong,” I’d likely have blamed my arms and shoulders for being too big to put the shirt on as the designer intended. Going “it’s the clothes,” on the other hand, let me think, “this would work so much better with a side zipper.”

    It does mean I have to put a little more work into the shirt before it’s wearable — namely, finding a tailor who will tell me if this is doable for a reasonable amount of money — but it’s a lot more productive than bemoaning my arms and shoulders would be.

  11. I am not really good at sewing, but I know enough to realize that some clothes are just badly cut. I have rather slim friends who also have difficulties to find comfortable and flattering clothes. No room for hips, shoulders, breast…it seems like the designers have eleven year old boys in mind.

          1. Yet in the world I come from, you offer a service along with your art, or you don’t get paid, and you don’t eat.

  12. “Her fat friend said ‘When clothes don’t fit me, I think to myself ‘These clothes are not well made.’'”

    I think some of it is that fat women have had to live with sizing fluctuations much wider than women who wear juniors/misses. We’re used to trying on or ordering something that appears to be our size, but have it be either way too big or small.

  13. I have always been fascinated by fat distribution. Not in a judgey, that’s wrong kind of way but in a wow, there is incredible diversity in shapes and where fat collects. I have something in between a pear and an hourglass shape with more fat collecting in my limbs in comparison to my middle. I am somewhere between an 18 and a 22 depending on how something is cut/designed. And if I have to go up to the 22 for my hips, it’s always loose around my waist. That is one of my greatest frustrations, the article of clothing that fits perfectly except in this spot. Aargh!

    1. I’ve been noticing the same thing! I’m opposite you in the hip/waist department. If it fits my waist, I have lots of saggy material around my hips/butt. And as I’m short, I also get the fun of trying to find the one pair of petite pants in the whole store.

      1. I’m on the cusp of regular and petite. Sometimes I step on my pant legs with regular but petite rides a little too high at the ankle. It always seems to be a game of give and take.

    2. I have a similar shape, but the parts that are always hard to fit are my thighs. I have Thunderthighs of Doom, so if I manage to get pants that don’t look like sausage casings on my thighs, 95% of the time they’re way too big in the waist and stomach area. One thing I’ve found that sometimes helps is looking for jeans that advertise tummy control. They have less room in the stomach, so that’s more likely to fit. I can’t even feel the tummy control in my current jeans. And taking in the waist isn’t a super complicated bit of tailoring.

  14. Great post!! I know that when I switched to saying things like, “I look good in these pants” or “I don’t look good in this shirt”, I started to have an easier time walking away from a store not feeling defeated. We can’t give our power away to something outside of ourselves. You are dead on, as always, Ragen!

  15. “Maybe take them off while saying to yourself – these are obviously somebody else’s pants” — I love it. It’s a horrible feeling to know you’ve been brainwashed to believe your body is only responsible for negative clothing experiences and clothes are responsible for the positive ones. I am taking your words to heart and will definitely use this sentence when I am frustrated by trying on pants. Thanks Ragen 🙂

  16. I had a friend who was a fit model. She was 5’8″ and a perfect size 6. Her job was to go to a showroom and be a mannequin for a certain designer. Every day she wore a beige unlined bra and beige bikini panties. That was her work uniform. The designer and his staff pinned clothes in various stages of development on her. This friend got the job by being measured during her interview and fitting the size they wanted. She was also told if her body changed in any way (gaining or losing weight, and also getting more or less muscular) she would be let go. Needless to say, this designer’s clothing fit her PERFECTLY. Other size sixes, not so much. She got paid well and got a TON of free clothes and had a very interesting time there. I recall her working there for a year or so. And that’s why some clothes fit while others don’t. If something is great on you, you have proportions similar to the fit model. She told me they measured EVERYTHING on her, not just bust waist hips but stuff like armpit to waist distance, calf and knee circumference, span of her collarbone, neck length, etc.

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