+ Discussions

Discuss: Becoming Size Neutral

Last month, a reader asked me for some help finding a plus-sized dress to wear to her rehearsal dinner.  She had no desire to be festooned in yards of cheap taffeta or shiny satin.  She didn’t want to wear a sequined bolero or a shrug. She just wanted a dress that made her feel beautiful.  Was that so much to ask? 

It took a little time, but I found one within her budget that was modern, sexy and bolero jacket free.  At the end of the process, she sent me an email to thank me for not making her “feel like the fat bride.”  It was, she said, an emotion that she grappled with every time she tried on a gown or tasted a piece of cake. 

“Everyone looks at you like you don’t deserve to get married because you’re fat.” 

Reading that made me cry. 

I try to keep CHS a judgment free zone when it comes to the size a woman wears or the number on the scale.  It’s not my business what you weigh or what size you wear.  And frankly, I’m a big believer that the number on the tag of your jeans/trouser/skirts is bullshit

Can I say that I know exactly how women who are bigger than our vanity-sized, magazine culture says is skinny feel about their weight?  Certainly not.  But like most women, I have some idea.  So I can try to empathize, but I’m ashamed to say that I wasn’t always so understanding.

In college, I was 120lbs.  I barely worked out.  I ate Taco Bell almost daily. Mexican Pizzas were the base level of my food pyramid.  And I admit it, I judged women who were bigger than me. 

What were they bitching about?  Weight loss was so easy.  (It never occurred to that 19-year-old idiot that, maybe, weight loss was just easy for her.)

Then, I turned 25 and got a real job.  Suddenly, the scale crept upward and the seams stretched beyond their limits.  I wore one pair of Spanx, then two, just desperate to keep myself in those magically numbered zeroes and twos.  The day I considered wearing three pair of Spanx, I cracked.

I looked in the mirror and cried.  I squeezed into my suit and cried.  I stepped onto my bright-red, Devil of a scale for the first time in years and it said 147. I called in sick to work.  

Here I was, mid-twenties with a master’s degree, a Hill job, good friends and a loving family and the predominant thing that determined my self-worth was a three digit number on a scale birthed from $7 worth of Chinese-made parts. That realization only made me feel more ashamed.

I lived in this death spiral of shame for months.  Then one day I just stopped.  I wish I could say there was a magic pill or miracle cure that I could recommend, but I’m not sure what it was that triggered my change of heart.  I just suddenly realized that I wouldn’t feel guilty about eating a cookie anymore. 

I was a grown women and if I wanted to eat a plate of prosciutto covered pasta at 1:45 in the morning, then with God as my witness I was going to enjoy every damn bite.  If I had to buy the bigger size, that was fine.  As long as the pants didn’t pinch me or cut off the blood supply to my feet, who cares what the number on the tag said?  Were the fashion police going to frisk me for a size check? 

I don’t know what it’s like to be size (fill in the blank), but I do know what it’s like to hate your body so much that you hate yourself.  I will admit, it was definitely easier for me to break out of my self-loathing because the rest of the world wasn’t taking part in my internal inquisition.  But talking to Alia about her wedding dress search made me feel like I need to be as easy on everyone else as I am on myself.

I can’t say that CHS will focus more on plus-sized clothing, but I’m going to try to include more plus-sized options where I can.  It will probably take some time, and I won’t always get it right, but I’m going to give it a whirl. I’m also going to talk more about dressing for your body type. 

This will be a learning experience for me since I only shop for my body type, so I (like anyone in my position would) tend to choose things that I like.  But I’m going to make a good faith effort to branch out because I believe a woman can look stylish and beautiful at any size.  Call it becoming size neutral. 

LEAVE A COMMENT

    leave a comment

  1. Liz says:

    Belle, this is so great! I'm a 14 and I generally shop at straight-size stores (Banana, Ann Taylor, etc.) so I HAVE to second what L said earlier about Adriana Papelli's dresses. My fail-safe way to find affordable work dresses is to go to Nordstrom Rack and see what they have of hers! Everything fits me well (I have hips and 36D/DDs) and is made well.

    If you're interested in learning more about fat-phobia, I point you to one of my favorite posts about how things can be a little different for those of us in the double digits: https://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2010/12/discussion-thread-fat-limitations.html (you might not love a lot of the other posts on that site, because the blogger is very liberal, but just go with me on this one subject!) Anyway, yeah, since sometimes clothes that are cut for a 2/4 don't hang right on me, I'm not that confident in dressing adventurously because it just looks sloppy, so the point she makes about the awful kitten sweater totally rings true.

    Anyway, keep doing what you're doing. A+. (And good luck getting through the maybe-shutdown! If you accepted paypal donations, I'd definitely throw a $20 your way every once in awhile. Think about it!)

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  2. ~M says:

    Great post! On a related note, though one with less affirmation, I'm looking forward to your posts on sandals next week. would you post some ideas for those with large calves? There are so many gorgeous sandals out now, but I'm afraid many will make my generous calves look like elephant legs, that is, when you're not convincing Congress to let me work again.

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  3. Liz says:

    Belle, this is so great! I'm a 14 and I generally shop at straight-size stores (Banana, Ann Taylor, etc.) so I HAVE to second what L said earlier about Adriana Papelli's dresses. My fail-safe way to find affordable work dresses is to go to Nordstrom Rack and see what they have of hers! Everything fits me well (I have hips and 36D/DDs) and is made well.

    If you're interested in learning more about fat-phobia, I point you to one of my favorite posts about how things can be a little different for those of us in the double digits: https://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2010/12/discussion-thread-fat-limitations.html (you might not love a lot of the other posts on that site, because the blogger is very liberal, but just go with me on this one subject!) Anyway, yeah, since sometimes clothes that are cut for a 2/4 don't hang right on me, I'm not that confident in dressing adventurously because it just looks sloppy, so the point she makes about the awful kitten sweater totally rings true.

    Anyway, keep doing what you're doing. A+. (And good luck getting through the maybe-shutdown! If you accepted paypal donations, I'd definitely throw a $20 your way every once in awhile. Think about it!)

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  4. ~M says:

    Great post! On a related note, though one with less affirmation, I'm looking forward to your posts on sandals next week. would you post some ideas for those with large calves? There are so many gorgeous sandals out now, but I'm afraid many will make my generous calves look like elephant legs, that is, when you're not convincing Congress to let me work again.

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  5. Megan R. says:

    God bless you, Belle.

    April 8, 2011/Reply
  6. Jes says:

    I am definitely one of those young women who cannot simply go into a store and know they will be carrying my size.
    I've had sales associates look me up and down and tell me that nothing in there would fit. They scurried me away as if
    touching that shift dress would make it rip at the seems. Over the years I learned how to dress appropriately for my size without always having to resort to trapeze tops or unshapely outfits. I know
    I can look and feel good no matter my size. Sure I not everything you post will fit me but I love how I can use your items as an inspiration point for something that will totally rock on my body type.

    I'm also glad you did not say “curvy”. The world often forgets that not
    Every body type has those kinds of “curves”

    April 8, 2011/Reply
  7. Liz says:

    Good luck on this new learning experience and I, for one, appreciate your willingness to try including a wider range of sizes!

    April 8, 2011/Reply
  8. Belle says:

    Jes- I once has a friend who wore a bigger size tell me, that curvy was a meaningless adj. bestowed on women who wear bigger sizes by “skinny bitches” who sell clothes. I don't know if that's true or not, but she believes it.

    She also hates when people say plus-sized woman/model. Clothes are plus-sized, people are just people.

    April 8, 2011/Reply
  9. Jes says:

    I love what your friend said and I love this post!

    April 8, 2011/Reply
  10. Rachel says:

    I never really felt awful about my body, but I always felt like losing 10 pounds would make me feel a little better. Well, work stress resulted in me losing those 10 pounds and I dont feel any better about how I look. So, I'm done. I'll try to eat healthy and exercise, but I live in the land of beer and cheese and I'm going to enjoy them. The scale is going to say what it says and I'm okay with that.

    April 8, 2011/Reply
  11. P says:

    I completely understand what Alia said about “Everyone looks at you like you don’t deserve to get married because you’re fat.” People judge “fat” people so incredibly harshly. I remember in high school (very preppy private school, everyone was blonde and tiny) feeling like some of my classmates had an almost moral opposition to my weight. And I know some people who read your blog have to have the same mindset of your 19-year-old self. People are the size they are for so many different, entirely personal reasons, why do we have to condemn them?

    April 8, 2011/Reply
  12. Adriana says:

    Thank you for this post. This is something I've struggled with for a long time. I was 120 at the beginning of college and it seemed like one day I woke up and was 175 and had no memory of anything in between. I've been struggling to lose it, and am down nearly 20 pounds but still struggle with feeling guilty over even one cookie or often even meat. I appreciate this a lot!

    April 8, 2011/Reply
  13. K. Hill says:

    I appreciate this. People see me all the time and think that I ATE my way to this size. Contrary to popular belief, I have a large fame and genetics say that I am to be this size. Now, being plus-sized does not mean that you are unhealthy, neither does it mean that you can just eat whatever you want. I strongly pride myself of being a very healthy larger woman. I run and exercise, I eat right and I teach ballet. We were not created to be clones…our diversity (race, gender, size, ethnicity, etc) is what makes each of us unique and special. Thank you Belle.

    April 8, 2011/Reply
  14. amy b.s. says:

    first, that dress you picked is so cute! second, thank you for this post. it really is great to hear that everyone struggles with this, not matter how put together you are. and third, while watching my body shift and change and metabolish slow down from the crazy pace it used to be at, i've also decided that the numbers are crap. i figure, if it fits, and looks good, then the fact that it's at least 2 sizes bigger than what i typically wear/want to wear/used to wear, doesn't matter. thank you.

    April 8, 2011/Reply
  15. Virginia says:

    Belle,

    Thank you for this post (and thank you for your advice yesterday on suits). As a bigger girl (who, like K. Hill, did not eat her way to the size she is) with an athletic build– seriously, my thighs are huge, but they're muscle– I know just how hard it is to go shopping. Salesclerks want to hustle you to the “women's” section, and that's often stuff my mother would wear. It's hard to feel like a young, mid-20s, attractive girl when you're wearing something that looks matronly.

    So thank you. Reading this on this awful Friday (happy shutdown? Not for this underpaid Fed!) made me smile.

    April 8, 2011/Reply
  16. Belle says:

    “I’m so tired of saying no and then waking up in the morning and recalling every single thing I ate the day before, counting every calorie I consume so I know exactly how much self loathing to take into the shower. I’m going for it. I have no interest in being obese, I’m just through with the guilt..”

    Eat Pray Love. Hated the movie. But I related to that.

    April 8, 2011/Reply
  17. Victoria says:

    This is great news. I appreciate your thoughtful reflection on body image issues and I'm super excited to see you feature more plus-sized options.

    One thing to keep in mind is that there are three general categories of plus sizes: 12/14/16/sometimes 18, which are often available from straight-size lines (J Crew's “Special Size” 16, etc.); 18/20/22/24 which are often available in special department store sections (Nordstrom Encore, Saks Salon Z, etc.) and from specialty plus-size lines or boutique retailers (especially online); and 26/28/30/above, n which sizes it is very nearly impossible to find high quality professional clothing and which are almost exclusively available online.

    Me, I'm in the middle section, so I hope you'll push past the relatively easy-to-find “inbetweenie” sizes. Send me a note if you want some suggestions for places to look!

    April 8, 2011/Reply
  18. prosecutordc says:

    As person who has never been fat but has been larger than all of her friends. This is an important post. I've also had a friend whose struggled with an eating disorder for many years. I think the fashion industry should embrace women's different sizes without so much distain (like labelling it plus size) or woman's. Its not helpful to anyone.

    I also HATE how many of the main stores (I'm looking at you banana republic) insists on altering their sizes every few years…now, although I'm the same size and have been for years, I'm one to two sizes bigger in banana clothes. I don't care that much about the number but its also hard not to be frustrated or feel I've done something wrong. I just don't think the fashion industry realizes how despite many women's best attempts…the tag does matter.

    April 8, 2011/Reply
  19. L says:

    Thanks for sharing this story, Belle and Alia. Your words really made me think.

    On a lighter note, great dress choice, Belle! In my experience, Tadashi Soji dresses tend to flatter many sizes of women. Adrianna Pappell also does this well. Though their dresses tend to look alike (Tadashi Soji= ruching+sequins; Adrianna Pappell= shutter/pleated look), I really appreciate brands like these that consistently make flattering (and somewhat modest) clothing. Even as a size 4/6, I appreciate when stores like Norstrom and Neiman Marcus show models wearing dresses in plus-sizes. I find that seeing these pictures gives me a more realistic idea of how the clothes will fit & look rather than pictures of the traditional ultra-thin models.

    April 8, 2011/Reply
  20. Katie says:

    I have to include the fact that the oppose also feels pressure and guilt. I've always been naturally skinny, regardless of what I eat. People comment (especially at work) how skinny I am like it's an accusation, and like they are angry. It's not right to feel like you have to apologize for anything regarding what size you are.

    April 8, 2011/Reply
  21. Belle says:

    Katie-

    When I was thin on a diet of T'Bell, some people were always really suspicious of me. There were rumors that I was bulimic or anorexic, or that I was popping diet pills. It was sad. SO yes, the river runs both ways.

    April 8, 2011/Reply
  22. DB says:

    I'm really excited for more posts on how to dress different body types. I hover somewhere between “apple” and “athletic” which are nice words for “round in the middle” and “have small hips and wide everything else.” It's frustrating that sizes are basically meaningless (especially when certain brands have made them bigger so that women feel better in the dressing room and buy more). I've always believed that looking good means dressing yourself well, not necessarily wearing what's in vogue or what's expensive. Admittedly, it's not always easy to do when we're constantly bombarded with combinations that look good on tall, slender women. I've never considered myself skinny, though I know there are women that would kill to wear an 8. It's more about being proportional and dressing yourself to look that way, and that's where I struggle.

    All that being said, I look forward to seeing what you have coming for us in the upcoming weeks.

    April 8, 2011/Reply
  23. B says:

    I'm a size 14/16, and at 5'11″, finding amazing clothing can verge on the impossible. For what it's worth, I have normal proportions, just a little bigger. It makes me, as Victoria says, an “inbetweenie”. I can always find clothes at Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, J. Crew (often getting suiting in a 16 online), LOFT, etc. There are always XLs and bigger sizes on the clearence rack. I have a plethora casual and professional clothes: skirts, blouses, dresses, cardigans galore.

    Where the problem lies is anything designer. Anything special. I don't have a particularly big tummy, I'm an hourglass, and a tall one. If it doesn't fit in the straight-sizes, heading to the plus-size does me no good. It's cut wrong, never long enough, and the proportions don't fit. I love looking at your Happy Hour dresses, and hate that few of them would ever fit me.

    Belle, the dress you found is incredible. Thank you for your willingness to help make women, no matter what size, feel special when it most counts.

    April 8, 2011/Reply
  24. Belle says:

    B- The amazing thing about the dress, is I like it so much, I wanted to buy the regular version for me. I actually didn't like it as much on the skinny girl. So the model in the plus-sized dress was freaking gorgeous.

    https://www1.bloomingdales.com/catalog/product/index.ognc?ID=529297&PseudoCat=se-xx-xx-xx.esn_results

    April 8, 2011/Reply
  25. LPU says:

    Belle-
    Your fashion posts consistently give me inspiration and have made me a better dresser. But it's the posts like this – and the one when you threw your Spanx in the trash – that make me a loyal reader. Keep up the good work!

    April 8, 2011/Reply
  26. Liz says:

    Belle, this is so great! I'm a 14 and I generally shop at straight-size stores (Banana, Ann Taylor, etc.) so I HAVE to second what L said earlier about Adriana Papelli's dresses. My fail-safe way to find affordable work dresses is to go to Nordstrom Rack and see what they have of hers! Everything fits me well (I have hips and 36D/DDs) and is made well.

    If you're interested in learning more about fat-phobia, I point you to one of my favorite posts about how things can be a little different for those of us in the double digits: https://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2010/12/discussion-thread-fat-limitations.html (you might not love a lot of the other posts on that site, because the blogger is very liberal, but just go with me on this one subject!) Anyway, yeah, since sometimes clothes that are cut for a 2/4 don't hang right on me, I'm not that confident in dressing adventurously because it just looks sloppy, so the point she makes about the awful kitten sweater totally rings true.

    Anyway, keep doing what you're doing. A+. (And good luck getting through the maybe-shutdown! If you accepted paypal donations, I'd definitely throw a $20 your way every once in awhile. Think about it!)

    April 9, 2011/Reply
  27. ~M says:

    Great post! On a related note, though one with less affirmation, I'm looking forward to your posts on sandals next week. would you post some ideas for those with large calves? There are so many gorgeous sandals out now, but I'm afraid many will make my generous calves look like elephant legs, that is, when you're not convincing Congress to let me work again.

    April 9, 2011/Reply
  28. Hillybilly says:

    Please include very petite sizes and style. It's hard for us who look underweight and have people judge us all the time, think we're permanent interns. 95 to 100 pounds (depending on stress) and it's so hard to find non-Theory suit that fits perfectly. And for the record, it's genetics.

    April 9, 2011/Reply
  29. R says:

    AWESOME dress! This size-4 girl loved your dress selection. 3 things I'm currently interested it for spring: 1) summer clutch not made with raffia, 2) beach bags, 3) sandals. Thanks!

    April 9, 2011/Reply
  30. marie says:

    I relate to what you wrote in these posts on size–I changed careers, and it is hard to manage meals/exercise when most my day is spent either in a cube or commuting to that cube.

    It's surprisingly stressful to have gained ten pounds–I feel like I'm turning into mental and physical mush.

    I default to jcrew primarily, I think, because everything I've ever bought there fits (5'10″ with a long torso). It makes me happy that their dresses work off the rack, though jacket sleeves are too short. I've yet to find a designer that really works–e.g., DVF is great, only the length is never quite right. I love-love-love the maidey dress anyway. At this stage in my career, I'm not willing to spring for even a perfect-fitting Prada dress.

    April 10, 2011/Reply
  31. Trang says:

    You are awesome:)

    April 11, 2011/Reply
  32. Suburban Sweetheart says:

    Thanks so much for writing this, Belle, & for your new commitment to including pieces for plus-sized women in your regular posts. it's so frustrating that items for plus-sized women have to be in their own, special posts, highlighting that big women can't wear the same mainstream fashion as thin women. it's frustrating to be a size 14, like me, right between “normal” & “fat” so almost NOTHING fits. it's frustrating that top fashion designers think big women don't matter, don't deserve to look beautiful. it's frustrating that mainstream, affordable stores like Forever 21 launch plus-sized lines full of disgusting, ugly, ill-fitting items completely different from the fashions in their regular-sized sections. It's just frustrating, period, to be a plus-sized woman who cares about looking good. I hope you'll be able to help us out. 🙂

    April 11, 2011/Reply
  33. Alison says:

    Love this post. Super timely for me as the Hill stress has not been kind to me recently! I don't know why I never think of spanx…hello, genius option!

    April 13, 2011/Reply