It was inevitable. And I probably didn’t make things any better for myself by not having had anything to eat all day but a Nissin Cup of Soup. So, when I went to the mall to pick up a few things, I might not have been in the best of moods. After shopping in the “Woman” section of Macy’s, I left the mall in a rather foul mood.
For a long while, I’ve been bothered by the fact that once a girl reaches a certain size, she is no longer allowed to shop for clothes with the rest of society. Instead she has to go to special “fat stores.” Oh, they give them “supposedly stylish” names, like Lane Bryant or Avenue, but they might as well call them what they are: fat lady stores. To their credit, most fat lady stores do a good job of trying to appeal to the full age range of fat women. This was not the case when I was in my 20s. I started gaining weight in college, and despite diets here and there, I got fatter and fatter. Back then, I would try to buy clothes in department stores and could find nothing I liked in my size. Once a girl passes size 14, she has to start shopping in the “Woman” section if she’s lucky enough to be in a store that has such a section.
The “Woman” section seems to be designed to accommodate women between the ages of 60-80 and to publicly humiliate anyone any younger. The clothes are matronly at best. I used to try to buy clothes only to end up driving home in tears and empty handed. On one such occasion, I tried to shop at Marshall Fields. I walked past section after section of “normal girl” clothes—the store had its collection, and every designer had a section with its own unique take on “normal girl” wear. At that time, the styles were sleek and minimal—slacks and blouses with straight clean lines, colors of blacks and whites. I knew I wouldn’t really be able to pull off that long, straight bodied look, but I hoped there would be something similar, at least passable, when I got to the fat lady section. The “Woman” section is usually segregated from the “normal girl” section. Often it is in the back of the store or on a separate floor. When I found it, I could not believe what I was seeing. Instead of sleek blacks and whites, there were loud flowery tent dresses. One was light denim and had a giant sunflower on the front. The most offensive offering was a gigantic blazer with red and white checks the size of your hand. It looked like a clown costume. With tears welling in my eyes, I asked the woman in charge of the section if she had a comment card. She looked at me, concerned, then handed me a 3×5 business reply card. It was a bit difficult to squeeze in all that I had to say about the collection I had just browsed, but I managed to get everything in. I closed my comments with this: “Why don’t you just sell sackcloth and ashes?”
After that day, I stopped shopping in fat lady sections and fat lady stores if I could possibly avoid it. I was still going to church in those days, so some humiliation couldn’t be helped. The rest of the time, however, I stuck to floppy over-sized t-shirts and baggy men’s jeans. People started to think I was a lesbian. I didn’t care. Worse things happen: like shopping. And really…what difference did it make? When I was a teenager, thin and always concerned with wearing the “right” thing, it never got me anywhere anyway. It didn’t keep kids from ostracizing me or teasing me. It didn’t get me more friends or get me any societal respect. And yet I put so much of my focus on it that I would actually be worried that people might notice if I wore last year’s outfit. I had never really dressed to express my own personality. At least now, I could wear a t-shirt emblazoned with the emblem of a band I liked (my favorite shirt). It was fun, too. My husband and I wore a lot of the same clothes. I bought us both the same jeans. He wore a belt, and I rolled the bottoms into cuffs.
A lot has changed since then. Baggy jeans went out of style. I’ve been on a few more diets. I lost some weight and gained it back, ending up even fatter. The best change, however, has been in the fat lady stores. Since Americans continue to be obese in ever increasing numbers, it has begun to pay off for stores to market to younger fat people. The result is that now, fat need not necessarily be frumpy. Check out these offerings: One Stop Plus, Torrid, SWAK. We can now dress like we care.
Still, there is the lingering specter of segregation. It’s true that any one store can only carry so much variety. Other groups face segregation too. Tall and petite women often find their items segregated if they are not omitted completely. So when I went to the Macy’s today, I walked one “normal girl” section after another without qualm. I looked for the store directory sign and found that my section, “Macy’s Woman,”(here is their online store) was on the second floor with men’s clothes and lingerie. After getting off the escalator, I had to look around for a while before I found it. At first I was pleased to see these cute summer dresses.
Wow, I thought. Are these cute dresses for us? But I quickly realized that this was just an overflow of “normal girl” wear. I hoped I would find something similarly cute in “Macy’s Woman.” I didn’t have to look much further, but that was when my mood began to turn.
Just beyond the cute spring dresses I found these in “Macy’s Woman” :
They aren’t horrible outfits, but…after the bright cheery cuteness of the “normal girl” clothes they are a definite turn to sedate maturity. I was very disappointed, so much so that when a salesperson approached me and asked if I needed any help, I was a bit crabby. If she (or anyone else who has had to deal with a petulant customer) is reading this, I apologize. Those who know me probably could not imagine me in one the “normal girl” dresses above. It has been a long time since I wore anything that cutesy. But there has to be some middle ground between 25 and 60.
For that matter, there are skinny 60 year-olds who at least have the option to wear that bright girly dress if they want to. For example, the same matronly wear from the fat woman section can be found in the “normal girl” section. Why doesn’t the fat girl have the option not to be matronly?
I only discussed how the “fat stigma” affects women here, but men go through similar issues, to which anyone who has had to drive past several “normal” stores to find the “big and tall” store will attest A long time ago, when I still thought I might lose this weight (mainly because there was a lot less of it to lose!), I used to say “If my dollar is too fat for you now, it’s going to be too fat for you when I get skinny.” Well, I don’t know if I’ll ever get skinny, and I don’t have enough dollars, fat or skinny, for it to matter to some big corporation where I spend them. I wish, though, that we could do away with the persistent prejudice that plagues the overweight.