Why shopping as a plus-size woman is such BS

Approximately 68% of women in America are considered plus size, yet there’s a clear lack of representation in the fashion industry and a lack of shopping options for this majority. In Plus Size Diaries, columnist Olivia Muenter dives into all things plus size, from voicing her thoughts and sharing personal experiences to calling out the fashion industry and speaking about plus size-culture at large. This month, Olivia shares what she learned about plus-size shopping when she transitioned from being straight size to plus size. 

The first time I bought a piece of plus-size clothing, I cut out the tag that had ‘size 14’ typed on it. Even though I had spent most of my teenage years hovering between sizes 10 and 12, the idea of being decidedly plus size terrified me. I had spent years believing the lies that advertising and television sold—that smaller is always better. But spending most of my teenage and college years participating in various yo-yo diets and workout programs guaranteed to slim and shrink me hadn’t “worked” (in fact, diets never do), and by the time I was 24, I was a size 16 in most clothing. I had also discovered plus-size bloggers that inspired my sense of style, and through them found a community that preached that all bodies are good bodies. It had taken me a long time to get there, but I finally realized just how much time I had wasted believing that hating my body was the way to make it smaller.


But in all the years it took me to get to a place where I accepted my body at any size, my love for clothing never changed. My experience with shopping, though, certainly has. When I shop for skirts or pants in a size 18, I know that most brick-and-mortar stores will have significantly fewer options available in my size—if they have options at all. And if their size range is inclusive, the large sizes are often  sectioned off into a tiny corner of the store that includes pieces that are decidedly less cute than the clothing in the rest of the shop. It’s demoralizing and sometimes embarrassing. And here’s the thing: In the world of plus-size shopping, having any options in store to choose from makes me lucky. 

As a 2019 Media article pointed out that if you were to survey the 25 largest clothing brands, the majority of brands do offer plus sizes. However, if you think of each of those retailers’ offerings as a giant closet, only a small fraction of that closet is available in sizes above a 14. Sure, there are plus sizes in there, but for every five or 10 straight size options there may only be a single plus size option. If you go on Nordstrom.com right now and search for dresses, 9,252 options appear immediately. If you set the search parameters to size 16-28, that number is cut in half immediately. But, hey, 4,487 options isn’t that bad, right? Maybe not. But take that search down to a size 28 only and you’re left with only 107 options. That’s less than 2% of the original offering. 

All this is to illustrate that compared to plus-size shoppers above a size 18 or 20, shopping is a breeze for me—and I recognize this. Brick-and-mortar stores, even plus size-specific stores, rarely offer plus size pieces above a size 30. The larger you are, the more you are marginalized. This applies to health care, job searches, and yes, shopping. Imagine not being able to walk into a mall and find a single thing that fits you. This is how shopping is for many people, and given that the majority of women in the United States are plus size it’s, frankly, bullshit.

When I was straight size, I never thought about what it was like to buy plus-size clothing, I just knew I didn’t want to have to think about it. Maybe this warped thinking is why straight-size brands have only just begun to scratch the surface when it comes to offering larger sizes. The lingering belief that thin is good and fat is bad is everywhere if you look hard enough for it. But body size has no moral value, and neither does clothing size. So whether you’re a size 4 or 14, think critically about the options available next time you go shopping. How many sizes are there after an XXL? Could all your friends shop there and feel good? The industry isn’t going to change overnight, but putting your money toward brands (like Universal Standard) that make efforts to be inclusive of all bodies? It makes a difference, and that’s exactly what the industry needs.

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