Have you ever been shopping and thought to yourself - how in the WORLD did that garment make it to the sales floor? For larger women, the clothing was probably ugly, scratchy, in a dimly lit plus-size section of the store and way overpriced. When I see ugly clothes for fat women - it’s infuriating and honestly insulting. From the designs, to the merchandising, to the pricing and treatment in the store. Larger women have really been shafted in the fashion world.
Let me tell you how it got there.
- Everyone has Implicit or unconscious bias which drive human behavior. For example: if I'm a fashion designer and I don’t like the color pink but I’m asked to design with it - I'm probably not going to do my best design work. It's all based on these unconscious, or sometimes even conscious beliefs, and we know the companies that directly say they will not design plus-size clothing. It's these unconscious beliefs that absolutely drive the fashion industry. Unconscious bias is inside EVERYONE. Research shows that both men and women of all races and sizes harbor unconscious biases towards gender, race and body size. Yes, sexism, sizeism and racism still exists. So, the dream, I think, is to make sure that all of our designers are unbiased. And in order to that we have to seriously consider our personal beliefs about fat people and explore an alternative discourse. And, ideally, an unbiased, woman designing for plus-size women is great because that designer would understand - to at least some degree. That’s the dream but - I have bad news - chances are - if you’re a fashion designer - your thin and white.
- Why would I assume that most people in the fashion industry are thin? Because they are; in a survey I took in 2014, 90% of my students were thin and white (Christel, 2014). Research shows that thin people are hired and preferred over fat people. 15% of hiring managers would consider hiring an overweight women. So, every stage of the way: from design, to color and pattern selection, to merchandising, to marketing, sales, customer service, thin people are hired more often than fat people. Research shows that most Americans are weight bias - meaning they don’t like fat people and if you don’t like fat people but you're asked to design for them - you’re not going to do your best work. The dream is to have a unbiased woman/female creating clothes for plus-size women right? (and don't get me started on the issues of clothing for plus-size men). Well sorry, I have more bad news - guess who’s making the majority of final decisions in the fashion industry? Men. Men are approving the overall marketing and designs and chances are they are weight bias.
- The majority of key decision makers in the fashion industry are men. Does that make sense? Not really because 85 percent of consumers are women yet, industry-wide, women only make up 25 percent of board-level positions in publicly traded fashion and luxury goods companies, as of 2015, per BoF. For the record, there is nothing wrong with men being in executive positions. But, I do think that key decision makers should be very sensitive to their market - and I think women are better at understanding women. (I am not a sexist and love all genders in whatever way we chose to identify - men, women, fluid, non-binary genders and believe that we can work on behalf of each other in some situations) but I do think that humans with similar anatomy and similar values have a better attunement to what others, (not all) but most, are interested in. I don’t think this applies to just gender - it applies to sexuality and race - but we have to remember that even though someone isn’t exactly like us and hasn’t experienced our exact situation - it doesn’t mean they haven’t felt the same feelings. We can have empathy for one another - but if we don’t explore that empathy - we remain unconscious. Since the key decision makers are mostly men, they are more likely to think of men - what would they think is appealing?. And I don’t think it is their fault because without a conscious effort - we are all this way. Study after study shows that this is how subtle biases operate - not intentional exclusion but rather benign "oh, I just haven't even thought about her/him/them", because it doesn’t personally relate to me - with women and minorities being overlooked more often. A lot of our cultural efforts right now are surrounded in helping people be aware of their unconscious biases - whether that’s sexism, racisms, agism, and weigh bias - which is what I am here to do! I am not here to tell you that you’re a bad person - I’m here to help to you level-up in your consciousness about your thoughts and attitudes towards fat people and how those unconscious biases manifest themselves into very real and very ugly overpriced clothing.
With all of this systemic oppression and unconscious bias in operation, it’s no wonder plus-size clothing for fat women in horrendous. What do actual plus-size women say about clothes shopping?
Here's Ashley Thoughts:
When fashion designers go to design plus size pieces, they make the assumption that fat women take up too much space, and should want to make themselves smaller, so they use misguided and unsuccessful techniques to hide the fat and cover up the fat person. Designers rarely, if ever, take the time to get to know the person they are designing for past her basic demographics of age, income, and education level. They don't care what she likes or dislikes or where she plans on wearing her clothes, because they don't want to know. This creates a huge disconnect that leaves fat women at odds with the fashion industry and designers thinking that fat women don't want clothes because they aren't buying the ugly garments that were so kindly provided for them. Designers need to step up and spend the time getting to know their customer before designing for her before we can break the cycle of unhappiness that exists between the fashion industry and plus size women.
Please share with us pictures of the ugliest plus size clothing you’ve found and share this video because the only way to make our clothing better is to level-up!