Last Saturday, I went shopping with my parents in Vienna. We walked into a boutique in the first district and while I was trying on a beach tunic, my mum browsed a bit. I came out of the changing room and asked her if she wanted to try something, but she just shook her head and said: “Nothing in my size.” My mum usually never asks for her size because very often, she gets a snort or something like “We are sorry, we don’t have big sizes.” I turned to the shop assistant and asked: “What’s the biggest size you have in your store?”. “40”, she answered. “40?!”, I blurted out in disbelief. I am a size 38 and I consider myself a normal size. So if you are a bit bigger, you cannot shop at that store? “Our customers range from 34 to 38.” That was it. Anyone bigger than 40 is obviously not welcome in the store. I was shocked and now I am angry that I even bought something there, because I was still processing the situation. I should have just walked out.
34 to 38 European size is the equivalent of size 2 to 6 in America or 6 to 10 in the UK. According to the German Bundesamt fuer Statistik (Federal Statistics Authority), the size of average German women was around 42 and 44 (8-10 US and 12-14 UK) in 2018. All these average women would not be able to shop at the store which I went to on Saturday.
I remember when Karl Lagerfeld, the first designer to collaborate with fast-fashion chain H&M on a collection, complained that the company produced his designs up to size 16 (UK). His designs were supposed to be for “slim, slender people” (sic!) only. Since that day, I have been boycotting Lagerfeld and his products – no matter how much praise this guy gets all over the fashion news. It still puzzles me that the fashion industry can afford to miss out on “bigger sizes”. If the average is around 42, why are there not more products to cater to these needs, thereby increasing revenues/profits of apparel companies?
When I was in primary school, I was chubby. And I always remember when my parents took me to Vienna to shop and I found this beautiful pair of white pants and could not fit in. The shop assistant looked at me disgusted, rolled her eyes and just left me in the changing room. I was mortified to get out of there. At school, I hated being out in a bathing suit. I was bullied, even hit for being “fat”. But I guess everyone of us has some kind of bullying experience. Playing tennis semi-professionally later helped me to lose weight. And it was really strange to experience how people’s attitudes (especially those of men) changed whenever I lost weight. The fun fact is that those who bullied me for being fat at school are now the ones who gained significant weight themselves. Do I shame them or attack them? No, it is their business. As much as I wanted to be left alone, I leave them alone with their lives.
What I do not understand is why so much pressure comes from women ourselves? The shop assistant on Saturday was a woman, the person in charge of buying the stock of the shop is a woman and the fashion business has a high percentage of female decision-makers. But still, when I open Instagram and look at the biggest fashion influencers, the image is: you have to be thin, beautiful, lead the perfect life, with the perfect partner. Even on their “not-so-perfect” days, they are stunning and show off their bodies. Why all this pressure? Will our daughters experience even more pressure about their looks one day? Why do we let media and men dictate what we should look like? And why do we increase that pressure on women ourselves?
I think if you are happy in your body, it is nobody else’s business to body shame you. Too big, too thin, too tall, too “ethnic”, no perfect nose or teeth, etc.. I want to feel great in my body. And even though the memories of being “fat” are still there and I still am not a big fan of posting pictures of myself, I like what I look like now. With all my faults. These are the things that make us special. By convincing myself to post pictures about myself, I want to share this positive attitude with you. And honestly, I do not give a f*** what anybody thinks about me or my body.
And to all those shops who do not want to stock up their range of sizes: times are changing. The mission of fashion should be to make people feel great in their bodies. No matter which size. And I am sure this is not only an altruistic objective but also a business-results-oriented one. Think about it next time you body shame a woman in your store.
You can read about Karl Lagerfeld’s complaint about H&M in British Vogue online. The data about the average clothing size of German women is taken from Jolie magazine.