Sunday, October 27, 2013

It's Not *for* You, You Don' t Need One, Stop Complaining

I work in a clothing store for full-figured women. But, well, let me be blunt for y'all, in case you think I mean something like  this.

I work in a store for fat chicks.

The gentler ways to say it sometimes get people confused...? Why? I mean, duh. I'm not into saying "plus sized" when describing my store, though, because I get really pissed that an average woman is between a size 12 and 16 (and yeah, you could just say 14, but standardizing of sizes is so nonexistant that you really do need to provide a range), but sizes 14 and up are called "plus" and sequestered off to some tiny corner with selections that are extremely shitty, more expensive, and miniscule in variety in comparison to the rest of the ladies section. And my store? It starts at 14. We get a lot of women that aren't remotely "fat" in the pejorative sense, that need larger sizes because curves, not because they're gorging on cheeseburgers every meal. Never mind that some women (myself included) have medial conditions (sometimes more than one- again, me) that prevent them from getting what these judgy people would consider okay. Myself and tons of other ladies may exercize and diet like mad, and still be "fat." The smallest I've ever been since I was a kid was a 12/14, during a period of time (just before grad school) where I went to the gym for almost two hours six days a week and ate about 1000 calories a day, and my doctor told me to chill the fuck out before I moved out here because if I lost any more weight, given all the other stuff I have going on, I'd prolly end up in the hospital. Being that size was nearly unhealthy for me, but I was still getting "what are you doing  here?" eyes from women at the store when I was hovering around the XLs or looking at the back of a rack of something for the largest size there.

Fucking fat shaming.

Anyway, so we get a lot of mother-daughter duos in the store. Sometimes they'd  both be customers, sometimes one is just along  for the ride as the other looks for things that  would, you know, fit her for a change. Usually the thinner ladies are quite  kind and supportive of the heavier ones, but I do every now and then see the  latter get passive-aggressively poked at by the former. Things I've heard from the thinner gals:

"Are you done yet?  There's  nothing in here for me."
"Are you seriously  going to look at every single shirt? Just grab something, I want to look for [insert specific outfit/clothing article] for me now!"
"Wow, that's huge, it's a good thing you aren't that big yet!"

My reaction when I overhear it is often akin to this:

I've also been personally fat-shamed by some of the less curvy women as they waited for their companions to pay, try things on, etc. 

"So... you shop here to?" (or similarly, "Oh, I see you shop here, too. You must get great benefits.")
"I'm only  in here for my mom, all of the stuff in here is so ugly and frumpy." [as I'm wearing the style of shirt I'm also holding or standing  next to]
"Don't you think it's kind of silly they  even have this place at all?"

After a few seconds of this...

...I give some excuse to walk away, and do so quite promptly.

I had a real doozy last night, though. This time, the daughter was the thinner one (not always the case, by the way), and the mom was there for jeans. We keep ours against one of the walls, folded, and above them are some mannequins, as well as a few shirts and our current  selection includes some casual velvetten blazers with a really cute pinstripe lining  (grey and maroon on the outside, and if you fold the cuffs to show that lining, oh my gosh- adorable, really). So I was helping the mom decide what cut in the jeans to get and explaining that while we don't sell her length in the store, we have this great service where she can order it and have it sent to her house with free shipping, then return it to the store if it didn't work out. Mom was a little uppity that we don't sell Tall lengths, but I've had worse, trust me. Once she had a stack of jeans to try*, I offered to get her a fitting room. Her daughter, also tall, kind of aggressively positioned herself in my way to block me and said, "What's the smallest that comes in?" pointing at the blazers hanging high enough for her to reach  and look for herself (but not me- I'm 5'1", remember...). She went on, "I only see sixteens, and I really like that, can you get me a smaller size?"

I reached up, on my tiptoes to look and see if anything else was hanging there, as I started explaining, "Well, the smallest size we or any other Lane  Bryant is going to carry is going to be  a fourteen, and I was just in the back room, so I know for a fact that any blazers like this we have in this store are all out here right now. And it looks like the smallest left is a sixteen."

Let me just add, this gal was prolly about the same age as me, so nearly thirty. 

When I stood normally and turned to her, she was glaring, her nostrils flared a little. "Well that's not fair," she said sharply, then she turned on her heel and started stomping- literally, stomping, with her fists clenched at her sides- toward the fitting rooms.

I actually, and yes, to my shame, snortled a little.
You want to know what's not fair? The way heavy people are pre-judged as lazy, irresponsible, and a drag on society. The way we're forced to go out of our way  and then pay more for the same stuff, or for sub-par stuff, because society isn't universally designed, but rather structured to accommodate people not like us. It's unfair that I either can't buy stuff when out with friends, or have to go off by myself in order to do so, or that they have to wait for me to finish before looking for themselves again. It's unfair that someone saw the need to create a separate chain of stores like the one I work  at, amidst the countless other stores in existence, in the first place.

And now here's the kicker. I'm sure it's pretty easy  for you to understand why she's entirely clueless. Fuck, there are stores that deliberately do not sell clothes for women above a size 10/11. You've seen the signs that say "Women's Section" or "Plus Sizes" in stores. Maybe you even have a heavy friend that always has to walk away to look for clothes for herself, or that never buys anything when she goes clothing shopping with you, even offers to carry some of your bajillion bags for you because she's been unable to find anything (true story). And  hopefully, you at least understand why, and maybe it even gives you a twinge of moral outrage on behalf of your friend or any other woman like  her in that situation.

Well, let me blow your mind a little now, okay?

Just as how that gal complaining that it "wasn't fair" that my store doesn't carry sizes not considered "plus" was missing the point/misunderstanding the situation, the same  thing goes for men that demand a "Men's Center" in the face of a "Women's Center" on college campuses, or white people demanding a "White Cultural Center" in response to a Black/Native American/Hispanic/ etc. one. 

Just as how women like me get sequestered into our own sections in the stores we didn't design, and how non-heavy people often automatically draw negative conclusions about our characters because of our size, women and minorities in the larger societal context get marginalized and sequestered into places of lesser value, too. Women and people of color hold fewer executive positions, are lumped into lower-paying jobs in general, and are subject to every kind of violence- structural, physical, emotional- because of the fact that they are women and persons of color in the first place. 

Oh, Sir, you want a "Male Resource Center," eh? Go to the "Student Resource Center." Or the "Library." The strategies they'll teach you are catered to a male-dominant society and would be great for you, Sir, but oftentimes wouldn't help a woman. Women are taught how to deal with a society, field, etc. that is going to assume they're underskilled, their body isn't theirs, they don't belong there, etc. 

Oh, White Person, you want a "White Cultural Center," do you? Try the whole fucking campus. Or better yet, the whole fucking country. Your culture is the status quo, the norm, is so engrained in your everyday doings that you don't even see it there. Any resources a minority gets at their center are going to help them navigate through your culture, sometimes cope with how it devalues them as a person, simply because they're a minority.

I've also seen men get mad about places like Curves, and say that if the NAACP exists, there should be a NAAWP, too, so it's not like this only happens at college. Which makes sense- it's not like these issues fade away once college life is over. It's just easier to see on a college campus  because the power and room for grassroots organization is so much greater there than in society writ large; but that also means college kids are going to be uber reactionary and do shit like this or say stuff like the "Christina" in the comments  here without giving it a second thought. 

Now of course, there are caveats. Just as how some of my tall friends/ the tall ladies in my store from earlier, or reeeally short friends, sometimes have to look harder for clothes than my average height, thin friends, I realize there are axis of oppression that can make things hard for men and/or white people. Class, religion, sexual preference, gender, etc. But let's face it, intersectionality is a really complex issue, and to try and put it simplistically: Those tall/REALLY short friends of mine still have an easier time finding stuff in regular stores than I do. Period. Same difference with women/minorities in the broader societal context.

And, side note, "centers" for poor people, LGBTQ persons, atheists, etc., also exist. And they get the same reactions against them from rich people, straight people, religious people, etc. So what I'm saying here can really apply to any axis of oppression. I've just been focusing on sex and race because those are the most common ones with their own spaces.

"Centers" for  women and minorities (etc.) developed out of the fact that society is built in a way favoring men and white people (etc.). And no, I don't think  it's sexist or racist per se to think it's unfair for them to be created without a male/white equivalent, and a person demanding as such isn't inherently a bad person. I do think it means a person holding that viewpoint is missing the bigger picture. Be it willfully or genuinely, I don't know. But if they fail to see it's not about women/minority privilege, but rather the privilege of their (as in male/white) perspective, and that they aren't wronged by that center's/organization's existence, then they probably could use more education and better explanations. Hopefully, they'd be open-minded enough, receptive enough to understand how there's no need for a "Men's Center" or a "White Center." And hopefully they'd realize the centers they don't want around popped up because people saw a need for them- and that this need is itself kind of sad and something we should try to rectify. Hopefully they'd realize that by being male, being white, they are part of the hegemonic group(s), even if not in those exact terms.

And here is where I get into another complication. "Centers" often become places of exclusion. As in, sort of a, "Go be a woman/Black person/etc. there and get off my lawn," kind of thing from perrsons in the majority (men, white people). That is not okay, either. I think places like a Black Cultural Center are the most successful when they try to educate non-Blacks and promote inclusion in society. My store is great on body acceptance and showing that every woman is beautiful, no matter what her size; we may not sell stuff for thinner women, but we do promote solidarity among women in general in the face of a culture telling us we should be pretty in order to impress men- it's about women liking themselves for themselves, but yes, it is designed to help a particular type of woman that is told by  society even more than average that she's ugly. The various cultural centers on my campus seem to do alright- how well they do is directly correlated with their resources, though. Naturally, then, the center on our campus for Native Americans is the most isolated- they can barely afford to operate, so doing bigger campus out-reach is pretty difficult for them. But every now and then, they bring a speaker, show a movie, etc. They're trying their hardest, and that's what counts.

I don't want there to be a store like mine. Not because I want to run around naked, but because I want to be able to shop with my friends, stand right next to them and look at the same stuff. I don't want there to be a Black Cultural Center on my campus. Not because I don't care about Back people or POC in general, but because I wish they had the same opportunities and resources that white people do.

*Sidenore: She was also an example of the customer that asks for advice, takes something different from what's recommended first that ends up not working, then begrudgingly tries the recommendation and goes with that. For fuck's sake, you'd save a lot  of time  and me a lot of refolding and rehanging if you just went with what I tell you, ladies, UGH!


  1. This has to be one of my favorite posts of yours ever. It just touches on so many great points at once in regards to things I just want to scream at people every day!

  2. This post is awesome, I'm a huge fan of everything you say here.