A tale of the emotional rollercoaster you have to ride just to buy a waterproof jacket.
I am going to start this story by telling you some interesting (well useful) background information on the sizes of clothes in the UK and how this relates to the size of women in the UK. I will at some point during this post make a detour into men’s sizes too, but honestly I know less about them and they are (mostly) not as ridiculous).
So firstly, a google search tells me that the average clothes size worn by women in the UK is a size 16.
The same google search tells me that there is no standard set of measurements for women’s clothes sizes in the UK and that the (few) measurements that have gone into the creation of women’s clothes sizes were taken in 1952 and as there was a financial incentive for being measured, were skewed towards the poorer (thus less well fed) and the younger (thus shaped like a teenager) members of the population.
So the average clothes size is a 16 but this tells us nothing about the average woman size as the sizes are made up, but even so it is a useful piece of information because in outdoors clothing shops (and others but we are talking about waterproofs here) the range of clothes goes from a size 8 (sometimes 6) to a size 16 (occasionally 18 and once 20). Which tells you that in the society we live in it is acceptable to be up to 5 sizes below average if you are average or above average, you are going to be limited and if you are more than 2 sizes above average you have no hope of finding waterproofs in most shops.
In other words if you are fat (or large or however you like to describe it) society does not afford you the right to stay dry while you are outside.
Anyway, on to my personal story. Just in case you have forgotten, this is me:
Here I am, short with wide shoulders wide hips, big bum, some tummy and generally not a 1 – 2 sizes above average sort of shape. I am, however, not the biggest person out there who might want to buy a waterproof jacket.
I have been wearing the same waterproof jacket now for 21 years, which is good going for a jacket, but we can all agree that is is not unreasonable for me to want a new one. On top of that, whilst my 21 year old jacket does more or less fit if I only wear a t shirt under it and undo the double zip at the bottom, it is a man’s coat, and I am by no means man shape around the hips… well around the whole body really…
So, after a look online, we headed off to the local outdoor shops (Blacks, Cotswolds to start with) to see if there was any change that I could find anything to fit me. I have to admit I was not holding out much hope even to start with.
We started in Blacks, where the optimistically cheerful shop man asked if he could help us, and I said probably not but he was welcome to try… We stated what we wanted and he ever so proudly led me to the one or two brands that made jackets up to a size 20… I thought I’d give it a try, but the thing about outdoor clothing people is they completely fail to take into account that people have shape. A person is not a cylinder with a slight increase around the bum and boobs, but a real actual shape with considerable variation. So when I tried these coats, I could more or less get them on, but not in any way do them up…or move my arms at all.
Despite expecting this outcome, I cried right there in the shop.
As we continued to look through the racks I tried a couple more just on the off chance, but of course there was no luck.
So off we went to Cotswolds, where the brands they carried only went up to a 16 and maybe one 18 which was no good to me at all, so I thought I’d try the mens section, a 2xl mens coat did fit my shoulders, but when I did it up I looked like a sausage, because, as stated before, I am not man shaped, and I still would have had to undo the bottom of the double zip, which is ok, but not really ok when you would have to pay upwards of £200 for a coat that doesn’t really fit…
At this point, we spoke to the shop people about it who were very apologetic and said they have raised it with head office because people at the outer edges of size are not being served well. I mean he is right but as the manufacturers don’t actually make the coats I don’t know what he thought head office could do. He was nice about it but did try to tell me it was the same for small skinny men. It’s not the same, I mean you can still wear a coat that is a little bit too big…
So I cried again.
I really tried not to, I was attempting to be cheerful about the whole thing whilst tears were pouring down my face. I was really beginning to feel like I was taking up more than my allotted space in the world and that this was my punishment.
So, as a last ditch attempt, we headed into Mountain Warehouse. I have to admit to a bit of brand snobbery in my past and so I didn’t really want a Mountain Warehouse coat, but at this point I just wanted something I could wear in the rain…
It didn’t start well, although they had coats labelled as bigger sizes, a quick try showed these to be actually smaller…so much smaller that I got trapped in a coat and had to be rescued by Mark! The man helping us was beginning to display that helpless sort of look that the rest of them had that day as I was still trying not to cry… when all of a sudden an optimistic looking shop lady turned up and said she might know of something in the back that would work…
She came back with 2 coats, both long, both the highest level of waterproofness and both (miraculously) a size bigger than I actually needed, as an added bonus they came with an inner paddy jacket thing that could be worn on its own or under the waterproof. So with much trepidation, I tried them on! Much to my surprise at this point, they actually fitted me! Not just sort of fitted, or fitted with no under coat or the zip open, but actually fitted. And there was enough room that I could put a jumper underneath
So, of course, I cried again! I have never really cried with relief like that before but there I was in the middle of a shop with a choice of coats! I chose the blue one and I love it!
So that day I was lucky, I found a coat that kept me warm and dry on my recent trip to the far north (Shetland) but you wouldn’t have to be much bigger than me for that not to have happened.
The fact that I had 2 coats to choose from out of about 100 (or more) styles across the shops we looked in is outrageous. There is no size limit on the people who want to do outdoor activities, and there is certainly no size limit on the people who want to stay dry in the rain.
This lack of choice and complete lack of catering for large sizes is outright fatphobia, there is no other word for it. There is no possible argument about catering only for the average, as (as mentioned) sizes go down to 5 sometimes 6 sizes below average, and there aren’t significantly more people below average, that is not how averages work…
It is a side effect of the unconscious (and conscious) assumptions people make about larger people, the fat = lazy and inactive stereotype is very definitely at play here and very definitely untrue! I suppose the comeback would be that there is no demand for larger sizes, but I really need clothing manufacturers to consider whether this is really true, of if fat people have stopped putting themselves through the humiliation of not being able to fit so have stopped asking. I didn’t relish crying in the shops and having to admit that nothing fitted me.
I am not ashamed of who I am or the size I am in general, but that day I was. I was felt the full weight of the stigma society puts on people who don’t fit the deemed “ideal” size. I felt worthless and oversized and like I should rush back into my disordered eating patterns to shrink myself to the expected size.
I am aware that, the very fact that there were coats for me available puts me in the lucky category and that it affords me some level of privilege that a lot of people don’t have, but the point I am making is that no one should have to go through this. Everyone is entitled to wear clothes that fit and to have a coat that will keep them dry without having to alter it or get it tailored or feel like they are asking for gold dust.
I really feel this needs highlighting in more places than just my little blog, so if you want to share it, then please feel free, and if you want to write to outdoor clothing companies, then feel free to do that to. I know I will be!