Sell Us the Clothes – Don’t Judge Us On Them

Published April 22, 2014 by Fat Heffalump

Ugh, when are these plus-size retailers going to get it?  Check out these screen shots I took from a post Autograph Fashion made today:

photo 1

photo 2

Now I *LOVE* Autograph.  I really do.  They’re one of the few brands that actually cater to my size (26AU) and I love that they’re presenting a lot of great colours, prints and styles that aren’t your usual black and boring boxy fare.  They’ve come so far in the past few years, from when they used to be full of peasant tops and capri pants and nothing else, to a range that is bold, colourful and full of variety.  In fact I’d pretty much wear that outfit above as is (maybe not the black tank, too many layers for Brisbane!)  I’m currently wearing an outfit entirely made up of Autograph pieces, including a pair of their leggings, which I am wearing as pants, and rocking the sh!t out of!

But when I saw this post today, I saw RED.

My objections?  Two things.  Firstly, the statement that “leggings are not pants”.  I’ve spoken about this before.  Leggings are pants if that’s what you wear them as, and none of us need anyone else, particularly not a retailer who is supposed to be marketing to us, lecturing us on how to wear clothes.  We’re fat, we’re not babies.  We’re able to determine what we want to wear and how we wish to wear it.

Secondly, a constant bugbear of mine in plus-size fashion – all the rhetoric about how to “hide” or “flatter” our “problem areas”.  I’ve actually been in store, browsing the products at Autograph, when a staff member remarked on a top I had picked up “Oh that’s lovely, it will hide all your bad bits.”  I responded very firmly “Excuse me?  I do not have any “bad bits”, thank you very much!”  It’s so entrenched in plus-size women’s wear, that it’s seen as acceptable for a sales person to actually say something like that to their customer and not think for a second that it would be offensive.

The assumption that every customer of a plus-size retailer must by default wanting to hide, disguise or minimise any parts of their bodies simply because they are fat women, has to stop.  The assumption that we even HAVE any “bad bits” or “problem areas” has to stop.  We don’t pay these retailers for body shaming and lectures about how we should dress to “flatter” our bodies.  We pay these companies for clothes, not body shaming.

For too long, this kind of marketing has been used to try to get us to purchase their products, and they wonder why it doesn’t work.  Women who feel bad about themselves are not going to spend money on themselves.  All it does is create more arbitrary policing of how fat women dress.

Now I’m not saying that they can’t give style advice.  Definitely tell us what pieces look great together, how to layer for changing weather and what colours and prints are hot this season.  This is helpful information, and all part of good marketing.  I love to hear new ways of wearing things, and it helps me think of outfit ideas that I may not have thought of before.  The thing is, it’s not difficult to keep body shaming and judgement out of marketing copy.  Look, I’ll have a go:

“The Printed Legging

A  hot trend this season is the Printed Legging, no matter what size or shape there’s a style for you.  The trick to wearing leggings is to ensure you have the right fit, so that they hug your body.  The right fit will ensure your leggings are comfortable,  not see through or do not roll or bunch at the knees or ankles.

Printed leggings look fantastic with block colours, and we have a range of fabulous tunic tops that work perfectly.  Pair this seasons animal prints in black and white with bold purple, and add some silver jewellery for extra punch.  This asymmetrical tunic in royal purple looks great and is floaty and feminine.  If you want to add layers for cooler weather, a black tank can be worn underneath, or add a long line cardi or jacket for those chillier days.

Give them  a try today!”

But time and time again we see the same old loaded copy, full of body shaming and judgement.  Is it any wonder the comments threads are full of “But big women shouldn’t….!”  In fact, right after my comment a woman declared apropos of nothing that women with big thighs “shouldn’t wear stripes” – as though what other people wear on their bodies is anyone’s business but their own.  This is the kind of attitude that the negative marketing creates.

If you make women feel good about themselves, empowered and positive, they are very likely to spend money on nice clothes for themselves.  I know that’s when I spend the most money – when I’m feeling fantastic.  I want more nice stuff when I feel good.  When I feel crap, there’s no way I’m going to spend money on clothes.  It is not that fat women don’t want to buy clothes, it’s that we are so often made feel bad in the marketing, that it puts us off buying them.  So many plus-size clothing companies shoot themselves in the foot by using such negative marketing.

What I’d like to see from a plus-size clothing company is positive marketing that shows off their product with pride, and says “We love our product and you’d look great in it!”

Your job is to provide us with great clothes, it’s not to tell us that we should be hiding, minimising or disguising our bodies as though there is something wrong with them.


38 comments on “Sell Us the Clothes – Don’t Judge Us On Them

  • What I really really hate about the “leggings are not pants” talk is that it’s *always* targeted at fat women and/or “lower class” (*eyeroll*) women. In my office there are so many thin women who wear leggings as pants that there’s at least one every day, but it’s never them being told that “leggings are not pants”. The whole “leggings are not pants” cry is sizeist and classist and must stop.

    • Absolutely Jen. Nobody bats an eyelid at thin women wearing leggings, jeggings, teggings, or any other form of fitted pants. It’s only women whose bodies are “unacceptable” that get that criticism.

      It’s also ableist too. Many women wear leggings because they’re soft, comfortable, easy to put on and take off and very forgiving of any shape or physical ability.

  • I love the way you rewrote the caption to go with the clothing ad. I have never thought of wearing leggings, being a big girl I always thought it would look bad and if I had only read Autographs words I wouldn’t even think of doing it, however after reading what you wrote I am thinking this year I might give leggings a try. Thanks for opening my eyes and you are doing a great service to women like me who don’t have gumption to speak out for ourselves.

  • Let’s put it this way, I’d consider buying the items based on your rewrite. Based on what they sent out, I’d trash the email and unsubscribe. Even my current favorite source of clothing (SWAK Designs) falls into the trap by using the line about flattering your curves/body with some of their items. I like the idea of just selling the product as looking good and letting people decide for themselves which colors, styles, and patterns they wish to wear. Stop telling me what I should and shouldn’t wear and let me decide for myself. My fat friends/sisters and I are all quite capable of making these decisions for ourselves.

  • Exactly! Not only does it make clothes shopping less fun to be constantly nagged about doing it ‘wrong’ it also loses these companies sales. I know I went clothes shopping on;y to leave without buying anything more than once purely because either a sales associate or another customer told me how something I tried on and was enjoying was all wrong for me because it didn’t ‘slim’ me enough.

    And then there was the time I spent a few weeks working at a clothing booth at a costume fair. The guy who made the clothes did these delicious fantasy pieces that are mega-fun for dress-up.He was also a master of the dye pot and had a fabulous attitude. He said that all women are beautiful and his job as a designer is to help them see that beauty and share it with the world.

    Anyway, there was a woman who came in with a thick wad of cash to spend She was having a blast. But then she couldn’t decide between two belts. They were both in a rather gloriously Baroque brocade with lots of gold scrolls, but she couldn’t decide between the black one and the midnight blue one. The other two girls working the booth told her she should go with the black one because it was more slimming.

    I, for one, didn’t see any reason why a woman who probably wore about a size six (I’m guesstimating; these clothes weren’t sized the way clothes in a dress shop would have been) needed slimming in the first place, but I know there are women who are terrified of being too fat even at a very small size. Still, I interjected that I had a different way of looking at the situation.

    I noted that both belts reversed to a plain black side and that the difference in the visual slimming effect between the black and the midnight blue was pretty negligible. I said I thought she should buy the one that made her happier when she looked at it.

    In the end, though, she decided that the other girls were right. Black was more slimming, so that’s what she bought.

    Still, I wish she had bought black because it made her smile more. So did the designer. And to this day it’s the way I decide when I have a similar sartorial conundrum.

    Purple, orange, lime green, turquoise, cherry red… these colors make me smile, make me feel good, and make my eyes and cheeks sparkle. And if anyone else thinks they’re ‘too loud’ or ‘not slimming enough’ they are cordially invited to take a damn flying leap. I dress to make me happy. If someone else enjoys the view, that’s an added benefit, not the point of the exercise.

  • Unfortunately, this practice occurs to women of all shapes and sizes. I’m petite and hear “leggings are not pants” and “problem areas” speech frequently. Good news or bad news, I’m not sure.

    • It may happen to all shapes and sizes SOMETIMES, but it happens to fat women EVERY time. We are expected by default to minimise ourselves. A thin woman will get sympathy or “but you don’t need it” if that is said around her and she objects to it, a fat women will get “Well nobody wants to see that.”

      Own your thin privilege please.

  • All points very well-made, not surprisingly. To which I’ll add: fatness is the physical embodiment of Abundance. As such it ought only to be praised, and *never* reviled. There’s no good reason that it should be hidden. And, darn it, I still miss my personal fatness.

  • *Leaves some boring fat hate that we’ve all heard since the third grade. See “Frequently Heard Asshattery”

    • Here’s an idea. How about you get a life, make some friends, get out of your mother’s basement and stop fapping over we fat women and you might not feel the need to leave anonymous hate like a complete loser.

  • It is so entrenched, I notice so many people doing this. It isn’t just older generations either (my mom and granny have been not really liking all my fashion choices lately). I feel companies are just being lazy or going to easy way out by doing this, but this ideas sells clothes (as does playing off insecurities). Leggings are a great versatile clothing item and I will wear them as I wish.

  • What can I possibly add here that others haven’t already stated beautifully? Except – It is fricking annoying all this fashion police garbage! Wear what makes YOU feel good and to hell with the naysayers. (BTW, I like leggings too, but the only reason I might hesitate is I like pants with pockets, to keep my stuff in! That and worrying if they’ll be too long, cuz I’m a total shorty, which is why I like capris – they work as pants and no hemming! Yay!)

      • I do have a couple of pairs of running tights and yoga pants (so, leggings from the knee up) that have small pockets sewn into the inside of the fabric. Not enough to stash, say, a cell phone or a set of keys — but enough to discreetly tuck one’s house key or car key or whatever.

  • Hi! I own an online plus size clothing store, so this subject hits me close.
    As a fat woman myself, I´ve always hated the clothing descriptions that are all about “hide this” or “slim that”, so when I set up to do this, I tried to go on a more body loving direction.

    This are the descriptions (translated, ´cause I´m in Argentina) of two printed leggins I have to sell, I´d love to get your opinion on them:

    This leggins are the easiest way of putting together a stand-out-outfit. Wear them with a basic tee or a denim shirt and some boots, and you´re gonna steal all the looks.

    Add color to your look with this printed leggins. Their mixture of light and dark colors make them ideal for this season, since they can match with pieces of any other color. Wear them with a black tee to make them stand out, or dare to match them with another print for an extra-wow look.

    Thank you for this and all the amazing posts you write!

  • I wear leggings as pants all the time, sometimes I get teased about them not being meant to be worn as pants but it doesn’t bother me. All I know is that they are super comfortable and I think I look really cute in them. I could care less what others think, its my body, my style and I will rock them however I please 🙂

    • You already rock, Juli! BTW, those leggings GI Csome were talking about sounded awesome! Is there a website?

  • I hate the phrase “problem area(s).” When someone insists I look at or buy something to “hide my problem areas” I like to respond by either saying “the only problem area here is your assumptions” or to hold the clothing item up to their face and then say “no, looks like I can still hear your stupidity through this.” I would love more places to use marketing copy like yours.

  • Thank you for articulating so clearly why this is wrong – and how it should be done. I read things like the legging spiel and they make me feel less happy but I’ve not been able to pinpoint why – the idea of fixing and hiding and ‘bad bits’ is so well sold that I didn’t question it. Thank you.

  • Loved your rewrite of some great clothes tarnished by fat-hate. I’m sorry you had an epic fail of a salesperson with that “bad bits” part. I can so relate.

    Whenever I’m trying on clothes I seem to draw people who want to “help” me by telling me “Oh that’s very slimming”. I’ve gotten so tired of them I always respond “so would a burlap sack, but it wouldn’t look good—I want clothes that look great on me, slimming has nothing to do with it” That may seem long–but it’s almost an automatic monologue at this point. LoLSob

    • I think if they said that to me, I’d say “Well, then all the more reason not to waste my money!”

  • Great points you make right there. Why would a company consider themselves a ‘solution’ to a ‘problem’.

    I once contacted a plus-sized swimsuit designer on Facebook to see if she could design a swimsuit top for me. When I told her I wanted it in white, I could almost hear her gasping in horror and she told me that white is the most unflattering colour for larger women. But…but white flatters my skin tone….:( So no swimsuit for me. Most companies assume I need a swimsuit with bold prints and garish colours….

  • In reference to some of the comments on the facebook post: People are so used to advertising telling us we are fat and ugly so that we will feel privileged to buy their products that will “fix”us and our problems. They are so used to it they are blind to it and defend it. This is why fashion and beauty advertising is the biggest industry in the world and this is why most women are really not empowered. you know what I mean anyway. Thanks for posting this.

  • Leggings aren’t pants? Really? What are they? Skirts? Tops? Skorts? Tutus? Also, they’re not see-through and don’t have feet, so they’re not tights. Of course they’re pants. You can choose whether or not you want to wear them as pants. But they most certainly are a type of pant. When you really think about it, fashion “rules” are bullshit. When I was a kid, I wore leggings, and skirts over pants, long before it was cool, and people made fun of me. All of a sudden, years later, when it became fashionable, all those same people started dressing that way and thought it was badass. Fashion “rules” change all the time and, of course, there is the question of who gets to make these “rules.” Fashion “rules” aren’t like the rules of physics and you can break them all you damn well please. As my aunt says, “Who cares if I like it? I’m not the one wearing it.”

    I work as a sales clerk on the weekends and one of my struggles is when *customers* come to me with their own fat hate. I get asked, “Does this dress make me look fat?” and more. I can’t say “Yes,” because that offends most people and they won’t get the fat accepting piece of it. If I say no, they’ll think I’m trying to soften the blow and make them feel good and they won’t believe me. I try, as much as possible, to give recommendations and comments that don’t relate to size. I comment on the color, the accessories, the occasion, etc. and they usually drop the “I’m so fat!” bullshit.

    Lastly, I re-read your other piece on leggings as pants and I just wanted to say that I really didn’t mean to sound like an asshat and I’m sorry if I did. I knew what I was trying to say and obviously, that’s not what came out. Anyway, still reading your blog years after discovery and loving the fashion commentary. You keep wear leggings, stripes, or whatnot as you damn well please.

  • I spent most of my life not wearing comfortable cotton capri pants. “They cut your leg off and make you look stumpy; they fit snug to your fat parts; they have elastic waist bands…” I now wear them almost every day in a variety of colors because they are COMFORTABLE. In the heat we have here in Northern CA, just having those ankles breathing air makes life a bit cooler.

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