Fat Girls Not Welcome

By Gennifer Eccles

**Disclaimer: In this piece, the word “fat” is used to describe women. As a plus-size woman, I use the word “fat” as a way to reclaim ownership over the word without the stigma associated with it. If this phrase triggers you, please exercise self-care and possibly read another article from Slutmouth instead. **

Without a doubt, summer is my least favorite season. The sweltering North Carolina heat forces me inside, unless I want to sweat buckets. Without school as a constant motivator, I become stagnant and constantly have to remind myself to keep working and pushing forward. But my least favorite part of summer? The clothes. 

As a self-described fashionista, I love styling clothes and expressing myself through fashion. However, as a fat girl still coming to terms with her body, it can be a struggle to strike a balance between clothes/styles I love and feeling comfortable. Summer makes everything worse. All these intrusive thoughts rush forward. Do my forearms look too big? Are people staring at my thighs? Does the shirt I’m wearing stick to my stomach? 

All of these thoughts are exacerbated when shopping. I see models on billboards that probably weigh half as much as me. Going inside the stores is a whole other nightmare. I’ve spent countless hours in changing rooms, only to leave empty handed. Having to push through heaps of clothes to find my size at the bottom can be irritating, and in my weaker moments, embarrassing. 

One of my latest shopping forays left me feeling so discouraged. I was at American Eagle, a store I’ve had relative ease shopping at in the past. To rewind, I didn’t feel too great going in.  I had recently started breaking out, and my friend’s clunky driving had me feeling mildly nauseous. My dress was riding high at my armpits, making me feel both uncomfortable and internally worrying if people could, god forbid, see sweat stains. Oh the horror! Looking back now, this was such a silly thing to worry about, but I couldn’t help but think someone would judge me for sweating in the dead of summer.

When I stepped into American Eagle, I was ready to get some new clothes that would boost my declining self-confidence. And then I made the gravest mistake of all; I attempted to find mom-jeans. 

My quest for mom-jeans was long, arduous, and unsuccessful. However, I thought American Eagle might just be the place. A ton of my (slim) friends adored them and got their jeans there, and in my blind optimism, I decided to go for it. I had no idea the cluster-fuck I had just stepped into. 

I first started with picking out two styles of jeans that looked promising, one with rips and holes, the other with none. I picked out both size 14 and 16 for each style, because I wasn't sure which ones would fit right. This is where I had my first conundrum. I fit both sizes of the ripped jeans, and neither of the other. I was bewildered, to put it lightly. How can I fit both sizes 14 and 16 of one pair of jeans, and neither of another? That’s when I peered a bit closer to the tags. One jeans had “stretch” in them, and the other was a stiffer jean with no stretch. 

I walked back onto the floor and walked up to the nearest sales associate, and asked about more sizes for mom jeans and how the stretch worked. She had absolutely no clue what I was talking about. It wasn’t until she went up to the display with the jeans and stretched them that she understood. During this time, she asked which sizes I got several times. Everytime I had to repeat myself, I got more and more embarrassed. I tried to remind myself that size doesn’t matter - it’s just a number. My size doesn’t have to mean anything bad unless I give it that power, but I sure wasn’t thinking that at the time. 

Eventually, I gave up on my mom jean quest, but now I was determined to find a jean that worked for me at American Eagle. I eventually found them in a “next level stretch” jean. They’re comfortable as hell, but the most aggravating thing? I fit a size 14, 16, and 18. Leaving the store with my brand new  jeans, I didn’t feel successful; I felt frustrated and unwelcome. American Eagle had obviously not catered to my body shape. Some jeans were too tight on my thighs, others almost a foot too long, and even when the waistband was snug on my stomach, I always had a gap by my lower back. My whole experience that day just affirmed that fashion brands and retailers don’t think of fat girls when they make their clothing; we’re just dismissed. 

From a bystanders point of view, my outing was a success; I got a new pair of jeans. But for me, this experience just served as a reminder that clothing stores don’t cater to people like me, even though a study in the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology, and Education found that the average size for a woman was between sizes 16 and 18. Most U.S. women look more like me than any model on an American Eagle billboard. It is beyond frustrating to know that the average U.S. woman might have to spend upwards of 2 hours to find one pair of jeans. Just because stores have begun making strides in the correct direction ー I was actually stunned to see a size 18 in store ー doesn’t mean that the fashion industry is perfect. The vanity sizing needs to stop and stores have to start catering to fat women and their curves, myself included.