I had to do a little shopping in the past few weeks, to pick up a few outfit pieces ahead of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Joburg. I headed off to the Waterfront, purse at the ready, card poised for swiping. Two hours later, my bags were empty and I was on the verge of tears.
Going into store after store, my size 16 self was quickly made to feel like a complete outsider. A style pariah. Unwanted, unwelcome. Among a number of other stores, who simply didn’t recognise me – or my size – as a suitable customer, I made the mistake of going into H & M and Zara. The former has removed their plus-size section entirely, and the latter…well, let’s just say that the items max out at a L, or 36. I left feeling so deflated and a little hopeless. Just because I’m larger, doesn’t mean I don’t still have a sense of style, or want to enjoy fashion and shopping. When I did find something that fit – but, I hated – I was tempted to get it anyway, simply because it seemed to be the only option I had.
I went to bed frustrated, and woke up the next morning – feeling no better. The following day, I made with my favourites at Ruff Tung on a shoot they were doing with a gorgeous, curvy model. After a quick rant and some bubbly, it dawned on me – I am not the problem, and neither are you. Your body, my body – our bodies – are perfect the way they are. Whether they are curvy or flat-chested, short or tall or anything in-between. Long legs, or short, wide hips, thick arms, small butt. You, and your body, are perfect.
I’ve long allowed retailers to dictate the shapes they believe my body should fit into. I am 100% convinced that I would hate my body a lot less if I could find more beautiful clothes to wear. If having that extra junk in my trunk didn’t automatically relegate me to the section of shapeless navy and black t-shirts and tunics – and, that’s if I’m lucky.
I’d be tempted to say it’s difficult to keep your sense of self-worth in tact through all of this, but the fact is that it’s nigh impossible. And, this is said as an almost-31-year-old woman, with what I’d generally say is a health sense of self-esteem. If I struggle walking into a store, how is our younger, more vulnerable generation of women coping?
I’m the first to acknowledge that body image is a constant struggle – and, I’ve documented my journey quite publicly. Filled with ups and downs, I look at my “weight loss” posts at the beginning of the year, and I’m filled with shame. Shame that I allowed anyone to think that their body – or mine – is anything but perfect the way it is. Shame that I too fell into the trap of allowing mainstream media to dictate how much space I should take up in the world. My motivation behind weight loss wasn’t anything to do with health or fitness – it was purely aesthetic. I allowed media and retailers to get to me. I have images of me at my heaviest in a swimming costume still up on Instagram – and, I’m proud of these. Proud that they’ve positively impacted other women to get out there and live their best lives in their best bodies – the ones they have right now. And, that’s something I want to actively work on doing – encouraging women to love themselves. To be a positive influence. It’s a small start in the big, bad world of mainstream women’s media, but we have to start somewhere.
To counteract the sense of fake reality retailers are throwing at us, we need to create our own. With unrealistic models and “aspirational” items constantly thrown at us by stores and media, it’s up to us to create our own safe space. If scrolling through your Instagram or Facebook timeline leaves you feeling guilty or in any way inferior or hating yourself – it’s time for a change. Time to unfollow those “inspirational” accounts that leave you feeling anything but inspired.
So, what now?
Celebrate women of all shapes and size – and I mean celebrate in the most literal sense. If you see a gorgeous woman, tell them. It’s time to lift each other up, celebrate our diversity, and slowly start to create a more inclusive reality for ourselves. Because, allowing retailers and media to create one for us is too dangerous.