Thursday, 18 June 2009

Shopping therapy? No thanks

Those of you that have been paying attention over the past month or so may have worked out that I am a reasonably well-upholstered lass. Not dangerously obese but definitely a bit on the stocky side.

And although I would love to be naturally slim and athletic, I'm OK with what I am. My health is good, I don't wobble (too much), I'm much more supple than most of my skinny friends and my bulk does not stop me enjoying anything in life.

Except shopping.

Over the years, I have developed a severe allergy to scouring the shops for new clothes. (I'm in good company - the divine Vanessa Redgrave has gone on record as hating clothes shopping). And it has got worse since I've been in Greece.

Let me explain. I'll be the first to admit that - even as a young girl - the prospect of traipsing around the shops never filled me with the glee I see light up in my eldest niece's eyes at the very thought. But as the years have passed I have developed a real aversion, even a phobia, to the whole business.

Shopping isn't therapy for me - I need therapy for the shopping.

"Zo, vat could be ze deep-seated source of zis strange aversion?" I hear the Austrian psycho-analysts amongst you cry (don't I?).

Ever since my teenage years, I have had to come to terms with the fact that the retail trade believes large girls are second-class citizens. Not for us the cute, colourful designs offered to our skin-and-bone sisters. Oh no, fat girls have to wear black tents. Or worse, huge baggy top-and-trouser sets in polyester strewn with hideous giant flowers.

Apparently, when you are a large lady, the right to dress to express your personality goes out of the window. The only thing that counts is "Does it fit?", no matter if it is something your blind granny wouldn't be seen dead in.

Well, I've got news for you. We won't wear just anything out of sheer gratitude that it actually fits.

It was yet another example of my impeccable timing that just as things were improving in the UK, with High Street stores starting to sell real clothes in sizes beyond the accepted norm – Size 16s, 18s, 20s or even more, I moved to Greece.

And despite the fact that your classic Mediterranean beauty has a bit of meat on her bones, finding anything in my size that is not vomit-inducing is a real challenge. It does not seem to have seeped into the market's consciousness here that being overweight and having taste are not mutually exclusive.

Then, there is the attitude of the sales ladies (dontcha just love 'em?). The minute you walk in the door, they're all over you, asking if they can help and what you're looking for. Even when you say you're just browsing, they hover ominously looking slightly anxious – maybe they think I'm going to eat the stock or something?

The worse humiliation comes when they ask if you're looking for something for yourself. You nod meekly, knowing that you're going to get "that look" of disdain and disbelief that such a blob would dare to try to buy clothes in a shop for normal people. They inform you (like they were telling you something you didn't know) that you "need a big size" before directing you to the Fat Girl rail, hidden at the back of the shop. There you find an array of sacks cut as square as a 1970s Lada, designed to hide our curves, our bumps, our personalities, our very existence…

I have a friend here who is, like me, on the large side. She is also brilliant, charming, beautiful, and brighter than a whole swarm of super-models. She is a confident, intelligent and dynamic woman, and yet she can be reduced to a blubbering heap by the frustration of the ordeal of clothes shopping, and the insensitivity of the uber-bitch sales women we have to deal with.

My friend is a highly qualified, tri-lingual professional doing very nicely on her own terms, thank you very much.

And you – dear shop lady – you sell frocks, right?

Despite the images that magazines try to force-feed us, the average woman in Europe and the States is getting bigger. More and more of us take a UK Size 16 or more. But we're not lazy, we're not overindulgent and we do exercise. We just happen to be bigger.

As the legions of large ladies grows, one of these days, the fashion industry is going to suddenly wake up, smell the non-fat latte and realise what a (literally) huge opportunity they've been missing.

But there's another thing that we big girls have in common with elephants. We never forget.

1 comment:

  1. And I am the first to comment? Amazing ;-) It's good to know I'm in the same league as Vanessa Redgrave and your -no doubt gorgeous- self.
    It's not because I am a large size, because I'm not. Fairly average. Although I have a large belly and long legs. Most trousers my size are too short. Hence my preference for jeans. And boots.

    Soooo, you live in Greece. Interesting. I've been on holiday to Thassos once. About 22 years ago. Found it the most boring holiday ever. Went with a friend who loved lying on the beach, going to the disco (these were the 80s) and flirting with hot Grecians. So I haven't a clue what it would be like living there ;-)

    I'm going to read more of your posts now.