Sunday, March 17, 2013

I am not a magical flippin' unicorn.

Rogue Valley Roasting Co.
Sweet & Spicy Soy Chai

Wherein I bitch about shopping and body image and retailing for the lowest common denominator.  Fair warning, especially to my male friends and family members: if you read any further you're going to find out my exact bra size and other squirmy details.

I have been neglecting this blog of late because my Out Days have been overtaken by shopping.  There's been no avoiding it, I have lost too much weight (thank you, breastfeeding) and I now need to replace basically everything I own.  Even jackets and "forgiving" shirts can't be synched or tucked or otherwise fudged.  You would think I would be happy.  As a girl, aren't I supposed to be all into clothes, and spending money I don't have to buy them, and time I could otherwise be using to grow as a person to find them?  Alas, I was raised by wolves.  Male wolves, who do not esteem material trappings.

I have made ovations to femininity over the years.  I've made a concerted effort to tone down my hostility toward pink, and I discovered dresses were, generally, to my liking.  I've found it's nice to feel all femmie once in a while, but I can't quite bring myself to be girly.  Not even when I was a girl.  I think I still own make-up, though I am basically inept at applying it should the occasion ever arise.  I don't have pierced ears, though I have a couple tattoos.  And I still can't get into shoes.  (That lead to many a (gentle) gay joke among my friends, and an Onion-style piece entitled, "Woman with short hair, comfortable shoes defends sexuality.")

But wolves and hippy anti-materialism do not adequately justify my dread and loathing of shopping.  That belongs to American culture's body image hostility.  And the fashion industry.  And one of my own forebears - Issac Singer.  Sonofabitch.

An unhappy body image?  There's a shocker.  I can remember thinking I was fat when I was in kindergarten.  Flippin' kindergarten!  That's how early all the messaging gets in.  Earlier than that, even.  It's almost old-hat to rattle off all the examples of it.  It's all the many, many diet commercials.  It's the casting, the storylines of every commercial, TV show, anything, ever.  The woman is beautiful, thin, and getting thinner... to be desired...  And happiness always follows - only follows - from achieving her as the prize.  Anyone who deviates from this is a second-class story citizen.

And then there's the fashion industry.  Designers love unusually tall and skinny women because it better shows off their clothing.  There are women who are tall and there are women who are naturally thin (not just nearly starving themselves to get a modeling job), and there are women who are both.  I don't hate those women at all.  But that intersection of tall and thin is a comparatively small percentage and in no way representative of most women, let alone all women.  There is a range in heights, and weights, and all sorts of combinations of the two, not to mention all the deviant curvations.  But we are so inundated with skewed imagery that we don't know what we're supposed to look like anymore.  Not on average, not our specific self.  We couldn't pick a healthy body out of a mannequin line-up, and only partly because it probably wouldn't be there.  We wouldn't know a healthy body if it came jogging - nude - past this coffee shop with an entourage of lab-coat-clad doctors bellowing from bullhorns, "THIS IS A HEALTHY BODY," and "YOU COULD GO UP OR DOWN 20 LBS AND STILL BE GOOD.  SERIOUSLY."

The paper apartment
Hot Cocoa/Herbal Tea mashup
with Marshmallows

So, given that I was leaning toward "fat and ugly" on my way into the changing room as a fragile teenage girl, what happened inside was enough to put me in tears when I got home.  Nothing fit.  Ever.  And I used to think it was my fault.  It took many years, but I have finally come to the realization that the culprit for my post-dressing room tears is my great-grand-sire.

When Isaac Singer invented his sewing machine, he started a social revolution.  By bringing down the cost of clothing, and thereby creating the mass-production of clothing, even poorer people could be modestly well-dressed.  People could afford more than just one or two outfits.  In other words, they no longer had to look the part of whatever class they belonged to.  And let's not forget that a family with a sewing machine at home had the opportunity for additional income from "taking in" tailoring jobs.  The sewing machine made class mobility, a healthy middle class, a true possibility.

The downside for this descendent, however, is that mass-produced clothing has confined bodies to a handful of shapes and sizes.  People used to have clothes that were made specifically to fit their body.  Now all clothes have to be manufactured to fit the masses.  They are also designed to be disposable, like the rest of the products we consume.  Even if you don't care about which season you're wearing, the material is going to fade and fall apart so fast that the idea of bothering to get a t-shirt or jeans tailored to fit is completely alien to most of us.

Unfortunately, what I didn't realize when I was young was that I deviate significantly from the masses, and that, "it's not me, clothes, it's you."  And I am tired of it.  I recognize that a retailer has to keep its waste down, so it can't be expected to always accommodate every size.  But I am not a magical flippin' unicorn!  I exist and I need a goddamn pair of jeans and a bra.  Jeans, we have actually come a long way on since I was a kid in the eighties.  Target - though I am officially shunning them for making their employees work on Thanksgiving - has an assortment of "Fit" break-downs for their jeans.  Even if they are not there when I am shopping for them, at least I know that I am a size 10, Short, Fit 4.  I think.  But when it comes to bras, we've got a goddamn way to go, people.

It has been a saga just to find out what the right size actually is, mainly because almost no one carries it.  When I was in high school, I thought I was a 36D.  Now that I am almost back down to my high school weight again, I know that I was probably a 34D or DD.  Good luck finding an anything-DD at Target.  But I'm not quite a 34DD now.  No, I need a 34DDD nursing bra.  And keep in mind that I have been dropping weight.  The bra I just threw out - completely worn out and in no way hold up the girls anymore - was a 36F/G nursing bra.  That bra came from a specialty shop and cost an electric bill.  Unfortunately, that shop has stopped carrying nursing bras with underwires, and even their selection of regular non-nursing 34Fs isn't extensive, so my recent excursions haven't been very successful.  So what has that left me?

The mall.  Four hours yesterday.  Four goddamn hours I will never get back, scouring racks at two department stores.  And I found two.  Two 34DDDs out of hundreds, maybe thousands of bras.  No nursing bras whatsoever.  And here's my big beef with these stores, especially Kohls: If you are going to designate so much floor space to your bra department, why don't you try offering some products to more women instead of offering more products to fewer women?

Really, Kohls, you have too much product on the floor, period.  It's too much to browse - it's really too much to take in, even if you had my size.  But this space is so congested, you can't see the tags easily, so you have to try to shift each hanger - flick, flick, flick - and half the time you end up knocking some off because there's not enough room to hang there, even undisturbed.  It is no wonder no one offered me help, even though I did encounter one polite but distracted employee.  There is simply too much product which is too disorganized to manage it all and provide any customer service.  (That's a staffing model that Borders followed - to their demise!  But that's another blog...)

The way retailers stock clothing, the way designers create for a sub-category of the overall population, and the way manufacturers scale their production, together has created a frustrating and limited system which marginalizes significant portions of the population.  It's akin to having a Borders-sized bookstore that only stocked books on the bestseller list.  We can do this better.  Stop trying to maximize profits by reducing the number of people you can serve.  Stop trying to relegating us to specialty shops which may or may not exist.  We deviants are a market, and there is room for us on the floor.

I could go on, I could say this better, but my brain is done for the day.  Thank you for letting me bitch.  (See?  I am getting in touch with my girly side.)

1 comment:

  1. I feel ya. Having been one who bounces back and forth between my ideal weight and obesity, I have never been able to find a pair of jeans that fit properly. If it fits around the hips and waist, it's too big in the ass and thighs - and vice versa. If I do finally find a pair that fit perfectly then they are too long. If I find a pair of jeans that are the right length, they are for gals that wear a size 2. Which brings me to my next point - if women who are a size 2 actually exist, then why are they usually the only sizes left on a rack?

    As for bra size - at the moment I can wear anything from a 42 DD to a 44 DD depending on the maker. I used to be a 34 DD and it was still super hard to find bras that fit unless I wanted to go to Lane Bryant or Torid. (Side note - if you go to Lane Bryant they will do a very thorough bra-sizing for you and a purchase isn't required for it).

    I tend to shop for my clothes at thrift stores because I have more of a chance finding a pair of jeans (or whatever) for a short chubby gal at an affordable price. Short people and gals with really big boobs are not who clothing is made for. I need to learn how to use my sewing machine so I can start making my own clothes.

    Oh, and by the way - Old Navy has a jean section that has various sizing and styles. I believe Target got the idea from them, so Old Navy has a lot more to chose from. They are pretty much priced the same as Target, too.