Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Plus-size shopping

i'm uncomfortable writing this post for some reason. but here goes.

My brother asked me to take my niece, Karen, clothes shopping. she's just started working for him, and she's broke. she's nothing appropriate to wear when we visit schools.

i'm sorry that this is worthy mentioning, but my niece is 5'1 and 220 pounds. she feels very embarrassed and badly about her body. she covers herself with men's sweats and her (not very nice ) boyfriend's old tee-shirts.

i worried that shopping with her would take me back to that miserable time i lived in when i was 200 pounds, feeling so ashamed and so badly about my body. i refused to wear plus-size clothes, so i also lived in men's old sweats and shirts. (i was also eating compulsively around the clock, dropping out of school, dealing with major issues at home. very bad time.)

although i came to the shopping day with a lot of baggage, i so wanted to give my niece some self-esteem and have her feel good about the experience.

i vowed to stay away from any "fattism". i'm sure i have inner prejudices that still think thin is better, but i need to work on them and don't want them in any way to effect Karen.

i didn't want to pull her towards "slimming" clothes or to offer diet advice. why can't she be just fine the way she is?

"but what about health issues?", an inner voices stage whispers. "she can't be healthy at this point. shouldn't you give her some diet tips to help her trim to a healthier weight?"

i don't know how healthy she is. we don't spend much time together. and how healthy am i, anyway. i just stopped drinking, i still smoke a few cigarettes a day, i have a drug history, am way over-due for a mammagram, go to a tanning salon.

yes, i'm a good weight for me, and people think i look well, but i'm not that healthy. karen doesn't drink or smoke or tan. she's 22 years younger than i am. who am I to judge?

besides, who wants healthy eating tips from a recovering anorexic/bulimic/compulsive eater?

for shopping, my brother wanted me to try Marshall's and T.J. Maxx and J.C. Penny's. they're less expensive and where we all do most of our shopping.

Karen had no idea what size she was and i don't know anything about plus-size sizes (remember, when i was heavier i refused to buy the larger sizes.) she started with 14s and 16s, but they didn't get over her arms.

i started to worry that this would become demoralizing if she kept trying on the sizes she thought she was, but wasn't. but i didn't know where to steer her.

karen lamented that her late mother always took her to J.C. Penney and she was thin enough then to buy clothes there. she also started really missing her mom.

trying to save the situation, i made the executive decision -- we were going to Lane Bryant, where they'd know exactly where she fit. (my sister-in-law had warned me that Karen always refused to go there, but luckily she didn't have a problem this time. hallelujah!)

Lane Bryant gave us a wonderful experience. both of us had so much fun. all the saleswomen and customers gathered around and oohed and aahed over everything Karen tried on. and she looked fantastic in all the clothes that fit her perfectly. (i called my brother and asked if we could spend much more than originally planned. happily, he agreed. karen felt even more special.)

She was beaming. No one had ever paid attention to her. She glowed. after the shopping experience, i took her out of for a lovely lunch. then we went to my boyfriend's flower shop, and he gave her a huge bouquet of flowers.

i'd really wanted her to have a day of feeling special and cared for and care-free. we both ended up having a great time.

karen wears the new clothes every day. if you tell her how nice she looks, she beams and glows again.

just an aside. when i was in Lane Bryant, i really related to the women and the bodies and the looks. i felt more at home. i've always thought there was a plus-size woman inside of me who was being repressed by salads and small turkey sandwiches and diet soda.

i also thought i was a couple of pounds away from fitting into the clothes. rationally, i know that's not true, but i have a warped body image.

why is it important?


  1. Wow. I almost cried reading this post. I can relate so much to your niece because a little less than a year ago I had the exact same stats. Now I'm down to 169, but it took some very unhealthy eating to get there. I'm glad that you took all necessary measures to prevent lowering her self-esteem anymore and I'm so glad you and your niece had a good time. =)

  2. Great post, I personally would want to hear advice from anyone else dealing with body issues, and how exactly they cope. But I can understand it being your niece, someone you don't see often and the age difference. I'm glad you both were able to make it a good experience:) I'm sure it will be a big memory for her even years from now.

  3. What a roller coaster. I love TJMaxx, but finding anything in that store is like a scavenger hunt. I'm glad you both had such a good experience at Lane Bryant.

    Some of my plus-size friends distanced themselves from me when it became obvious I had an eating disorder. I wished I had just told them flat out that I didn't hate them, I hated myself; I was the unforgivable tubby. I didn't see them as fat, even. Since I discovered the Fatosphere and fat-acceptance blogs, I've made a conscious effort to remove the ingrained "fattism" that I've picked up from our fat-phobic society.

  4. This post was so heartwarming to read. You made that girl feel so good about herself, and I think it helped you too. It helped me to read it.

    You are such a good person. If you were here, I'd give you a huge hug.

  5. MyNameisMellon: i'm sorry your path has been thru unhealthy eating. i know the feeling! i pray that both my nieces will not use any of the means i did. thanks for writing.

    Sarah; i guess i didn't offer anything, because she didn't ask. she complained about her body and weight but never opened up for opinion. i don't think she's in that space. i didn't want to be one more person telling her she's...imperfect. we both did have a great time. i love seeing her in all her new clothes.

    lisa; fattism was hammered in to me since i was tiny (but not tiny enough for my family.) it almost felt hard-wired. it's been a long process, and i still feel myself slipping back -- assuming everyone wants to be thin, and thin = happier, and blah, blah, blah. a lot to re-learn!

    karen; hugs, right back at you. it DID help me. it was nice to see all the warmth in the store. it felt like such a safe place -- i didn't want to leave. it was like a parallel universe, where everyone was plus-size. i'd love it there. thanks for your kind, kind words. you made me happy.

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  7. Interesting post!! Lane Bryant is really nice place for plus size clothes!! i too like to shop at here!!