I don’t often post weight related things because it’s really not on the top of my mind most of time. But I’ve got a bee in my bonnet about something so here we go. This post has sat in a draft folder for a while and I was reminded of it the other day when my friend went shopping for a rain jacket.
Here’s the deal. I am 5’0″ and I weigh in north of 200 pounds. Most people don’t believe me when I say that, but I do, and I guess I’m just really densely built. Having carried an 8 lb 3 oz baby in my uterus and had a caesarean birth, my stomach is comically flabby and squashy. I have what is often referred to as the caesarean pooch/pouch/shelf/front bum. I’m a bit sensitive about that (and actually, my scar is still weirdly sensitive after seven plus years) but I’ve learned how to dress to make myself feel the most comfortable. I’m also proud of being Kale’s mom which diminishes any sad feelings.
I’m fairly active: I hike occasionally, I canoe occasionally, I walk a fair amount. I attend karate weekly, I feel strong and healthy most of the time. I own a bike I’d like to ride more, and now that Kale has finally learned how to ride a bike, I hope we can bike more as a family. I eat pretty decently, though I’m a sucker for good, salty chips and a nice glass of wine. I have to trick myself into eating breakfast because food before 10am makes me want to mentally barf.
Could my diet be better? You bet. Could I exercise more? You bet. There will always be room for improvement.
This past summer, a friend posted on Twitter that she found lovely running shorts in a lingerie shop in Italy, where she is vacationing. She mentioned both MEC and Running Room, two local places to buy activewear in our area. MEC replied to her right away, asking for feedback on why she thought the shorts she had purchased were superior, and my friend retweeted her. I could not resist myself at all, and had to butt in.
— Jen Arbo (@jenarbo) August 17, 2015
And they replied, looking for more info. I was only too happy to oblige: And then, like most companies that want to seem inclusive to all bodies, they let me know NO REALLY WE HAVE SOME LARGE SIZES, WE SWEAR:
— MEC (@mec) August 17, 2015
I spent about 10 minutes clicking around on their site with no success and then challenged them to find me a single pair of pants that are larger than size 16 that are not leggings that are in stock. I was asked to email a person so we could take it offline. I got a great email from the customer service team who spent a lot of time finding me links and providing info. Of the 14 ish items they sent, ONE had something in a size greater than 16 or XL. The CSR was honest, and mentioned they were between seasons, and that selection was poor, and they acknowledged they could do better. I’m not faulting them. This is how manufacturers work and since MEC started bringing in other brands rather than having their own stuff made, this is the reality.
This is not a complaint about MEC, mind you. I love MEC. I’ve been a member for basically ever. It was like the thing you did in 1994 – you moved to Vancouver and got your MEC membership. I used to swear by their bras and boy shorts (LONG discontinued, sadly).
Recently, I was there to buy a new water bottle for Kale (because WTF is it with kids and missing water bottles) and pick up some foam bricks for carrying our canoe on our roof rack. While I was there, I looked at some nice bike shorts for Ross that were on clearance, but they only had extra larges left and I didn’t think he’d care for the colour. I considered some new gloves for Kale for skating this winter but then remembered I bought a pair at the end of the season last year. I looked at inserts for my new hiking boots I received for Christmas but I didn’t see what I had in mind. I also had a look at the kitchen equipment – I’ve been on the hunt for a perfect tea pot for years but no one seems to make what I have in mind.
Then I perused the women’s section and felt like I had no business even considering these clothes. It was clear from their in-store merchandising and the images they displayed in the section itself that I was not a part of the active women’s club at MEC. The models on the posters or wall pictures etc are all tiny, leggy, willowy, beautiful women. Not a single one of them a larger, shorter, strong, beautiful, happy woman. Even on their website, and in their catalogues – they don’t celebrate atypically shaped physically active people. I also asked them how much photoshop was used on their product images that included a human model, and was told that aside from colour correction, they do not photoshop their product images. The truth is that I suspect the images that the manufacturer supplies have been altered.
They likely don’t even know they may be doing this – excluding a whole group of active and fit people on their in store displays and decorations. In fact, in their 2014 Annual Report (see page 14), they acknowledge that for 19-30 year olds, activity levels are “steeply declining”. They seem to want to make a difference and encourage active, outdoor lifestyles, at least when they are talking about goals.
Here’s the thing, though, retailers. Just because you advertise that you stock up to a size 20 doesn’t mean you breed a culture of inclusion. I’m proud of my strength and mostly happy with my fitness levels and shape. My son knows his mother is active. But I do not feel welcome in your women’s section.
Lululemon has been criticized for this extensively. Here’s just one article about how fat-shaming their customers is business strategy. (I have never bought Lululemon clothing – their very largest sizes are too small or too long for me, even pre-baby when I was single and had time to play soccer two or three times a week). Gap /Banana Republic / Old Navy also does this. While you can buy a number of extra-large sized items in the women’s section in store, there is a huge Women’s Plus Size section available online, including some pretty decent athletic wear sized for people greater than 16.
Listen, world. The average size of a Canadian woman is 155-ish pounds, 5′ 3.4″, and wears a size 33 pant (this article from 2012 has some really interesting statistics about Canadian women, not just the physical shape stuff). Stop trying to make us feel bad about ourselves.
And if you are an athletic fashion designer, I have a serious business plan for you, and we should talk. Active women needs technical clothing – from underwear to outerwear and everything in between – and no one is really doing a good job of servicing a huge enormous demographic of active, fit, and larger women.