A new place to live

Shopping

“It’s a 22 Wide. Do you think you can wear that?” My mom was holding up what looked like a huge pair of pants and shouting over three racks of clothes to get my attention. I wanted to crawl under the closest cluster of clothing and hide. Quietly, I moved toward her and hissed, “Women’s. The W stands for Women’s size, not Wide!”

“Well, do you think these will fit or not? I can’t find a size 24 Wide.” She said as she handed me the size 22 W. I took them and headed for the dressing room. I was 18 years old and shopping for clothes to wear to a scholarship interview for college.

Unlike most 18-year olds who loved shopping for clothing at the mall, I dreaded it. We lived in a rural area and the closest mall was at least a 45-minute drive away. It was the one place that I could shop. Out of 84 different shops in the mall, there was one store that carried plus-sized clothing. My wardrobe was always limited to what they had to offer and to what we could afford. Their clothing was notably more expensive than the mainstream storms that sold typical-sized clothing which was often called ‘misses sizes’.

My mother had been trying to help me shop, but I hated when she referred to the ‘W’ on the tag as ‘Wide’. Each time I corrected her and insisted that the ‘W’ did not represent the word ‘Wide’, but ‘Women’s’. She never argued with me, but we both knew ‘Wide’ was a more accurate description of the size I wore. While I despised that ‘W’ size, I also desperately sought it. If we entered a new, large department store, my eyes darted around to the directory sizes that are often hanging from the ceiling in various sections of clothing stores, “Petite”, “Maternity”, “Misses”, “Juniors” were all common then, but finding the “W” was harder.

As I continued to wear plus-sizes as an adult and into middle-age, the clothing industry eventually expanded their market. Most large department stores now carry a section labeled “Plus”, “Full-Figured”, “Curvy”, or even still, the “W”— “Women”. For decades I searched for signs on racks or clothing labels assuring me that I would fit. I learned to seek out the safety of the plus-sized section and to avoid the slender cuts of the others. Once, while in Paris, I ventured into a clothing store hopeful that I might find a plus-sized section. I found a garment that I thought might fit, and I asked to try it on. The attendant snatched the dress from my hands and yelled at me that I was too ‘gros’. ‘Gros’, in French means fat. I knew enough of her language to quickly dash out of the shop. I cried as I hurried away.

From that time forward, I was extra cautious to stick to my own sizes, my own shopping neighborhood. Like an interlope from out of town, I didn’t even glance towards the smaller sizes. That was not my community. I did not belong there. It was a hostile environment even when the clerks were smiling. Those clothes did not fit. Just as the ‘Wide’ section was a small part of a larger store, my clothing options were very limited and were limited further by my ‘petite’ height. When I found the first clothing section labeled “Women’s Petite”, I was ecstatic! The clothing was wide enough and short enough. For the first time in my life, no one had to trim the sleeves or shorten the hem. Finally, I could shop with the added criteria of clothes that fit! I had found home, my neighborhood, my kind.

Still, the fashionable stores, the ones were most of my friends shopped never carried plus sizes. Once, during a day-long “Girl’s Day Out”, my friends and I spent the entire day shopping. We spent much of the day going in different directions. After I had found two stores with plus sizes, I had been limited to shopping for shoes, housewares and specialty foods. For the most part, I never even ventured into the trendy clothing shops with them because I could not wear the clothing. When I did, I saw that the three of them had a great time grabbing up their favorite new fashions and were even able to trade sizes amongst them in the dressing room. All I could do was wait by the dressing room door and watch.

Starting on a keto diet

When I started a ketogenic diet in June 2013, I wore at size 24 W pants and dress size, and a 3XL shirt. Finally, I had a few places to shop. I knew which stores carried my sizes, and I stuck to those, but within 6 months the smallest of the plus sizes began to be too big! During the Christmas season, the busiest shopping season of the year, I was lost. I wondered if the “typical sizes” might fit, but I was nervous to try. After wondering aloud to my husband whether I might be able to shop outside of my plus-sized boundaries, he encouraged me to try. I hesitated. He put me in the car and drove me to one of my favorite local stores that had both plus-sizes and misses. I protested that those smaller clothes would never fit me. He picked up a pink sweater that had caught my eye from the front door of the store and insisted that I try it. A sweater? A clingy sweater? I took the largest size on the rack off to the dressing room. It fit. I cried.

Since that December day, I’ve left the safety of the old “W” neighborhood. It took nearly a year of venturing out to new stores and new clothing racks. It took a lot of bravery to try on smaller sizes. Sometimes a French woman in my head shouted, “You are too gros!” On those days I take at least three sizes of each garment into the dressing room with me. Most days I was elated to walk out with the smallest of the three fitting. Shopping is a lot more fun now, and I can even shop with friends, and share clothing! Something I have never done before.

Last Christmas my husband and I were finishing up our shopping list at huge shopping center. I had spent too much time trying on clothes and relishing the ability to walk into any store and find clothing that fit. My husband had dutifully carried bags to the car like my Sherpa. As we were leaving, my eyes scanned for additional stores that I might want to shop. There, right in front of me was a retail storefront owned by the chain of stores from my high school days. That one store, the only store, that carried plus sizes when I was a teenager had grown to thousands of retail locations. The tears started before I even understood them. My husband, who was paying attention to the crazy shopping traffic stopped the car, and asked, “What’s wrong? Are you okay?” I had gone from the smiling, whirlwind-shopping wife to a woman in the midst of an ugly cry.

“That store! Right there”, I pointed. “That used to be the ONLY store where I could shop!” David, followed my gesturing, and asked, with not a little confusion, “Do you want to go in there?” I cried harder. “No, I never want to go in there again! I don’t have to. I can go anywhere! I can wear clothes from any store now! I’m just so grateful!” and I continued sobbing. My tears were a rush of gratitude and regret. Why hadn’t I known all of those years what was wrong with how I ate? No one wants to be obese, yet there I was never able to figure it out. Finally, I had. While I was grateful, I mourned the years and the experiences that I missed.

Finally, I gathered my words and told my husband, “Honey, I’m fine. I’m not really sad. I’m grateful. I’m blessed. I finally have choices. I’m no longer a size Wide. Let’s go home.”


Kristie Sullivan

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13 comments

  1. Stacey
    That made me cry. Thank you for sharing your story!
    Reply: #2
  2. Kristie Sullivan
    Thank you! I cried when I wrote it. :-)
  3. Bev
    Oh, Kristie - those changing room tears, I've been there, too (and sometimes still, though I am losing slowly) - crushes your very soul. I wish I'd known about this way of eating when I was 14, the first time I 'went on a diet'. I'm 55 now, still trying to lose weight, but doing it the keto way now.
  4. Patsy Reinhart
    Wonderful happily ever after ending!!
  5. Joanie Mack
    I didn’t even go into the stores. I discovered that JCPenney has women’s petite in their catalog. I shopped for all of my clothes online. Finally fat short girl clothes!!! I’m now so close to being out of the plus sizes!
  6. Anne Mullens
    What a moving story Kristie. So many will be helped by your writing and experiences. Thank you for sharing and expressing it so well.
  7. Paula Haskins
    I so understand what you are saying. While grateful for those stores, I want to be able to go anywhere and try on new fashions. Not there yet but I’m working on it. Great read!! So inspiring!
  8. Jenise M Scarborough
    I too have endured the struggles of trying to find plus size clothing. The only thing that saved me for years is that pattern companies started making patterns in larger sizes, but I still had to cut them bigger. If I hadn't known how to sew, I would have been 'nekkid' . Thank goodness I can buy clothes now, but looking forward to shopping for smaller sizes.
    One thing that always upset me was that my mother would buy me clothes for my birthday or Christmas or whatever reason. They were always several sizes too small. I would just about cry. I finally told her I'd rather not get anything than get something I couldn't wear. Her heart was in the right place, but she didn't have a clue to my pain. The End.
    Reply: #11
  9. Courtney Graves
    You are So Beautiful. Even as a size Wide. Now your whole true self shines thru. Im so proud of you. Your efforts and hard work have allowed my entire family to loose a combined weight of 168lbs in 9 months. Thank you, thank you. Diet Doctor, you and a couple others are my GURU'S.
  10. WarblingLisa
    Kristie, had to laugh at the "Wide" comment because the first time I saw "W" in a plus size store, I thought it meant "Wide." I mean, come on, shopping at, "The Stout Shoppe" wasn't insult enough? Seriously, it was actually called that!
    I felt your pain and tears as I remembered how difficult it was to find a size 20 wedding dress in 1985. Occasionally, I would find a few larger sizes in a bridal store, but most of the fashionable dresses were in the 6-10 range. I ended up ordering a dress from J.C. Penney -- literally a week before my wedding. It fit...barely.
    I, too, wish I had known about low carb eating when I was in my 20's and doing low fat crash diets. At least, I can say my future (and present!) is healthier thanks to what I know now and practice. Thank you for sharing with us!
  11. WarblingLisa
    Wow, Jenise, your post brought back some memories. My mom would mail me an outfit with a note attached that said, "I hope this is too big." Of course, it was never too big. It never came close to fitting. No matter how well-meaning, those experiences hurt. Guess best option is to accept our fabulous selves and focus on attaining great health!
  12. Barbara
    I live in a very fit town. It seems every other store is selling running shoes and stretchy yoga fitness clothes or hiking, skiing and rock climbing equipment. That alone makes it embarrassing to clothes shop, both from the lack of availability and style choices but also from the looks from other shoppers who wonder what my problem is. But, when the mall's flagship department store, who puts their weekly flyer in your Sunday paper, stops carrying plus size women's clothing, that's beyond sad. I was shocked when, after asking a clerk where the larger women's clothes were "hiding" (I can imagine the clothing was probably ashamed to show itself, too), she told me that unfortunately they didn't carry them anymore. When I asked her if they had also taken away the larger sizes in the men's department she replied that no, they still carry them! She did make a comment about misogyny, so I could tell that she was feeling some empathy for me, despite maintaining the required friendly, cheerful demeanor the store requires of its sales associates. However, when I was offered coupons good for my next visit, I refused them saying I wasn't going to be shopping at that store ever again. I practically burst into tears, thinking what a loyal customer I had been for many years and this was the slap in the face I received. I do still remember, back in the 1980's, after I had lost 40 pounds, how thrilling it was to try on a pair of size 10 pants and they fit! But, when I get to that place again, I hope I never forget how it felt to feel ostracized and less than normal in that store where "We have something for everyone"! Yeah, right, if you're a size 2!
  13. Susanna
    All of this. My gratitude over losing 90 pounds is always shadowed by the shame, fear and embarrassment of the memory of shopping for 3X and 24W(ides). Waiting on clerks and fellow shoppers to give me 'the look'. You know the one. And even though their silent judgment is probably all in my head, I don't think I will ever not feel this way.

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