“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.”