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April 7, 2014 | by  | in Features Homepage |
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Fashion is for thin people. The industry standard for models is an NZ size 4. If you believe Rachel Smalley, the average New Zealand woman is a “heifer”, a “lardo.” Brands like Abercrombie & Fitch refuse to stock sizes above a Large because they don’t want their customers “to see people who aren’t as hot as them wearing [A&F] clothing.” Most ‘mainstream’ clothing stores only go up to a size 16. What’s a girl to do?

In late January of this year, Ally Garrett, fed up with not being able to buy clothes in her size, took to Twitter. “I feel like I’ve gotta beg shops to give me a reason to spend $$$,” she tweeted. “I’m young, hot and financially irresponsible, it shouldn’t be this hard.” Less than five minutes later, Victoria student Freya Dean responded, saying: “I’m so tempted to make some kind of calling card/letter for when I go into an overpriced store and can’t fit anything. ‘FYI I would have spend $ —- today if you stocked my size’.” The “Twitter lady mafia”, as Dean calls it, sprang into action, with Nicole Skews, founder of the Wellington Young Feminist Collective, and Merrin Macleod, who designed the cards, also getting involved. 45 minutes after Garrett’s tweet, the Clothes Calling Card (CCC) campaign was born.

On the campaign’s website you can print two versions of the calling cards; one intended to be given to a shop assistant or manager, reading, “Please let me give you money. If you had things in size ____, I would have spent $____,” and another, intended to be simply left in the store, which says,  “This shop wouldn’t take my money. If they had things in size ____, I would have spent $____.” The campaign isn’t just for plus-size women, or just women; the calling cards are intended to be used in any situation where a person feels they’ve been overlooked for reasons of size (or, in the case of make-up, skin colour) and would like to politely remind the store of this fact. “There’s been a really positive response to the campaign, and to the cards themselves,” Dean tells me; “people have been really stoked that they exist.” At the heart of the campaign is this frustration with clothing stores that Dean and many others felt: “it’s not my fault that I’m not spending money, it’s yours.”

“What I like about the idea of this campaign is that it’s small, and the card is a really simple, practical action,” Dean says. “It’s something that people can do that creates noise.” The sense of having an option when faced with this situation seems to be what people are most responding to: “it is about wellbeing,” Dean says; “it’s a shitty feeling when you can’t find clothes that fit you.”

Because this isn’t ‘just fashion’. “[Clothes are] a part of your identity. It’s a part of fitting into society,” Dean says. What we wear indicates far more than just how cold it is outside; clothes are a marker of class, religion, and personality. Wearing my favourite ugly jersey to uni indicates that my flat is freezing, that I’m tired and don’t want to talk to people, and that I’m attempting to incorporate this sense of not caring into my personal brand. Or something.

While the full nature of this expression is available to people of mainstream sizes, when you don’t fit the mainstream your choices are often limited. This can be especially damaging because of the discourse surrounding weight. “There’s this whole idea of what’s considered standardised and good, and morally good,” Dean says. “Fat people are not just unattractive, they’re also lazy.” Melissa McEwan, who runs the feminist website Shakesville, has also written about this: “[f]at women have all kinds of narratives about sloppiness, laziness, dirtiness, to overcome,” she says. “I get treated differently at the doctor’s office, and at the emergency room. I can’t go to the ER in sweatpants, because I’ll get shittier treatment. In an emergency, I have to worry if I am dressed up enough to prove that I deserve respect and care.” Lynda Boothroyd, an English researcher who led a study of body diversity in 2012, found that when shown images of well-dressed women, the test subjects thought better of them than poorly or plainly dressed women, regardless of size.

With limited sizes, this problem of presentation can be exacerbated. In Wellington, many of our high-end stores only go up to a size 14. Kate Sylvester considers an L (their highest letter-size) to be a 12–14. (They go down to XS.) Ruby’s highest size is a 12. It would be unreasonable to expect all stores to stock all sizes; financially, it often doesn’t make sense to cater to the extremities of the bell curve. But when the average New Zealand woman is a size 14–16, and the percentage of women who are size 16 and over has been reported to be as much as 65 per cent, then there is a systematic problem. If more women are plus-size than not, then the niche isn’t being excluded – the majority is. This doesn’t make financial sense. This doesn’t make sense, period.

This might be indicative of people’s assumption that the general populace is thinner than they actually are. There seems to be an erasure of body diversity in how we represent our society back to ourselves. While there are a few exceptions (Lena Dunham, writer and star of Girls, often gets naked onscreen in order to promote body diversity), on the whole the bodies we see in the media are mostly thin, and almost never plus-size. There seems to be a general cultural consensus to simply ignore the existence of larger sizes, both in business and the media. Significantly, Boothroyd’s study found that when women were shown pictures of more diverse bodies, they were more accepting of body diversity. “Showing [the test subjects] thin bodies makes them like thin bodies more, and showing them fat bodies makes them like fat bodies more,” she says.

The CCC offers empowerment to people in a situation which can feel powerless. The hope is that this small campaign can work to enact some sort of societal change in how we view body image and size. It’s a reminder, Dean says, that “the personal is political.” Fashion is never just fashion, and clothes are for everyone.

Unless you’re a nudist.


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