The Problem with Problem Areas
I was lucky enough to visit New York a couple of months ago. The big Apple didn’t disappoint when it came to the stunning architecture, great sightseeing and wonderful people. There was one thing that did disappoint me though, and that’s what I want to tell you about.
We decided to hit the shops, I particularly wanted some gorgeous lingerie. Within minutes of hitting the main shopping street, I was enticed into one of the leading plus size chains with a stunning billboard featuring curvy women of all shapes, some with gorgeous wobbly bottoms and some with large chests and big arms. They were ethnically diverse and looked really happy. It was a smorgasbord of deliciousness that made me rush into the store in buying mode..
Now I don’t mean to boast, but I’m blessed in the chest department which sometimes makes it difficult to find attractive bras. Within a few minutes though, I had picked out some stunning ones and felt great. I was approached by a sales assistant who suggested she measure me. Good idea, I thought. US sizes are different to UK sizes and I wanted these lovely bras to fit properly. She measured me, frowned and then announced in a Brooklyn drawl “…Miss, we got a problem here”. Oh dear, I thought, a problem, I’ve been told for most of my life that parts of my body are a problem when it comes to clothes, but in more recent years I’ve ignored the haters, embraced my curvy fabulousness, rocked my look and generally had fun. She explained that the plunge and balcony style bras I had chosen didn’t come in my back or cup size. When I asked why she said that “…ladies with ta-ta’s like yours don’t usually want to draw attention to them. Wait and I’ll bring you some minimiser bras, you’ll see how flattering they are.”
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For the first time in a long time I felt small. It made me think of all the times my mum tried to fit me into too-tight outfits and prodded my tummy saying “this is the problem”, and when shop assistants in stores with beautiful clothes would say “the problem is Madam, that only goes up to a size 14.” With tears pricking the back of my eyes I flounced out of the store and walked down the sidewalk, deep in thought, like a voluptuous Carrie Bradshaw but with cheaper shoes. Why, I thought, are we fed this myth that our bodies are made up of problem areas that we have to conceal in some way? I looked online at number of plus-size retailers and the words conceal, camouflage, flatter, hide, minimise, sculpt, and drape came up depressingly often.
Plus size retailers tell us to “rock our curves” yet sell maxis to cover our legs, longline jackets to cover our bottoms, control underwear to smooth out our lumps and bumps and draped tops to draw the eye away from our bellies. I’m sure you can think of lots of examples too. What is it about our fat that is unacceptable to others? Do we diminish our own power by concealing our bodies in chiffon or wearing pants that suck it all in? Now I’m not trying to tell anyone what to wear here, I’m just asking you to think whether your next purchase makes you feel great or renders you “acceptable” to others.
So I’m going to make a suggestion. Let’s forget about problem areas. It’s a term with negative connotations and has no place in any conversations we have about accepting ourselves and others. We need to tell the plus size industry that talk of our problem areas and how to conceal them is patronising and not the way to engage with potential customers in rapidly growing sector.
Please join me in accepting your body, and those of other fat women, as a beautiful canvas to decorate in any way you damn well please. I’m off now to push up my big old ta-ta’s and slip into a skin tight dress that shows every lump and bump. Hell yeah!