2004-12-13 9:20 p.m.

Your Ass Must Be This Narrow to Enjoy This Ride

Why is it that the skinnier I get, the more angry I get at the fashion industry?

I'm a fat chick, in the process of becoming a skinnier chick. It's not something I've really talked about in here because the process of losing weight means that food and body issues end up renting a large chunk of your headspace, and GOOD GOD is the chatter in there boring.

Trying to lose weight is like being stuck on a transcontinental flight next to someone who is droning on about the minutiae of her medical problems, only it's all protein this and carbs that and did I spend enough time on the treadmill yesterday are my jeans too tight when was the last time I ate dessert, and that crashing bore is your own damn self. I appreciate that some people find sharing the details inspirational and motivating, and I don't begrudge anyone whatever they need to get the job done, but I am just not one of those people. Plus the words "inspirational" and "motivating" kind of made me twitch as I typed them.

Suffice it to say that it's working and my body is on the journey to social acceptability. Only here's the thing about that idea of the Perfect Body: it's like a mirage on the horizon, and the closer you get the further off it seems.

The way this is brought home is through clothes, because clothes are the carrot and the stick of body image.

Your average fat girl, who is unacceptably plump but not necessarily morbidly obese, starts off in the land of the "plus-size" clothes, where options are, shall we say, limited. There's your Lane Bryant and, as of this summer, your Old Navy, assuming you are lucky enough to live near a store that actually carries the plus-size line. There are a few things you can get by mail order. There's lots of polyester and lots of shapeless, style-less crap. (I'm looking at you, Catherines.) Want something made of a nice fabric, or not cut like a tent? Good luck with that. (I heard tell that they had such things at Nordstrom's, but I was never able to find any.)

If you're on the smaller end of "plus-size," you have a few more options. Old Navy will sell some things you can wear in the sizes that all their stores carry, though many of them seem to be cut for flat-chested linebackers. Eddie Bauer has a few things, which take careful editing if you don't want to look like a lumberjack, and the Gap will introduce you to the concept of "extended sizes."

"Extended sizes" is apparently retail code for "we want your money, but we don't want your fat ass to actually come into our store." The Gap will sell up to size 16 in their store, but 18s and 20s are only available on their website. (To be fair, they only have their size 0s online too.)

That's not so bad, but what passes for an "extended size" gets more insulting the higher-end a retailer is trying to position itself. Several stores have size 16s -- and only size 16s -- available online-only, or in so few stores as to be virtually online-only. Why ghettoize just one size?

Story time: This summer, I was going to a wedding, and I found that the most acceptable dress I had in my closet had gotten rather tentlike. So, with a week to go before the wedding, I decided to try and brave the shops and find something. I went into Ann Taylor and saw many cute dresses, none of which were above size 12. I asked about that and they said that most of their stores only carry up to a 14 and that there are a few that will carry 16s. ("Where's he nearest store that carries 16s?" I asked. "New York," I was told.)

Of course, I could always order a dress online, and even have it delivered to a store, but of course I'd have to pay to have it shipped (and pay through the nose if I actually wanted it before the wedding) with no guarantees of whether it would look good or even fit -- and if it didn't, I'd have to pay again to ship it back and I'd be out a dress. I could tie up up a lot of money in having several of these dresses shipped to me and then spend even more shipping back the ones that don't work out, but that's a mighty expensive way to approximate the Saturday-afternoon-at-the-mall experience that skinny chicks take for granted. Could they possibly make things more pointlessly inconvenient?

So, steamed, I went home and looked at their website. "Find a store that carries size 16!" the store locator page cheerily announced. I did a search and found that the "nearest" store was in Glendale, which is FOUR HUNDRED MILES from my house. It's not New York, though it might as well be. I wrote a letter and complained.

The form letter that I got in response said that I could always -- yep -- order online, and that some stores did carry size 16. In my reply (which I thought was remarkably restrained given the circumstances), I noted that the nearest store that had 16s was in Southern California. I also helpfully pointed out that there were 15 of their stores within the greater Bay Area (population: 7 million) and there might possibly be enough demand to support at least one store in the area carrying 16s, especially given that the average American woman IS A SIZE 14. They didn't have a useful response to that one, because Ann knows that fat isn't cool. Bitch.

I ended up wearing the tent to the wedding and crossing my fingers that it would not be windy that day.

(Incidentally, Ann Taylor's website no longer has a link to search for stores that carry size 16, and I can tell you that it's not because all their stores have started carrying it.)

Ann Taylor and its only-one-"extended"-size-16 ilk aren't the worst offenders, though. Armani Exchange has "extended sizes" up to 44-inch pants for men, but for women? Their "extended size" is a 14. So fat guys are A-OK, but fat women are not worthy. Bite me, Armani Exchange.

This doesn't even touch on the world of cute designer stuff, which at its largest is available in a size 12 -- and probably a very small size 12 at that.

So if you see a fat chick wearing schlumpy clothes and looking pissed off, cut her a little slack -- she's probably just coming back from a shopping trip.

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