Up until the age of ten, I was one of the skinniest, tallest girls in my class at school. But when puberty hit, I developed polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and a couple of other hormonal conditions, which have made controlling my weight much harder. Over the years, my size has gradually increased and my health conditions make it very hard for me to change that.
Being a teenage girl growing up in the ’80s, I didn’t fit in with the “cool” crowd who dressed in designer brands. But my first job was in retail, shortly followed by visual merchandising, so I’ve always known how important image and how you perceive yourself is.
My own body image is something I work on daily. In my role as a brand consultant I work with mostly female-owned small companies and entrepreneurs, I see how much body image can impact individuals. Having a face of the business is quite important for some brands, but even having a photo taken for their brand can be tough for some clients.
Jessica Andrews told Newsweek how she believes clothing businesses should absorb the cost of returns. Stock image.
iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images
Buying clothing as a plus-sized womanI am a U.K. size 24, which is a U.S. 22, but I don’t actually know how much I weigh. That is a conscious choice I have made. In my view, I can beat myself up with the numbers on the scales, but I find that my mental health is much better when I measure my size using clothes.
In general, I am a little sick of the additional taxes that come from my size. I find most of the shops that sell larger clothing collections generally don’t feature them in the store. As a society, I believe there is not a standard sizing ratio, which means your size will vary depending on which store you choose.
As a plus-sized person frequently shopping online, this leads to having to buy multiple sizes for the same piece of clothing, which is really demoralizing. It just takes a massive toll; there’s a mental tax.
I recently attended a wedding where the bride herself tried on around seven dresses before she found her perfect one. However, over the course of six months in preparation for the day, I bought and tried on around 23 occasion dresses. They’re not cheap and in terms of how that makes you feel as a person, it’s just disheartening.
Some companies don’t offer free returns, which means you have to pay an additional fee to send back your items. Plus, if you don’t have the money to initially purchase three items of clothing, you’re paying delivery charges two or three times. I don’t think that’s right; as a business owner I think the company should absorb that cost. I believe it leads to a better shopping experience for your client and I now will not shop with companies that do charge me for returns.
I have also noticed that in some stores, petite collections are stored next to plus-sized collections. This means that as a plus-sized person, you can walk into a shop and happily browse through clothes before moving onto the next rail to discover that not only is it not standard clothing, it’s the next step down.
That’s not great for mental health or self-confidence; you’re faced with this clothing that just reminds you that you’re not that body shape society has pushed as being the ideal.
Medical bias against fat peopleI have had a lot of disordered eating in my past and have walked into medical appointments just to be told that all my problems will go away if I lose weight. I am type two diabetic and have a really brilliant staff nurse at my doctor’s office, who is very on the ball when it comes to what I need to manage my condition.
She is very open to talking about different research I have found, for example we explore things like how different cuisines work for my body. However if I see a doctor I haven’t seen before, it’s very different.
I believe that doctors often think I am lying the moment I start telling them about myself; about how much I eat, how much I drink, how much exercise I do. Not all of them, but on the whole I am now quite wary of the medical profession.
A decade ago, during a routine check up one doctor told me I just needed to do more exercise. But this appointment was a week after I had just come back from climbing Kilimanjaro following a six month training regimen. I believe how plus-sized people are viewed is a real problem in society. In my eyes, there’s judgment about abilities and what larger people can and cannot do.
For example, during my expedition a doctor was assigned to my group and had to walk up the mountain behind the slowest person, which was me. He walked up the mountain having a very loud conversation with our guide about how he felt overweight people shouldn’t be on the mountain. From a mental health perspective, that completely destroyed my focus and my drive to go up the mountain.
Jessica, 39, from Surbiton, southwest London, is the owner of Rabbit & Other Stories working with entrepreneurs, small businesses and charities on brand design and management.
Harassment as a plus-sized womanAnother example of judgment I have experienced is one evening when, after a night out with friends, a big group of young men shouted at me: “You need to lose some weight and then you can come back out.”
I cheekily shouted back: “At least I can lose weight, your brain is always going to be the size of a pea.” It could have put me in quite a lot of danger if they had perceived my response to be aggressive. Although I responded with confidence, their comment ruined my night out. It’s really hard to not let that kind of thing affect you.
Having done an awful lot of work with a mindset coach, I can now see that anybody who is nasty to someone else is likely projecting something inside themselves they’re unhappy about. I think hurt people hurt people. It’s easier to take your aggression out on something that you perceive as gross, disgusting or not within your ideal, that is the basis of all abuse and discrimination in my eyes.
Attitudes towards plus-sized peopleI try really hard to recognise that whatever is being thrown at me, is not about me per se, but I think as a society we need to be more accepting of people with larger bodies. For example, when I am asking for a seat belt extender on a plane; some flight attendants are really good and will provide it discreetly, but others will draw attention to it or make you feel like it’s really quite a big inconvenience to ask for something to make my flight both comfortable and safe.
I think society needs to adapt what is considered “standard” sizing. For example, if you go to a public bathroom and quite often they’re really, really tiny. I mean even as a petite person you would have trouble navigating the space, but as a big person, it can be horrendous. You find the same in queues, shops and at events—they’re not designed for people who are larger and that can leave you feeling really claustrophobic.
So many disabilities and illnesses are unseen, you can’t necessarily see their impact or what makes an individual unwell. I know it’s a cliché, but I want to reiterate the message that in a world where we can be anything, be kind. Don’t just assume someone sitting down on a priority seat on public transport doesn’t deserve it. You never know what people have had to put up with in the past, so don’t judge a book by its cover.
Jessica Andrews, 39, from Surbiton, southwest London, is the owner of Rabbit & Other Stories working with entrepreneurs, small businesses and charities on brand design and management.
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
As told to Newsweek associate editor, Monica Greep.
Source : Newsweek