Archive for Rants

The chicken-and-egg problem of plus-sized fashion

There is an article in today’s New Yorker that talks about Full Figure Fashion week and the plus-sized fashion industry in general.  Before you read the rest of this, go read the article.

Go ahead…

I’ll wait….

Done?

Good.  Moving on.

I was thinking about the article, and more specifically about a couple of the observations it makes about the disconnect between what many bloggers SAY plus sized buyers want (more fashionable clothing, higher end, cutting edge, etc) and what we buy (shopping the sale racks, etc.).  What we have here is a chicken and egg problem.

Plus-sized shoppers have, unfortunately, been trained.  We’ve been trained very well to have exceedingly low expectations for what clothing will be available to us. We’ve been trained by fashion magazines to look for things that are “flattering”:

  • Black/dark colors will make you look thinner and white/light colors will make you look bigger
  • Don’t wear anything too tight
  • Horizontal stripes make you look wider
  • Cover your jiggling parts (upper arms, thighs)
  • Crop tops?  NEVER!  Bikini?  The world might end.

Etc.  Heck, magazines give this advice to straight sized women, so if it applies to them, it applies doubly to us, right?

And the fashion industry has supported this by providing us few things that didn’t fit that mold.  Lots of stretch polyester tents (god forbid we should want a natural fiber) and elastic waist bands, shirts that reach practically to our knees and shapeless everything.  Heck, who wants to pay a lot for things that look like that.

Before Torrid, there were no options for trendy plus clothing, and their initial offerings ran to the Goth end of the scale and were completely inappropriate for a grown-up. [I was so pissed that they came along 10 years after my goth phase…]

Then Eloquii V1 came along and was the exception that proved the point.  Limited had this great idea for a cutting edge brand, and threw it out there (essentially online only, although they said there were a few stores that carried the line) with almost no marketing, gave it very little time and then killed it when it didn’t succeed immediately.  We hardly had time to realize we had an alternative before it was gone.

We have had years (decades in some cases) of training to overcome, both in terms of what we want to wear and in what we are willing to pay for it.  And we were given mere moments to adapt.  Not surprisingly, we weren’t able to.  One has only to look at the success ASOS has seen to realize that we are capable of making that change.

Honestly, the what we wear will change before what we are willing to pay for it. We live in a culture where everyone wants a discount on everything, and retailers encourage that behavior by having sales going on pretty much all the time.  My day job is in higher education, and studies have found that a student would rather go to a school with a list price of $10,000 and a $2,000 “merit” scholarship than a school with a list price of $8,000 and no scholarship.  The price is the same, but it is the perception that changes.

To take the example at the end of the article, frankly we ALL know that everything at Lane Bryant goes on sale on a very regular basis.  Wait a week or two and you can pick it up for less, so unless you can’t live without something (very rare), why pay full price?  That is a reflection of our broader consumer culture, not something specific to plus sized fashion.

One last comment.  I really struggle with the fact that many of the more up-market department store brands want my money but refuse to acknowledge my existence.  I love Michael Kors, Eileen Fisher, and several similar brands, but I hate that I can’t walk into their stores and try things on.  I can’t decide if I am more annoyed that they do that or that Kate Spade and that type don’t make my size at all.  (I would pay full price for Kate Spade clothing in my size, and that’s a promise. If you could encapsulate my dream style, that would be it.)

Anyway, no answers, just some random thoughts.  Change is hard, and asking a large group of consumers who have been trained to shop one way to suddenly shop another takes time.  If the writers like the New York Times author want to help, perhaps they should remind retailers of that.

 

Anti-depressant’s: One of the best gifts I ever gave myself

I am on anti-depressants and have been for more than 13 years.  Best thing I ever did for myself.  Yet our society makes depression almost as bad as being fat in terms of things I’m supposed to be ashamed of.  Moreover, I’ve been told that being on antidepressants to control and treat my depression is something I should be ashamed of.  Fuck that.

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We forget that depression has many causes, some of which are hereditary, biological, and completely out of the person’s control.  Like weight, depression is not a moral failing.  However it IS something that, for many people, is completely controllable, and choosing to control it with medications should not be considered some kind of failure.

downloadDepression to me always felt like a bottomless pit that would drop out of my life, often suddenly, in the middle of an otherwise normal time.  There wasn’t a trigger; it wasn’t a reaction to something.  In fact I realized I needed help when I went into a deep bout of depression at a time when everything in my life was going well.  I had a great job, wonderful friends, a beautiful house, a rocking car, yet I couldn’t drag myself out of bed and entertained thoughts of how they would all be better if I just weren’t there anymore.

Anti-depressants, for me, feel like putting one of those in-ground trampolines part way down the pit.  I still get down about things, but there is something in there to stop my (otherwise endless) descent and help me get back up again. To me, that is invaluable.  I can move through my life, feeling things at the level of a so-called “normal” person and know that my safety net will prevent me from falling so deep that I can’t get out.

I admit I’m lucky; it took a few months to hit on the right combination of medications (Lexapro and Wellbutrin XL) and a few more months to identify the minimum maintenance dose necessary to keep me stable but not artificially cheerful.  Some people never find even the right combination, let alone a stable long-term dosage.

But as I read all the chatter about Robin Williams, I feel like I have to say something:

Depression is TREATABLE.  It is MANAGEABLE.

It is not shameful.  It is not a lack of willpower, a moral failing, or emotional laziness.  If you find yourself depressed, SEE SOMEONE.  Start with counseling, move on to medications if necessary.  But keep in mind that you can live a happy, successful life with depression, just as you could with diabetes or any other disease/disorder.  Don’t be afraid to ask for the help you need; it’s out there, and it works.

 

Body Image

tumblr_mcq3gmRWJd1qdqc9to1_500One of the hardest thing about blogging about my personal style is that I am forced to take pictures of myself.  And really look at them.  Not just glance in a mirror for a few seconds, but take a deep long look at each picture to find the ones that work and then tidy them up.

The result is days like today.  I love the dress I am wearing today, but I look at every single picture I took and am filled with self-loathing.  My arms are flabby, my body looks like a stuffed sausage, and my double chin just won’t go away no matter how many pictures I take or angles I try.  (Today I took 110 pictures.  Out of that there are 3 that will be in tomorrow’s post.)

Am I nicely put together?  Yes.  Are the color and cut appropriate and flattering?  Yes.  Do all the garments fit me properly?  Yes.  I just hate what I see the outfits covering.

tumblr_loygcsqHIR1qd5gr2o1_500_largeI have so much respect for women who can accept their body as it is.  At 48 that is still a battle I fight every day.  There are still days when the best assessment of the me in the photo/mirror that I can come up with is “Not bad for a fat chick”, where the word fat is loaded with judgement and derision.

I’ve read the research; I know full well that weight is more than just calories in minus calories out.  I have never been thin so I have no mental image of myself thin that I am comparing myself unfavorably to.  I know that I am healthy; healthier than many younger, thinner people that I know.  I do hot yoga 2-3 days a week and ride my bike for miles at a time at least 1-2 times. I am a good, honest, generous person.  I am smart and accomplished in every conceivable way.

Which makes my weight all that more glaring a failure.  It is the single area of my life where I have been unable (despite multiple attempts) to make a lasting change.

So I have days like today, when I want to stop blogging because I don’t want to be faced with those pictures that force me to see myself as the world see me rather than the (obviously inaccurate) way I see myself.  I try to remember that I am far more than a number on a scale; that the fact that my arms are flabby and my belly round doesn’t lessen my extensive intellectual and career accomplishments (and, in fact, makes them all the more impressive for having been achieved despite the U.S. societal tendency to see weight as a character flaw and sign of weakness/laziness).

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But I still hate it sometimes.  I really wish I knew how to accept and love this last part of me.

(I realized after I wrote this what one of the triggers is.  I read a lot of plus bloggers, and noticed something: not a double chin in sight.  That seems to be one of the major trends – plus bloggers all have thinnish faces, regardless of the shape below that.  I don’t, and I’ve become very self conscious of it lately….)

Moths are evil

One of my projects this weekend was to pull all my sweaters out of storage and put them away.  As I was pulling them out, I held up the BEAUTIFUL Red Eileen Fisher tunic sweater that I’ve had for several years and found the following:

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Notice the three small pin-holes (there were a couple of others) visible in the back of the sweater up by the neckline.  For a moment, I thought “ok – those won’t be too noticeable, right?”  Until I found this:

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That is REALLY noticeable.

Why does this kind of stuff never happen to the CHEAP sweaters?

Science Saturday: Weight Loss Edition

I was reading through my RSS feeds today (oh google reader, what will I do without you) and came across a post by another statistician who had written up some studies she had read recently.  I’m going to pull an entire section, including quotes from the study, because it’s important.

Diets don’t work

This one is called “Medicare’s Search for Effective Obesity Treatments: Diets Are Not the Answer” and it was written in 2006 by Traci MannA. Janet TomiyamaErika WestlingAnn-Marie Lew,Barbra Samuels, and Jason Chatman.

Here’s the abstract:

The prevalence of obesity and its associated health problems have increased sharply in the past 2 decades. New revisions to Medicare policy will allow funding for obesity treatments of proven efficacy. The authors review studies of the long-term outcomes of calorie-restricting diets to assess whether dieting is an effective treatment for obesity. These studies show that one third to two thirds of dieters regain more weight than they lost on their diets, and these studies likely underestimate the extent to which dieting is counterproductive because of several methodological problems, all of which bias the studies toward showing successful weight loss maintenance. In addition, the studies do not provide consistent evidence that dieting results in significant health improvements, regardless of weight change. In sum, there is little support for the notion that diets lead to lasting weight loss or health benefits.

There are two things I love about this paper (commenters please take note).

First, since the goal was to understand whether something would be covered under Medicare, the point of the paper is to understand whether a treatment for obesity is effective for the general populationand not for a given individual. Because obesity is considered an illness but not a disease, there’s a pretty high bar for which treatments are considered effective.

Second, I love the way the researchers combed through the existing literature in dieting and explained the systematic bias that exists – the way the studies exclude people for whom dieting doesn’t work, the way they allow biased statistics in, and more. I’m pretty sure this systematic bias is due to the fact that many studies are paid for by commercial dieting plans. That and because people just want positive results. In any case, it’s super refreshing to see a paper written that isn’t telling you misleading stuff you want to hear. Here’s an excerpt:

Of note, studies always report the percentage of participants who manage to keep off some percentage of the lost weight, but only a subset reported on participants for whom the diet was counterproductive, even though this percentage is typically larger than the percentage who kept off substantial weight.

And another:

Even more problematic is that most researchers also subtract additional categories of participants from their original study totals (and their data analyses), and excluding these categories does not just make the follow-up rate appear higher than it actually was, but it also typically makes the diet appear more successful than it was. These additional categories of exclusions include participants who did not lose sufficient amounts of weight during the study, participants who left substantial portions of questionnaires blank, participants who had participated in a similar diet before, participants who refused to participate in earlier follow-ups for the study, participants who did not return calls, and participants who had gastric bypass surgeries (or other types of surgery) to induce weight loss subsequent to the study. One study reported excluding two participants from analyses because “inclusion of the two patients strongly skewed the results against weight loss maintenance” (Walsh & Flynn, 1995, p. 232).

These types of exclusions can lead to follow-up reports on fractured samples. For example, one study enrolled 426 participants in a diet program (Anderson, Vichitbandra, Qian, & Kryscio, 1999) and then excluded all but 154 participants from analysis for a variety of the reasons reported above. Researchers obtained follow-up weights for 112 of those 154 participants at their first time point and therefore reported a follow-up rate of 73%, even though only 26% of the original participants were included in the follow-up. In addition, the article is a long-term follow-up study, but the final four follow-up points only include from 15 to 42 participants each, a tiny fraction of the original sample size.

They also found evidence that dieting can be a leading indicator of major weight gain:

Among female adolescents who dieted, the risk for obesity onset over the four years was over three times that for nondieters.

I was put on my first diet at age 12; it was actually a hospital run behavior modification program where I had to go and get weight with other overweigh adolescents every week for a while.  Thing is, I wasn’t particularly heavy.  I was certainly a solidly built girl, but if I’d been a boy they would have been signing me up for the football team and talking about how I would make a great linebacker some day.

My first major diet “success” resulted in a loss of 50lbs  and landed me in the hospital.  I gained the weight back and then some.

My second major diet “success” was with phen-fen, because of which I now need to get EKGs on a regular basis for the rest of my life.  I gained it all back and more

My third major diet “success” resulted in a loss of 60lbs, and two minor mental illnesses; exercise bulimia (you can’t eat unless you burn off at least that many calories exercising) and OCD (counting calories to an obsessive level).  I gained it all back again, thankfully no more.

I am not explicitly dieting right now, because as the article above quite clearly states, diets don’t work.  I am not exercising to earn the right to eat.  I ride my bike to work to keep my heart healthy.

If I could go back to that 12 year old girl, I would tell her how much LOVE the freedom and power of riding my bike.  Not talk about food.  Not put her down. Just talk about how this was finally an exercise I could enjoy.  It took me until my 30s to find it.

But I hate the current “conversation” (really shaming of fat people, no dialogue to be had) around weight and childhood obesity.  People who are thin behave as though it’s the easiest thing in the world; just stop sitting on the sofa eating bon bons and you, too, will be skinny.  I had a dear friend who could just skip desert for a couple of weeks and drop 5-10 lbs.  He couldn’t understand why it was so hard.

But don’t you think, given the shame and prejudice overweight people face in our society, that if it WERE that easy we would have all done it by now?

There is nothing morally wrong with me that leads to my weight.  I do not lack will power; in fact I have far more drive and self control than most people I know.  But our bodies are complex and each is unique.  We do not all respond the same way to… well pretty much anything.  I can, and have, followed what the mainstream tells me the rules of dieting are.  And those rules have failed; as the study above suggests.

When are we going to realize that shame and one-size-fits-all solutions are not healthy for anyone involved?