Washington State University has announced new research out of their Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design and Textiles that reveals heterosexual plus size women are forced to wear men’s clothing to workout. Marginalized by the fitness industry, plus size females are not provided feminine clothing to comfortably workout and are consequently victim to the idea that “if a woman wants to be fashionable she just needs to lose weight,” says Assistant Professor Deborah Christel of WSU.
“It was an unanticipated finding,” said Christel, the co-author of the study, “There’s a societal expectation that I think is communicated in clothing availability. Companies are saying it’s okay for a guy to be big because we are offering guy clothing, but it’s not okay for a woman to be big because we are cutting it off at a certain size.”
Dissatisfaction in plus size clothing availability or variety is not a new topic; some industries simply refuse to meet the needs of an increasingly ‘plus’ population.
“High fashion companies have said they don’t want to be associated with or condone obesity,” said Christel, despite her groundbreaking new finding that the average American woman is closer to a size 18, not size 14 that has served as our national ‘average’ since 2004.
Isolation from fitness and fashion designers lead plus size women to browse the men’s section - or even their male family members’ closets – instead of donning feminine clothing to workout.
“The larger you are, the less options you have to express your identity,” said Christel, “even if an obese, plus size woman wanted to be a ‘super cute fitness girl’ with her yoga pants and Nike zip-up, she couldn’t.”
On the popular fitness brand’s website, there are roughly 1000 different clothing items available in XS to large sizes and less than 15 in plus size. Furthermore, fashion companies often make plus size clothing more expensive, justifying that the additional cost covers the extra material required to make the products. This theory falls flat, however, considering there is no such price difference between a small and large item.
As a result, shopping becomes a highly unpleasant experience for plus size women. Going into the women’s section to find nothing that fits quickly evolves into pretending to shop for your husband or son, and hitting the gym in men’s wear is followed up with further discrimination and judgment from fellow gym members.
“There are just constant barriers that constantly decrease motivation,” Christel concluded.
“Before any major cultural changes happen, you’ve got to prove the problem with research, so that’s what we are trying to do here.”
Christel aims to correct these harmful biases with more than research. A “rare and radical class” called “Fat Studies” was approved in April, and is awaiting placement on the WSU schedule. Christel, the only faculty qualified to teach the course, said the course will cause students to evaluate their own implicit prejudices about overweight people and study “weight discrimination as a social justice issue.”