April 23, 2006

The Indignity of Downsizing: Monica's Trip to the Mall

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon shopping with my friend Heather at the long-awaited and much hyped new mall in south Reno.

For years, Reno only had one mall worth speaking of. I was excited to see some competition in the market, hoping that maybe - just maybe - I could find some attractive clothing and the temporary self-esteem boost that comes from wearing something flattering and fashionable.

You'd think that, by now, I'd have learned my lesson.

The new mall has plenty of clothing stores: Abercrombie & Fitch, Guess, Gap, Hot Topic, Ann Taylor, and many more places where women of my size receive no acknowledgement.

Usually, I ignore the other stores, just like they ignore me. My trips to the mall involve a quick foray into Lane Bryant, then back out to the parking lot.

However, Heather wears a size 4, so she has many more options available to her. I joined her in perusing some of the many stores that I usually avoid.

It can be kind of disheartening to look at tank tops that resemble the "onesies" my year-old niece wears, to stand next to mannequins with torsos the size of my thigh, and to get disapproving looks from salespeople who haven't realized that I'm not being unrealistic, I'm just here with my friend.

If I didn't like Heather so much, I may have felt Schadenfreude as she found that Abercrombie only makes tank tops for a prepubescent figure, completely ignoring slender women who wear anything larger than an A-cup. But I do like her, and I empathize, so we directed our collective indignation at clothing manufacturers instead.

How dare they make us feel like there is only one acceptable shape for a woman? How dare they produce a range of sizes that only straddles the smaller half of the spectrum? Who are they to tell us that Heather shouldn't be entitled to breasts, or that I'm such a freak of nature that I might as well not even exist?

Before the afternoon was done, we ventured to Lane Bryant. It's the one store where I feel comfortable, knowing that my size lies well within their range of offerings, usually toward the smaller end.

A friendly salesman directed me to the Seven jeans, arguably the most high-end denim product available for a woman of my stature.

"I've got to warn you," he said, "They run small. You might need a size or two bigger than you usually wear."

Why do clothing designers do this? Why do they think it's a good idea?

Somewhere, somebody in a conference room presented this proposal:

"So it's a normal pair of jeans, but get this... Instead of calling our 16 a 16, we'll label it as an 18... or even a 20!"

"Won't that just make our customers feel bad?"

"Precisely! They'll feel bad, and you know what fat women do when they feel bad. They go home and eat ice cream, guaranteeing that they'll be buying pants from us, and only us, for years to come!"


I probably shouldn't have supported this lousy marketing ploy with my hard-earned dollars, but the jeans did look pretty good on me. I bought them. The only people who will ever need to know what size I bought are myself, Heather, and Sam (since he does my laundry).

On the way out of the store, I was feeling pretty good about my purchases. I took my successful acquisition of fashionable denim as a minor victory. Maybe my body wasn't so freakish after all.

"I like how they make Seven jeans for a wide range of body types," I told Heather optimistically, remembering that earlier in the afternoon she had been searching for a pair of Sevens herself. The idea that she and I might be wearing the same brand, even if the sizes were widely different, was somehow comforting to me.

"It's not the same brand," she told me. "It just has a similar name. The ones I wear are called 7 For All Mankind."

I felt my bubble deflate.

"For All Mankind? That should include me, shouldn't it?"

Apparently, "all mankind" is limited to women sizes 00-12. Not even the average woman, at size 14, can enjoy these inclusively named jeans.

I've also heard that they run small.

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