Thursday, December 12, 2013

All Made Up

Even though I barely ever take the time to put it on, I love make-up. I have a ton of it—tiny kits with multiple colors of blush or eyeshadow, soft creams and silky powders, and of course, my Achilles heel, lipstick in shades from sedate to saucy. This week, as I've sorted the bathroom cabinet, readying the space for one of our last meetings with the professional organizer, Susan, who has been helping get our house uncluttered, I was like kid in a toy store, revisiting all of my favorites."Ooh, look what this can do! So fun!"

Earlier this fall, when we got to my bedroom closet, Susan asked me about shoes: how many did I have, did I have a "thing" for showing off my shoes, etc. Ha! I'm a gal who tries as much as I can to never wear heels, and my main requirements for a shoe are a) is it wide enough, b) is it comfortable, and c) will it match most of my stuff. I went positively geriatric on shoes by age 32, tops, which (from what I hear) makes me uniquely ungirly. Girls are supposed to love shoes, but I didn't get that memo.

Then she wanted to know about clothes—did I have a lot of dresses for different occasions? Suits? I really love it when Susan assumes that my life is more glamorous than it really is, or that the stretchy "almost pajama" clothes I wear while working with her aren't what I wear all the time. No, I don't have a lot of any type of clothes, really, except things that have been given to me as gifts.

I wish I could say that my concise wardrobe is because I am somehow beyond vanity, or just incredibly frugal, or not materialistic. My truth is found in a spot where sensitivity and practicality intersect: most shoes and clothes don't fit me, and when I go to find them or try them on, I can feel terrible about myself.

My very smart friend, Brynn*, wrote a great blog post recently that got picked up by the Huffington Post, "10 Things I Want My Daughter to Know About Working Out." In this piece, Brynn was prompted by an exercise teacher's attempt at motivation mid-workout ("Come on! Get that body ready for your winter beach vacation! Think about how you want to look at those holiday parties! PICTURE HOW YOU'LL LOOK IN THAT DRESS!'") to provide her daughter with a list of reasons why exercise has enduring value, beyond looking great in clothes. I loved her piece, in no small part because I love the idea of completely pulling activity—which includes, but is not limited to, exercise—away from vanity; at the same time, reading those fitness instructor's words, I realized how totally disconnected I already am with that line of thinking, for reasons that teacher would probably never suspect.

I rarely worry about fitting in to cute, attractive things any more, because I no longer assume that they are there. In the world we live in now, once you reach a plus-size, anything size 16 or up, you no longer shop with the "normally-sized" consumers. You may have a small section of clothes set aside in a nook at a department store, but those are typically segregated from everything else, away from the rest of women's clothes, often by appliances, or pre-teen outfits. In a whole mall of shops selling women's clothes, there may be one or two boutiques that sell plus-size outfits. If you have a wide foot, often the case if you are heavy, there are only a few shoes available in store. When sales or deals or clearance rack opportunities pop up, you aren't able to take advantage—there is usually nothing there for you.

One of the consistent things I hear dieting women say who have passed back under the plus-sized threshold is the joy—the absolute bliss, the incredible relief—of becoming small enough to shop in "normal" stores. It is a goal in and of itself, as in "I think once I lose 10 more pounds, I'll fit into normal stores."

Motivational? Maybe. Full of shame? You bet. Who wants to be segregated, excluded, and told that 80% of what is cute, feminine, and fashionable is not available to you? Who wants to go shopping with girlfriends, and just pretend that you don't need anything, or that you are finding cute things that you just don't want to try on, simply because nothing in the store is in your size? Who wants to worry about forgetting anything when you travel, because you know finding a store in which you can actually replace your clothing could be a ridiculously hard task? (I become practically manic about making sure I pack my swimsuit in a carry-on when we go on vacation, knowing if my luggage is lost, I will have no chance of finding another.)

Unfortunately, lots of people are heavier now, and even if they embrace a healthier lifestyle, or more activity for non-vanity related reasons, they could spend a long time waiting to get into the stores with the cute dress for which their spinning instructor is encouraging them to sweat. I have to admit, as I read Brynn's words, that is one of the thoughts that popped into my head: even if I lived an activity-rich life for all these other benefits, how many days/months/years would it take for me to fit into anything that is worthy of working out? 

When people stress exercise just for the sake of looking good in your clothes, they also may be alienating a whole population of people like me, who already feel incredibly vulnerable exercising, and are not entirely sure if the physical pay-off will be worth it. If we are trying to just feel better, or move better, or break sedentary habits so we can get out there and live, inadvertently reminding us while we are in the act of working out that this is all about looking good in hot outfits that a) we wouldn't buy and b) are sold in stores that exclude us, is not only demotivating, it may hint at just enough shame to make us walk out after class and never come back.

And of course, if you are reading this and thinking, "Kori, I just saw you in a pretty dress on your birthday, what are you talking about?" yes, there are some really cute clothes at plus-sized stores. But I have to ask, why don't we have clothing stores that range from size 0 to size 26, with the same clothes running from smallest to largest on the same racks? It seems crazy that we don't, especially given the population breakdown by dress size. Why do we live in a world where people go to extra workout classes simply so that they can purchase clothes in stores that make them feel like they are no longer being shunned?

Like my dress? I'm sorry, skinny friends, but it isn't sold in your stores.
There is nothing about it that makes it look good only on ladies size 16 or above,
but as we all know, skinny and fat ladies aren't allowed to shop together.
Successful fashion thrives on exclusivity—if years of watching Project Runway and reading magazines have taught me nothing else, I've learned this. It makes sense: if something is precious or hard to attain because it is expensive or exclusive, consumers will want it more. The problem is, this can trickle down in a really damaging way for women who want to feel beautiful, and aren't able to access what they need.

I see it in my inability to peruse clothes alongside my smaller-sized friends, but I think that everyone may sense it when they try something on, it doesn't look right, and their immediate reaction is to criticize themselves. "I look so fat in this, look at my hips/boobs/stomach/thighs/arms/[insert least favorite body part], I look like an elephant/walrus/mack truck/[insert hyper-critical insult comparing person to gigantic animal or industrial machine.]" The clothes only look good on certain people—beautiful people—and if they don't look good on us, it is because we are deficient in them.

Which brings me back to make-up, my go-to feel-good purchase, the great equalizer for shoppers (it fits everyone!), the colorful palette through which you can make yourself feel like a brand new character every day. In my experience, if you try on a lipstick, and see that it looks horrendous, you don't say, "I'm so ugly, I can't make this fuchsia work!" No! Make-up takes all the blame, as in "Wow, this pink is truly awful," at which you have a laugh about how ugly it looks, wipe it off, and move on. Make-up that doesn't work for you doesn't reinforce a judgement about yourself; it simply doesn't work, so you don't use it.

It's not surprising that my cabinets are lined with paints and potions, even when I don't use them all of the time. I like having them, knowing that they are there to make me feel a part of the world of "looking good," without all the self-doubt that comes with sizing myself up. And until all of the made-up rules about how ladies can find that dress that they want to look good in disappear, I'll rely on occasionally being "all made up," to bring me a bit of the joy we should all get to feel about our appearance.

*Today is Brynn's birthday.  Happy Birthday, Brynn!


  1. Amen and Amen – you preach it cuz’. I so agree with you on the clothes issue. Retailers seem to have forgotten that Plus Size women's money is just as good as petite women's money. I can find clothes that fit in many stores now after losing a good bit of weight, but I am still "plus size" and I can still only find clothes that are fashionable and look good on me in two stores - one that specializes in sizes 14 and up and one that actually carries the same styles in smaller through larger sizes (although the larger sizes are in a separate/segregated section of the store). Of course, I love buying clothes and my closet is full to overflowing, so maybe it is a good thing I can only find suitable things in two stores, but I wish the rest of the world would get a clue. Just because I am big does not mean I don’t have any taste and don’t care whether I look good or not. Oh, and by the way – you are beautiful Kori, and you don’t really need the makeup to look good, but it is fun to wear it.

  2. Excellent. Why the hell DO we have to be segregated for shopping? I have never known it to be any other way (I've been over size 14 for 22 years) and somehow never stopped to think how wrong it is. Yes, I'm overweight, and I don't exhibit healthy behaviors that I could actually do, but is that a reason to "punish" me? Is shame actually motivating for anyone?

  3. Beautiful post, Kori. Your writing is so authentic and rich and brave. I love to read your words and am so happy you are committing to this blog. And thank you so much for the birthday wishes!

  4. THis is beautiful. I've never been more aware of society's shame of women's shapes—other than tall an skinny—until I had a daughter. Stores start their segregation very early on. My 11 year old has been going through an awkward phase for a few years now. All her pants are too tight in the thighs, too long in the leg, and too short in the waist. All her tops fit like Saran Wrap unless she buys a top 3 sizes too large or buys husky. With the exception of Land's End, which does a pretty decent job of sizing for real girls.
    She used to lust over clothes from Justice because everyone else was wearing them. But after looking at the overpriced tag and the horrible fit even SHE knows we don't shop there. It's an absolute shame that kids get pressured and shamed at their most vulnerable ages while their bodies go crazy. And it's all downhill from there.