On being a “small fat” in the body positivity/plus sized fashion scene.
I was a size 14 for pretty much the whole of my teens and twenties, and a 16-20 in my 30s, mostly due to being above-average height, with small boobs and big hips and thighs and a sway back that pokes my belly out. I can remember maybe two periods in my life when I haven’t felt “fat”. 14-16 is definitely on the cusp on straight sizes here in Australia (most mainstream stores top out at a 16),1 so pretty much as soon as we imported the idea from the States, I’ve identified as “plus sized”.
There’s just one problem: Australian women’s clothing sizes are anywhere between two to four integers higher than their US counterparts. Meaning that an “Australian 14” when I was a kid was equivalent to a US 12, and nowadays is usually equivalent to a US 10. Hell, the shirt I’m wearing as I type this even has “UK 16 / US 12”2 written on the label, but that’s because I bought it online from ASOS Curve. Clothes made for the local brick-and-mortar market, on the other hand, will usually only have the Australian size.
So it’s kind of weird, in retrospect, to realize that most of the time I spent identifying as “plus sized” I was probably not, in fact, “plus sized” by the traditional (i.e. US) definition thereof. But, like, no one told me. Media didn’t tell me (local media reports the US sizing “brackets” without noting the differences in the way things are labeled). Shops didn’t tell me (not to mention, some stores will sell US-brand clothing under its US size as its Australian size). Even just looking around didn’t tell me. I mean… was I even “fat”? I felt “fat”? But, like… doesn’t everyone?3
So what’s a girl to do?
All that being said, it’s the plus sized—rather than “mainstream”—fashion scene that’s done the most to help me find clothes and looks that don’t make me miserable. Since hitting thirty, and getting bigger around the waist without my bust keeping up to match, I’m not quite the “plush hourglass” shape so I still can’t pull off everything, but… still. There are a hell of a lot more options than I ever found from mainstream sources.4
The bottom line is that I am, in fact, the dreaded “small fat”. And, importantly, I’m deeply conscious of the fact that pretty much all of what I’m talking about above is related to fashion and clothing (also see: media representation) and not, for example, the day-to-day sizeism experienced by bigger women in, like, literally every other aspect of their lives. So… y’know. There’s that.
- Although like 80% of things left on the rack will be an 8 or a 10… ugh. And don’t even get me started on bras; the last two lots of bras I’ve bought I bought from Macy’s, once when I was in the US and once ordered online. None of the brands are different than the stuff we get here, it’s just that none of the stores here actually stock the right goddamn sizes. Even online! Jesus fuck, David Jones, no wonder you keep whinging you’re going (a-har) bust! ^
- Australian sizes and UK sizes are usually listed as equivalent. ^
- It certainly doesn’t help that, like, my husband’s entire family are a bunch of skinny cunts full of endemic eating disorders and ingrained fatphobia, to the point where “fatty” is their go-to insult. As the biggest girl there, that sure does make family gatherings fun, let me tell you! ^
- There is also a slight personal aside here in that, well… as far as girls go, curvy girls are my “type”. So there’s that aesthetic consideration, as well. ^