I drew this photo. I have to admit, that I hesitated to post it, feeling a little self-conscious about it in a mixed variety of ways. However, here it is, my representation of a Plus-Size Princess. I can remember being a young child and I looooved to play dress up. I would watch the princess movies and dream about whirling around in my ball gown. I had a “dress-up” trunk with various items in it and when friends would come over we would all pretend to be our favorite princess. Good times.
What I also remember however, is being concerned about the size of my body and how I looked in the dress. Meaning, was I small enough? I “developed” faster than most of my friends and I was always naturally a bigger girl growing up. I remember that as time went on, I grew, and realized I no longer fit into the princess dresses, while my friends still did. As a child, I was also taller than most children as well. This was just my natural genetic makeup. But, perhaps, in my child brain it registered that I was different from everyone else. I was also teased about being bigger so this probably didn’t help.
As an adult, I still love pretty clothing. I have also been an athlete most of my life and do not mind sweating or getting dirty. I like being outside and hiking or gardening, but enjoy coming home and getting “dressed up” from time to time.
My weight has fluctuated over the years depending on whatever “diet” or workout routine I was doing. I have felt what it feels like to shop in “regular” stores and what it feels like to shop in “plus-size” stores. Being able to shop where all of my friends shop, is a wonderful feeling. I’m not going to pretend it isn’t. Of course it is a nice feeling. I want to feel included and be able to pick out cute clothes I actually want to wear. Now, I go shopping with friends, and occasionally places will have stuff I can wear, but finding something too often feels like a treasure hunt hoping to find gold buried under the sand. Sometimes, I will look at the accessories. Because, no matter your size, you can wear a necklace! Wooooow what a nice consolation prize. As I type this, I realize that I feel a bit angry about this. I do not think I blame the stores necessarily, because they have a right to carry any size they want. However, in a world with so many ladies that are a size 14 and above, you would think they would want to cater to this population? Maybe not, and I am sure there are many reasons for this that I honestly know anything about.
For so many women, shopping is a challenging and emotional task. Myself included. I get the message, every time I shop, that I don’t fit in. That my body is different , and the only way I will find something to wear is to go to a specialty store.
I will say, that I have deep gratitude that these stores exist and that in the last few years, they have come a long way to make beautiful stylish clothing. I will even say some designers have amazing plus-size clothing. But, these clothes are still in a separate section called plus-size or the “women’s” section. I have always found this title interesting. Because aren’t we all women, no matter what size you are? But, anyways I’ll save that topic for another day.
Now, if you are plus-size like me, you might be thinking, that you are grateful that there are separate stores and separate areas for plus-size women like us. I agree in many ways. Very often, these stores offer shoppers a judgemental free experience. (From what I’ve seen) In fact, woman get the message to “embrace your curves.” Who doesn’t love that? In addition, you get to shop with other plus size ladies and not worry about feeling body comparison to other “non plus size women” or any judgement.
However, what if we were all just women shopping without all of the judgement and comparison? What a novel idea. ooo the days of hand-made clothes…I don’t remember them, but I dream about them. What if my friend being small and petite was great, and my larger body was great too? Different, but both great. You might say, but your body is great. I might say thank you, I would agree with that now. But, is that really what society tells us? Well, the good news is society is made up of people, so with every person that is accepting of all body types and stops negative body talk, that’s one small piece of society changing.
Sometimes, I feel like this country’s culture tells us that the definition of femininity or a woman’s desirability is based on how petite or slim she is. Being larger is usually avoided at all costs(or so I’ve tried). I got the idea for this post, when I went out to dinner and music with friends. I had a hard time finding anything I wanted to wear that evening. Then, I realized it was because I was basing what I wanted to look like for the evening on how my friends would look or even how I used to look. Changing my clothes was not going to change my body. Well, since I am on a quest to accept myself and my body, and reject any form of negative body talk, I decided to put on a dress that was my favorite color blue. I had on cute shoes, and a jazzy necklace. I thought my hair looked great and I was off. I felt pretty good about my appearance that evening. I have come to realize that most days, I actually do not have a problem with my appearance. Most days, I think I am an attractive beautiful woman. I feel great saying this too. However, the voice that still enters my head is what will everyone else think of me? Yes, THAT voice. That voice searching for acceptance and belonging. That voice that wants to dress up and play princess with all the other girls. I actually believe that voice is normal. Of course we want people to like us. We want friends, we want to be loved, we want to belong. This need is as natural as the need to take a breath. From the time of conception, we need each other for survival, so how can this not be part of who we are as humans?
However, I will say that if this voice is so loud, as it has been for me, that it keeps you from embracing the crap out of life, then this voice needs to quiet down. The truth is, real relationships and real friendships come when you are authentically yourself. They come when you allow yourself to be vulnerable and say HERE I AM! THIS IS ME!!! Another thing, assuming I know what others are thinking, is just mind reading. How am I supposed to know what people are really thinking, and they are probably wrapped up in their own stuff in their mind to be wasting a lot of energy thinking about how I look at any particular moment. But, sometimes, yes people do judge. So what? Often, these judgements are fleeting and if they are really that judgemental, they probably aren’t someone you want to form a close bond with anyways.
So, back to my princess dress analogy. I think part of the problem is growing up, all of the representations of women in princess cartoons and even dolls, all basically look the same and have unrealistic body appearances. But, these are the figures girls grow up seeing and internalize, “I want to look like that!” I could be wrong, but that was my own personal experience. Sure, there are also numerous other influences like older family members and friends. This is why I am so passionate about never saying anything around my nieces that might sound like negative body talk. Children listen to everything we say and watch everything we do. Sure, no one’s perfect and we all make mistakes, but I really try my best to be positive about myself. I want them to have role models that they grow up seeing and think wow! look at how confident my aunt is at any size or look! a woman’s sole sense of self does not have to rely on appearance!
I think the natural Barbie which has sparked some controversy lately is a good first step. Some say it is still unrealistic. Some people would like to see a plus-size Barbie. However, other people think that this states, “obesity is ok.” And people are concerned this sends the wrong message because they point to the health problems associated with obesity. My opinion is not totally solidified on this except to say having dolls or TV characters that have unreasonable representations is probably not the best way to go as a society if we want to boost self-esteem and self acceptance. I think having woman of all shapes, sizes, skin color etc. is good, because this offers a more realistic depiction. I think not showing dolls that are on the larger side, might be sending the message that, “it’s shameful or not ok to be larger.” I think this reflects society’s “fear of fat.” I can say, as a plus-size woman, I exercise almost every day and I feel better mentally and physically than I did at a much lower weight. Might, gaining weight cause health concerns for some people? Sure, it might. But, I can tell you that shaming people into weight loss is absolutely not the way to go, and could have contributed to their weight gain in the first place. I can also tell you that constantly obsessing about weight and food to look a certain way is also not healthy. I have the feeling that having dolls or TV characters that are plus size, would not lead to a sudden increase in people seeking to gain a ton of weight. I find it perplexing that we have gotten this deep into body image distortions that we can even spend this much time talking about what dolls should look like. How did that even happen? How did we get this disconnected from our bodies, that they have become our worst enemies?
In the end, it really is all about balance and putting the brakes on some of the extremely critical thoughts and comments we have playing over and over in our conversations and through the media. Once I begin to accept and trust that my body had a wisdom all of its own, the fight for weight loss became more of an exploration of the myself, and I have made some pretty exciting discoveries. Perhaps, I have even found the perfect plus-size princess dress.