Monday, 24 February 2014

Fat, clothing and class

We've all seen the headlines. The UK and most of the developed world is apparently facing epidemic levels of obesity. There are fat people everywhere. It's like the zombie apocalypse but with more cake.

The images and narratives that go along with this reporting usually follow a common theme. There are lots of fat people, these people are fat because they don't know how to eat healthily or are too poor to do so. Fat people tend to be poor, deprived, uneducated and need saving - mostly from themselves. The headless images that accompany these stories are of badly dressed fat people lurking outside Poundland during the middle of the day - just on the way from the job centre to buy the latest Iceland specials.

It's not our fault you see? We just don't know any better. We don't realise that fried chicken isn't good for us. We are too thick, lazy, poverty stricken or idiotic to be able to make better decisions.

Now, I should point out at this stage that I am not actually from the UK, so what I am going to say in the next few paragraphs is from what I have seen since living here. Think of me as Jane Goodall spending time with the friendly gorillas and observing their ways. An interested anthropologist. Or something. What I am trying to say is that I didn't grow up here so my experience of the UK class system is second hand; from observation rather than embedded.

Because what I see here in all the stories and images about weight in the UK is wrapped up in class. If you are fat you are undoubtedly  poor, are of lower socio-economic status and mostly of working (or lower) class.

Fat people have low status. We have no discipline with our bodies so the script goes that we don't do well in either the education system or in the work place.We don't marry money as we are lucky if anyone wants to marry us at all. We probably even use our weight as some kind of disability so we can scam the hard working nation for benefits.

I'm not in the position to research how much the prevailing myths about obesity and class are true. All I know is that they are not true for me or many others that I know. I also know that it seems like it has an impact on the clothes that fat women (and men too I expect) can access. And let's face it, social inequality and stereotyping is bad and all, but it's all about the clothes ;)

Because while I am fat, I'm not either unemployed or lurking about Poundland on a daily basis (although I do have an occasional look). As I said before I'm not British but from what I have learnt since living here I think I probably fit into the Middle Class category.

But, I'm also fat, so the clothes I see other women like me wearing, in jobs like me, in places like me, don't come in size fat. Because apparently you can't be fat and middle class.

With very few exceptions, brands that offer clothes in plus sizes are heavily weighted towards the cheap end of the market. New Look. Supermarkets. Evans. Lots of those online stores that sell the same dresses from China for very low cost and quality. Simply Be do try to differentiate some of their brands as more up market, but the majority of clothes for sale fit into this lower quality/price bracket.

With hanky hems, butterfly transfers and endless polyester dresses we get told that these are the sort of clothes that we obviously wear to the endless nights of bingo and package holidays.

It is true to say that the more expensive the brand, the higher the status, the smaller the range of clothes sizes. Yummy mummy brands like Boden, Jigsaw, Hobbs, Joules, Coast, East, Monsoon, COS rarely if ever make it over a size 22. Higher end labels are smaller.

The implications are that fat women are too poor to buy 'nice' clothes, and that poor women are fat.

And it's really annoying when you could afford the clothes, but you can't get in them.

So you wait, hoping that some day the world will realise that us fat people are truly everywhere. In the boardrooms and in the universities. Even in 5 star restaurants and hotels, and we are just dying to spend our money somewhere on lovely, well made and high quality clothes.


  1. Yep … what a perfect summary. That's why I make my clothes and other than fabric spend my money on shoes!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Hi,
    I had meant to write a reply to a comment, but I now see it has been deleted by the author. I just wanted to say that it may have been writing badly, but my comments about Iceland etc were an attempt at sarcasm and a reference to the usual stereotypes about fat people, as opposed to my own views about what lower socio economic groups spend their time doing. It's also a badly phrased reference to all the images that accompany reports about obesity (headless fatties shopping on some high street).

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