On a beautiful Saturday in Bogotá, what better way to spend it than having lunch with a friend, a cocktail (or two) and then hitting the shops in the Zona Rosa. There’s nothing like a bit of retail therapy to reward yourself after a hard week of work- ing and this trendy part of the city boasts a huge selection of high street stores and designer wear.
Despite the number of stores available, for someone like me, shopping isn’t always the enjoyment it should be. As a size 16 girl with more curves than the notorious “La Línea” road, going shopping here reminds me of being a self-conscious teenager again. While my friend ends up taking armfuls of clothes into the dressing room I’m usually the one waiting outside to tell her how nice she looks.
Because more often than not even the largest size the store carries is like an epic battle between me and the pair of jeans to make it fit. If I can manage to get my calves into the tight pant leg and even triumph in getting the zip up there’s a moment of panic where I feel a Hulk attack might erupt… and I end up walking out of the shop embarrassed dragging the torn remnants of the pants with me.
It might sound silly for a 34-year-old grown up to be saying that, but believe me women face this every single day and somehow the number on our clothing tag is directly linked to our self-esteem. A woman can often feel defined by her size. We would definitely buy something a size smaller but not two sizes bigger if it is a better fit, simply because we have that number engraved in our brains. We might prefer to feel uncomfortable in smaller clothing that gives us a little muffin top because it’s a matter of pride.
I’ve seen it every day in this city. Women walking down the street in uncomfortably tight clothing that reveals flab that shouldn’t be there just because they aren’t wearing a size that suits their body shape. Large feet squished into dainty, pointy toed 6 inch heels to give them a little more height. You just know they are counting the minutes till they arrive home and can shed their constrictive clothes in favour of leggings and a baggy t-shirt.
Standards are changing in today’s clothing industry: across Europe and the North America the average female size is reportedly between a 12 -16. Most retailers have expanded their size range in the UK from size 6-28 or XS-3XL down to radical changes in both body sizes and awareness of body types. American model Tess Holliday is currently breaking the Internet for being the first real plus size model at a hefty size 22 inspiring millions of women to love their bodies more with a movement she founded called #effyourbeautystandards.
According to a recent study the average waist size for a woman in the UK and US has gone from 27 inches in 1951 to 34 inches today.
So what about Colombia? Do plus size women not exist?
Of course they do. I asked several plus size ladies where they got clothes from here. There are some stores that carry plus sizes but the typical clientele tends to be the 50+ kind of customer so the choices are unflattering and too mature looking for younger women. Others have said they get things tailor made and some from second hand clothing that comes in from the US. All agreed that they feel ashamed knowing that many stores simply have nothing for them and most are not happy with their bodies as they are. This might explain why Colombia has so many beauty salons that offer weight reduction therapies, massages and treatments. Not to mention a high rate of yearly plastic surgery procedures.
Colombia has seen a recent rise in foreign chain stores popping up like Forever 21 and Express. If you look on their websites both companies offer size ranges from 00 – 22 yet their Colombian stores don’t have a single item of clothing in that range. I asked an assistant in one of those stores why. He simply said “I don’t know but you are right we get a lot of people asking for larger sizes and we should have them. The biggest we have and only in some items is a 12”.
It isn’t only clothing for the larger lady that seems lacking in a lot of stores. It goes the same for underwear too. In most retailers here you will finds bras go up to a size 38 C and almost none of them have a cup size range. A woman’s chest has two measurements and both are necessary to get a well fitted bra. Some women have a tiny back measurement and a large cup or vice versa. If you do find a store that has this kind of selection, expect to pay at least double the price than the regular cost.
People usually point fingers at the media and celebrities on the cause of the global obsession with beauty standards. The truth is there are many hidden psychological triggers that are hiding in plain sight and I believe the clothing industry is one of them. Everyone has to buy clothes but no one body shape is alike. It’s more than just catering for larger sizes because even women who do fall into the available size range can find getting a good fit can be a chore. And the hard to accept truth is…it does affect self-esteem; it’s natural because you are being told you don’t fit a standard.
It’s time to rethink our standards in general. History has proven to us that body shapes are constantly changing and until a global effort is made to move with the times, people will still look into the mirror and hate what they see. Extreme things like plastic surgery will continue being acceptable. I only hope that one day attitudes really will change and every person, man and woman can learn to love themselves the way we should.