Women of a certain size

You know you’re dreading the rapidly approaching political season when contemplating America’s increasing girth is preferable to dwelling on the upcoming campaigns and those fun polls that ask if you would still vote for Candidate A if you knew he was a cannibal… not that there is any evidence he or she is, but just asking.

It seems that after many years of searching for the one small area in the back of the store near the restroom where plus size clothes were usually displayed, these clothes may soon be going mainstream.

Growing up, my clothes came from a store called “Chubettes”. My mother, who weighed 99 lbs. on her wedding day, probable spent a good deal of my childhood wondering how she ended up with a daughter who had to shop in a store like that.

I graduated to Lane Bryant, the only store in its day that carried clothes for the “generous” figure. Of course, finding clothes that fit and were also age appropriate was two different things. While Lane Bryant beat the heck out of the three dresses available to me in a regular department store, neither was selling style to a size challenged teenager.

Now that America is finally catching up with me, the need for plus size clothes has grown to the point where manufacturers actually see a profit in creating lines that will cater to the larger females in our midst.

However, if we are to be absolutely honest here, the fact that clothes may now be available to women of a certain size is but a small step towards overcoming the last great prejudice of our age: Women of a certain size are often viewed negatively, whether someone is assessing their potential intelligence or potential as a sexual partner.

Marlon Brando played an aging romantic lead in a movie called Don Juan DeMarco when he was literally the size of an elephant. He played it opposite a pencil thin Faye Dunaway. 

Fat men can be sexy. Fat women can’t.

While that attitude may be changing with America’s growing girth, it is still quite ingrained in our psyche.  As we all now know, what appears on the movie screen influences us way beyond anything reasonable. How many size zero women do you actually know who don’t have a serious illness or eating disorder?

The sad thing is that despite the fact that there are more overweight people in America than ever before, despite the fact that even fashion designers are now looking at plus sizes as worthy of some attention, despite studies that show that some overweight people are perfectly healthy and physically fit, there is still a very thinly disguised line of discrimination against people who do not conform to a standard of beauty that for some of us has always been beyond reach.

Multiple studies show that way too many overweight people do not get the jobs, respect, promotions or social life they deserve because they are judged by their weight before any other factor has a chance to be considered.

Think of the recent march of oil and finance company executives who have paraded across your TV screen while uncomfortably answering questions about how their businesses have almost killed America. Some may have been considered “portly”, a figure we associate with male success and power, but none were fat.

Now think of the women who are winning political races or getting admitted to the executive rest rooms.  Not only are women of size barely visible in that context, but even slightly portly women seem to not be allowed on the train.

Anyone who thinks that Sarah Palin’s rise to fame and fortune had nothing to do with her beauty pageant looks is simply delusional.

Being an overweight woman in America means being an unwilling participant in the last allowable form of visible discrimination. It means you not only have to work twice as hard as men to prove yourself, but you also have to be prettier and thinner than the woman down the hall whose only attribute for success may be her looks.

I long for the day when Kathy Bates is the romantic lead who wins George Clooney’s heart, and no one in the theater laughs at the concept.