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Bizarre BiZara

[Trigger Warning: Fashion absurdity discussed. Some talk about obesity.]

A loyal reader of my blog contacted me this morning and was clearly fired up! “You have to see this Dr. Deah, it was on Good Morning America. Oooh, this really got to me!” She described the segment by Juju Chang and, with curiosity piqued and deflector shields up, I crossed over enemy lines into a place where I rarely venture”¦and here is what I found.

Americans Too Big for Zara Clothes

I pushed the play button and watched a segment about two size-18 fashion bloggers, Alissa Wilson of Stylish Curves and Shainna Tucker of A Thick Girls Closet, who accompany Chang (size 8) on a shopping trip to Zara to see what clothes they could find.

The answer for Tucker and Wilson was none.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Zara, it is a Spanish clothing chain and one of the prominent retailers in the world; outselling other fast fashion notables such as H&M and Forever 21. But while H&M and Forever 21 offer plus sizes in their American stores, Zara refuses to do so. I suppose that is their prerogative, after all, plus sized stores don’t feel obliged to offer smaller sizes and there is nothing new in the world about specialty stores, but this particular piece on Good Morning America raised a lot of questions for me and stirred up a maelstrom of emotions. In the segment we watch Chang, a size 8, effortlessly slip into a Zara XL jacket and we hear her mutter, “Well, I guess I’m an XL now.”

I can’t say for sure, and I’m curious what others think because I may be projecting, but I detected just a tad of dismay and resignation in Chang’s voice. What I can say for certain is that whatever her tone was, it was NOT elation and I could almost imagine her skipping her next two meals and making it a goal to be a Zara medium before Christmas!

And she wouldn’t be the only one. It is well documented that many women’s self-esteem is intertwined with their clothing sizes. I wrote a piece about vanity sizing last year. And as ridiculous as people know it is, and this includes men as well, even if a pound isn’t shed, if the size tag shows a smaller number, people feel better, more attractive, more worthy. So if Zara is trying to sell skinny as the ultimate fashion ideal, they are meeting their goal. I went to their website and was not surprised to find each of their models visibly thinner than thin. I chose not to post the photos as they can be triggering but if you explore the site you see that even the men and children models have the infamous Kate Moss Waif look from the old days when the emaciated look first took hold and spawned a generation of people desperate to emulate that body type; which while beautiful in its own right, is NOT natural for most and can result in disordered eating behaviors in efforts to attain the “LOOK.”

But believe it or not, I digress! The GMA piece doesn’t go into whether Zara’s exclusion of plus sizes may lead to possible increases in Eating Disorders. My hunch is Zara would respond to that line of reasoning with the counter-argument that offering plus sizes would exacerbate the obesity epidemic in America and reinforce fat people’s choice to be fat. After all, aren’t we colluding by providing them with the option of affordable and fashionable clothing”¦EGAD!! Instead the GMA segment has Wilson and Tucker asking the following questions:

  • Aren’t our dollars as good as a thin person’s dollars?
  • Why don’t we deserve to wear your clothes?
  • Wouldn’t you make more money if you offered more sizes?

And the success of other retailers who offer plus sizes would support that theory, but either Zara doesn’t believe it or they are choosing to shroud their fat bias with a financial excuse and a vague explanation that it would be too complicated to expand (pun intended) their size offerings.

In an article by Suzy Hansen in the New York Times titled, “How Zara Grew Into the World’s Largest Fashion Retailer” (November 9, 2012), Ms Hansen discusses an interview with Jesus Echevarría, the Communications Director for Inditex, the fashion company whose most famous brand is Zara. Mr Echevarria is asked why there are not nearly as many Zara stores in the United States as there are in other countries? Mr. Echevarria explains some of the challenges with competition and marketplace saturation in America but adds, “There is also the delicate matter of sizing.” Ms. Hansen also quotes Mr. Echevarria as saying, “Zara to me is a European store for European style; it’s very fashion forward. And what is the problem in America? They don’t fit in the clothes. So why do it?”

Okay. That is their choice. Who am I to argue with a billion dollar company’s marketing strategy? But that wasn’t the only thing that left a bad taste in my mouth about the segment.

Wilson and Tucker seeing that the Zara clothes would not fit their beautiful curvy bodies in the traditional way decide to go, “”¦in there with our MacGyver eye ““ like, ‘how can we make this work?'” We watch as these two determined women try to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse by writhing into a skirt using it as a tube top. While Chang thought this was “innovative,” I found it distressing. Why are these two self-accepting gorgeous divas so attached to a brand name that clearly has no interest in them?

One woman tries to squeeze her foot into a tiny glass slipper while another brandishes a knife at her to chop off her toes. From Favorite Grimm Tales Illustrated by Anastasiya Archipova.
Fitting in, but at what cost?

It reminded me of the Cinderella story where the sisters were slicing off their toes and heels in order to fit into a shoe that just wasn’t meant for them, because they want something that is supposed to be the one and only thing a woman would ever want which is to marry a prince. Frankly, I’d rather marry someone who loved me big feet and all and so when Tucker says, “I still love Zara as a brand…I love their handbags and shoes. I still have a place somewhere in my heart for Zara.” I felt truly perplexed. Not critical, not judgmental, just completely mystified. Up until that point, the trio did a wonderful job, with the exception of the perfunctory mention of the obesity scare, of speaking out on behalf of the plus size market and NOT blaming women’s bodies for being wrong. It was a refreshing point of view that was diluted by Wilson and Tucker trying to fit in to the Zara products any way possible. Then I saw the story directly underneath the Zara piece, and was reminded once again of the lure and power the media and fashion industries have over women.

Fashion Tricks to Fake the Perfect Figure

Everyone wants the perfect figure and now you can have it. Well, fake it until you make it, at least. Whether you’re curvy, petite, small or large busted, there are fashion tricks to make your body look amazing.

The segment never specifically defines the “perfect figure” although it is easy to ascertain that it has a great deal to do with being tall enough (counts me out) with some unspoken perfect hip, butt, breast, leg, thigh ratio…like rating a dog at a Best of Show competition.

Ibizan Hound with lines drawn in to highlight its very thin waist.
The Perfect Figure

 

But the assumption is that EVERYONE wants to be a part of this club to whatever extent they can pull it off. My sanity points at an all time low, I rolled my eyes when I read that one of the fashion tips is to wear longer length skinnier pants to make you look taller. And who do you think provided the pants on the model in THIS story?

I’ll give you a hint…it begins with the letter Z.

Til next time!

Dr. Deah

P.S. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, join me and several other contributors and our editor Virgie Tovar in a reading from Ms. Tovar’s new anthology, Hot & Heavy. November 30, 2012, 7:00 p.m. at Modern Times Bookstore 2919 24th St. Hope to see you there!

By Dr. Deah Schwartz

Dr. Deah Schwartz, clinician, educator, and author specializes in Expressive Arts Therapies, Eating Disorders and Body Image. Deah is the Co Author of the NAAFA award winning Off-Broadway Play, Leftovers, and its companion DVD/Workbook Set. An outspoken “New Yawker,” Deah believes that it is everyone’s responsibility to point out and eliminate size discrimination even when it means battling the mainstream media, and even worse, family members! To find out more about Dr. Deah’s work or to book a session visit her website at www.drdeah.com

4 replies on “Bizarre BiZara”

Hmmm… I’ve thought about this piece a bit. I normally really enjoy your work, but this didn’t totally sit well with me for some reason.

Although I am by no means an apologist for Zara, it is a fairly common chain in Canada and I do have several (quite petite) friends who shop almost exclusively there. Finding clothes as a shorter and smaller lady (which I am…) can prove quite challenging. I have found this particularly true when looking for professional clothes such as blazers, slacks, and skirts. The choice for small women seems to be between swimming in something fashionable or wearing clothes from stores with petite lines (like Sears) which are often more suited to women 30 years my senior. I am by no means condoning the store’s behaviour around sizing (for the record, I think that stores should carry a better range of sizes in general… rather than just clothes for 5’6″ women of certain measurements!) and I know that lack of plus sized clothing is a huge issue that needs to be addressed. I just think that it is quite possible that Zara is meeting a need for some women and that the issues around society, a company’s market, production of clothing of certain sizes, advertising, and company policy are perhaps a bit more nuanced. (Though I will say, I am glad you are talking about it!) In general, I find fast fashion to be a really fraught area if you spend any amount of time thinking about it. Sizing is definitely an issue, alongside intellectual property, labour, environmental impact etc.

Thanks, first of all, for taking time to comment and being so frank with your feedback. I always welcome discussions from my blog posts and the point you make is compelling. I do agree that there is a place for specialty stores and specific sizing and not everyone is being addressed in the “fashion world.” Maternity stores are their for a reason, petite stores are their for a reason, etc. The main issue for me watching the story was how invested the two women seemed to be in making something work for them partially because of the status of the brand and partially because it is so prevalent for fat women to have difficulty finding clothing to fit us and shopping can be such a frustrating and demoralizing experience.
Warmly,
Dr. Deah

Honestly? Zara is so not worth getting worked up over. The clothes are poorly made and the fabrics used are cheap and bad. It’s a crappy fast fashion brand pretending to be cool. The discussion should not be about someone’s money not being good enough for Zara, but rather about everyone being too good for Zara’s clothes.

Also, not much point in being surprised that a Spanish chain uses Southern European sizing (so does Mango, also pretty bad imo) that is notorious for running very small.

Hi Ren, I love the way you re-framed the issue and I agree that their clothes are not much to crow about. RE: Mango, I’m not sure how different they are in terms of quality but they do offer larger sizes in their American stores. I guess the part that I am a bit “worked up over” although don’t get me wrong, I haven’t lost any sleep over this, is the aspect that I explained to wannabemusicologist, the comment previous to yours. And I also think that it’s one thing to choose not to purchase something from a store you are not crazy about, but to really like the clothes and then realize your body isn’t considered correct enough for the clothing, just takes the fun out of a shopping expedition. Thanks so much for commenting! I love diablogs!

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