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Do Plus-Size Clothes for Teens Endorse Obesity?

The news that Target and Forever 21 are launching lines of plus-size clothes for teens has ruffled some emotions.

Some argue that providing Size 30 or 2XL clothing for young women is akin to telling them it's fine to be fat.

Others say young women of all sizes and shapes should be able to buy clothes that fit and that perhaps wearing fashionable, attractive clothes could make girls feel so good about themselves they'll be inspired to slim down.

Readers of the "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column will recall my interview with Stacy London, co-host of the fashion makeover show What Not to Wear, a few weeks ago. London was adamant that women should wear clothes that fit, no matter what their weight; she said she'd like fashion designers and retailers to broaden their scope to include women from all points on the weight spectrum.

As a health writer, I'm well aware that obesity is a major health threat in the U.S.; overweight and obesity have been linked to diabetes, some cancers, cardiovascular disease and other health-sapping chronic conditions.

But as the mother of a teenage girl who, like me, has had to come to terms with the fact that she doesn't fit in the skinny-minnie jeans of her peers -- even though she's not overweight -- I know how it feels not to find fun clothes in your own size.

What do you think? Are plus-size clothes a blessing or a curse?

For the latest swine-flu news check the new Swine Flu Report blog.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  May 4, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Family Health , General Health , Nutrition and Fitness , Obesity , Teens , Women's Health  
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I see this as a good thing -- if they don't have clothes that fit, they will try to squeeze into clothes that don't in an attempt to be fashionable.

Posted by: | May 4, 2009 9:29 AM | Report abuse

I am so glad that target and forever 21 are catching up! I was never a fat teenager, but I was bigger than everyone else. I was taller, I had hips and a chest, and was very fit at a healthy weight. I was only in the junior section for about one year - in the seventh grade - before having to shop in the misses section. Not wanting to look like I was 14 going on 40, I mostly resorted to jeans and tshirts, not being able to swing the "cuter clothes" worn by my undeveloped classmates.
I'm struggling with the same dilemma as a young adult, being bigger than a size 14 (the max for most "trendy" stores), but not wanting to wear the sweatsuits and embroidered sweaters found in the "plus" size section. Thankfully Lane Bryant and the Deb "Plus" section have offered work and weekend clothes, respectively, however my wardrobe is still limited. Hopefully some of the more mature stores (Ann Taylor, I'm looking at you) will follow suit, so I can find one.

Posted by: eet7e | May 4, 2009 10:30 AM | Report abuse

I think that designers should definitely broaden their horizons to include plus-sized clothing, especially styles that will look good on someone with a full figure. Honestly, it is just plain rude to to assume that providing plus-sized clothing "is akin to telling them it's fine to be fat." Why shouldn't it be "fine to be fat?" I'm all for encouraging a healthy lifestyle, but in the meantime, let's not guilt our full figured men and women into losing weight. Let's focus on the health aspect of losing weight, not the aesthetics. And until he or she gets to a point where they are at a healthy weight, why not let them look good in the meantime?

Posted by: sighnyc | May 4, 2009 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Yes, stores should carry clothing in all sizes to accomodate all body sizes and figures. As a plus size woman trying to lose weight, it is very difficult to find clothing I like that fits correctly. I don't want to look like I am wearing a potato sack, but I also don't want to wear clothing that is obviously too tight and not flattering to my figure. Wearing plus size clothes actually encourages me to want to lose weight. I don't know very many women who are happy with their figure, whether they are a size 2 or 20. As a teenager I was not overweight, but I had a hard time finding clothes that fit properly. Do you know how difficult it was to find size 12 clothes that were cute and age appropriate? Not everyone is a size 0 or 2, yet a lot of clothing lines cater to these sizes. Since the United States is one of the largest nations in the world, I often wonder why the clothing selections do not reflect this reality.

Posted by: Merdi | May 4, 2009 1:04 PM | Report abuse

I was an overweight teenager 15 years ago, and back then I had the choice between wearing men's clothes or shopping at Lane Bryant (very dowdy, at the time). Shopping for any occasion was a nightmare, but even those dreaded trips did nothing to motivate me to lose weight. In fact, I usually went home and drowned my sorrows in a box of doughnuts. Kids get fat for a number of different reasons, but I can guarantee you that clothing availability is not a factor. Now that I'm 15 years older and 50 pounds lighter, I look back on those years and think how much easier it would have been if I could have dressed like the other girls.

Posted by: paulje | May 4, 2009 1:05 PM | Report abuse

I was overweight as a teenager, and I can't count the number of trips I took to the mall that ended with me empty-handed, depressed, and headed for the one place I knew I'd be able to find something that I could buy: the food court. I can't say that finding clothes that fit was what finally inspired me to lose weight, but the lack of them sure didn't help.

Posted by: justvisiting73 | May 4, 2009 1:07 PM | Report abuse

I've been thin all my life and I can't imagine the indignity of a bunch of people debating the merits of whether the clothing manufacturers should make clothes that fit me or whether by supplying size 0 or 2 they're contributing to anorexia. I do not have and never have any eating disorder, but my sisters and I all endure to this day (we're in our 40s) many "concerned" inquiries by busy-bodies who think they're well meaning.

Reality is that people come in many sizes, clothing companies make money by supplying items people want, and if I need a 0 or 3XL and someone wants to make it, I should be able to buy it. It isn't anyone's job to turn that transaction into a moral judgement.

And one little nit-pick - the phrase "skinny-minnie" always feels like an insult to me. I've heard it used to describe me several times, and every time it's been said with disdain by someone who is overweight and mocking my desire for exercise or healthy food. Let's just leave *all* the name-calling out of the discussion.

Posted by: esleigh | May 4, 2009 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Dear esleigh:

Thanks for your comment and for sharing your feelings about the term "skinny-minnie." I never thought about it's sounding insulting before, and I definitely see your point. I will leave it in this blog entry so people will understand what you're referring to, but I will try to avoid it in the future!

Posted by: Jennifer LaRue Huget | May 4, 2009 1:52 PM | Report abuse

If ugly clothes were such a good incentive for losing weight, sweatpants and flour sack dresses would sell like diet books, and most of us would have them hanging prominently in our closets as a reminder. If anything, ugly clothes contribute to weight gain because if you look like a sloppy pig every time you catch a glance in the mirror, subconsciously you might think "Why even bother?"

Posted by: magicdomino | May 4, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Definitely agree that obese teens should know that attractive, fashionable clothing are available to them despite the fact that they are the size of a blimp.

Why should these grossly overweight kids be made to feel that there is anything wrong with their sedentary, Cheeto-munching lifestyle?

I also agree with teenager-oriented cigarette lighters and lunchboxes with integrated whiskey flasks.

Sorry for the over-the-top comment, but, jeesh, hasn't anyone heard that obesity is pretty much our #1 source of preventable premature death, and our #1 cause of chronic disease? And yet we want kids to feel good about their fat selves? Kids should be on notice that bad things will happen to them if they get fat; the least of those bad things (but perhaps the most understandable to them) is that they won't find nice clothes to wear.

Posted by: DupontJay | May 4, 2009 3:08 PM | Report abuse

If anyone thinks that not making stylish clothing in plus sizes will make a difference in childhood (or adult) obesity, they need to think again. My 20 year old daughter has PCOS and has struggled with weight since puberty. She mainly wears 16 and 18, so she's not off the hook obese.

It's hard to believe that only the parent of a kid who struggles with weight and the self esteem issues that go along with it understands the heartbreak of taking a kid to buy clothes and watching her try on item after item with disastrous results. Justvisiting 73 said it perfectly.

Isn't there such a thing as empathy? Even moderately overweight people are vilified in our society.

Posted by: greatscott47 | May 4, 2009 3:32 PM | Report abuse

"Some argue that providing Size 30 or 2XL clothing for young women is akin to telling them it's fine to be fat."

So their position is that if you are fat, it's better to ensure there are no clothes to fit you, so you have to go naked? Where's the logic here?

Posted by: Terrils | May 4, 2009 4:21 PM | Report abuse

I've been called "skinny minnie" and "bony maroni", and it never bothered me. I know I'm considered unusually thin to some people. Depression, stress, and anxiety actually make me lose the desire to eat. Nevertheless, I hope people don't expect larger-sized people to walk around naked. That's ridiculous. I heard long time ago that people should not fit their clothing; rather, clothing should fit people. Some people may happen to be comfortable in their Reubenesque bodies. It's not reasonable to expect them all to find personal seamtresses.

Posted by: forgetthis | May 4, 2009 4:39 PM | Report abuse

esleigh is exacty right: "It isn't anyone's job to turn that transaction into a moral judgement."

How many people who say that obesity/overweight causes diabetes, heart disease, etc, have actually *read* the studies? I have to conclude: not many. They're simply parroting what has become accepted in the media and even among doctors (who should know better).

Being overweight/obese is often a *correlative* factor (it occurs at the same time), not a causative one.

I know people who carry 100 lbs + more than insurance companies' "normal" guidelines for weight. When they changed their diets to eliminate sweeteners and refined grains, their blood sugar, cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure all came into the normal ranges. They had not lost any weight.

Read "The Obesity Myth" for another perspective, and examine your own prejudices -- just because lots of people hold the same ones doesn't make them right.

Posted by: domystic8 | May 4, 2009 5:13 PM | Report abuse

guess what lady, both you and your kid are overweight.

Posted by: proudgaycuban | May 4, 2009 5:57 PM | Report abuse

I do not think they are a curse or a blessing are simply a way of expressing the development of our staff over our years in these cases the spaces are filled with rich moments family meal filled with interesting, really should go to a weight and avoided in any case exceed larger sizes, the largest increase in size to buy new clothes I do not think is a viable solution...
Herbal Remedies

Posted by: HerbalRemedies | May 5, 2009 6:02 PM | Report abuse

I resent hearing the question couched in terms of what the trend of providing more and better clothing choices to persons of size will endorse, as if there were a truly practical alternative, like perhaps forcing anyone over a size 10 (where the "plus size" range begins, according to some) to either walk around nude or just wear a large plastic garbage bag until everyone approves of them being who they are.

If anyone has any illusions about the continued existence of purely evil, unadulterated discrimination, they should end them here.

Shall I say I am in favor of all people having access to attractive, affordable, appropriate, comfortable clothing that enhances their self-esteem and individualism, whatever their size. if the self-righteous reformers of society could prohibit it out of such transparent irrationality, spite and malice.

Posted by: raejeanowl | May 5, 2009 9:02 PM | Report abuse

I agree with domystic8.
Read The Obesity Myth by Paul Campos.

Also read Health at Every Size the Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Linda Bacon.

Also, It's Not About Food by Carol Emery Normandi and Laurelee Roark.

We need to educate ourselves about the real issues at the root of eating disorders and how to heal it. Speaking from experience on this issue, it is not the fat or the food.

Posted by: blondiesorganichair | May 6, 2009 11:56 PM | Report abuse

If I were a retailer, I would have gotten on the plus size fashion market ages ago. There's a lot of profit to be made out there. I think many large/curvy women would appreciate it if cute, flattering, and affordable styles were available in more stores (not just online!).

I think the difficulty, for the retailer, is sizing the clothes so they fit a diverse range of plus size women. I know that as body size increases, there's a bigger diversity of standard body measurements. There's greater variance in hip to waist ratios and breast size, for example. A size 20 might not fit all size 20 women, compared to a size 4 fitting most size 4 women. The challenge for clothing makers there is to make a product that will fit the greatest number of people at that size range, so that the items remain profitable.

I think this is not impossible, however. I don't think that clothing is "encouraging" obesity. I think we need to shift how we view clothing. Instead of putting the blame on ourselves for not fitting into a pair of pants, we need to put the blame on the retailer for not offering a product we need.

Posted by: IsThatTrue | May 7, 2009 12:20 PM | Report abuse

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