On August 7, 2007, Science Daily captioned an article, Fat Is The New Normal. The article led with the statement, American women have gotten fatter as it has become more socially acceptable to carry a few extra pounds, according to a new study. The article explains that as more people carry more weight, our perception of normal changes and we begin to carry more weight, too. They site a previous study which reported that 87 percent of Americans, including 48 percent of obese Americans, believe that their body weight falls in the socially acceptable range.
In 1994, the average woman said she weighed 147 pounds but wanted to weigh 132 pounds; in 2002, the average woman weighed 153 pounds but wanted the scales to register 135 pounds. That even the desired weight of women has increased suggests there is less social pressure to lose weight. Today the average woman weighs 163. There are no figures available at this time for the average desired weight of women over the last five years.
There could be a viscous cycle effect starting or already in progress, with each new belt notch that becomes accepted by the masses giving the unspoken okay for those leading the gain to keep gaining, and for fewer to feel the need to resist joining in.
According to 2001-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data, 33.2 percent of American women over age twenty are classified as obese. That’s more than one of every three women. How can this not effect what we regard as normal?
Obesity, once defined as twenty percent above normal weight, has been redefined as thirty percent overweight. Dress sizes get larger but the numbers stay the same. If you used to wear a size 12 and you have gained 15 – 20 pounds, the new 12’s are likely to still fit; if you used to wear a size 12 and have not gained weight, you may be delighted to go to the department store and find that you’re now buying a size 8 or 10. Mannequins are getting larger, and plus size mannequins are no longer an oddity. For the first time in the history of their inception, junior clothes are now available in plus sizing.
Overweight actors and reporters, once a kind of media oxymoron, are now commonplace. In fact, there is a new sit com on TV this year that centers on a family whose members are almost all obese, if not morbidly obese.
Clothing stores carry a variety of sizes, but they stock up on those sizes that are most common for their particular area. When I wore a size 18 I could never buy clothes on clearance as my size was always gone except for in the most disastrous of buyers’ mistakes, and the ugly or poorly cut items. I will never forget not being able to ever order from the Spiegel catalog, because their size large was a 10-12. Even the plus size stores operate this way: if you wear an 18/20 or a 26-28 you are often out of luck shortly after the new lines come in.
The stores now carry plenty of 18’s, and most stores carry up to size 20’s in their regular misses sizing areas. More and more I find that non-specialty clothing stores have plus size departments (more often now called womens sizes). This all supports the notion of fat moving its way into the norm.
According to a recent study completed by research firm Mintel, nearly $32 billion was spent on plus size clothing in 2005. The growth in the plus size clothing market in the last five years has exceeded 50 percent.
Anyone who was obese thirty years ago can affirm that plus size clothing used to be solid black, navy, charcoal or brown pants and obnoxious stripes, dots or floral tops. Now you can find almost any style in 20-36, even those that should probably never be worn by anyone over a size 10.
The obese have screamed fashion discrimination for thirty years. It’s not that the industry has suddenly decided to try to rectify this situation out of compassion for those of us who had no choice but to go to work looking like wallpaper and drapes; it’s simply a matter of meeting the needs of the new normal and doing so at a plus size profit.
Contains excerpts from The Big, Bad, O: the Brutality of Obesity by Francine Hemway © 2007
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