Keeping It Positive: Challenges of Plus-Size Shopping in a Straight-Size World

Photo:

Courtesy of @extraextrastyle

I was born large (like, over 11 pounds, large) and have been a big guy ever since. I was also born to shop. It’s in my blood: Both my grandfather and my father were retailers, so I didn’t stand a chance. I got my start in the fashion industry as a college intern at a glossy magazine, and, after school, began my career in fashion public relations. No matter which company I’ve worked for during my 15 years as a publicist, there’s been one constant: I am always the biggest person in the room.

While it has been encouraging to see the strides that the women’s body positivity movement has made over the last few years (if you’re not following people like Katie Sturino, Hunter McGrady, and Nicolette Mason on Instagram, you’re missing some fierce activism and even fiercer fashion), and I’m thrilled by women’s clothing brands that have begun to offer extended sizes to accommodate more female-identifying bodies, it's difficult not to wonder…

What about me? Where does a fashion-conscious big guy go for style advice and life advice and, hopefully, the knowledge that his body is a worthy body no matter what it measures?

When a co-worker called me fat (true story), my response wasn’t to retreat inside my size 42 shell. Instead, this microaggression spurred me into action and led me to launch the body-positive lifestyle brand, Extra Extra Style. It's through this lens that I discuss fashion for big and tall guys who care about clothing and style and who may be facing issues with accepting their bodies—guys like me, who need the occasional reminder a reminder their worth isn’t tied to their waist size.

This journey towards body positivity and acceptance is not always an easy one, though. For example, my pre-bed routine is the same every night:

Cleanse, tone, and moisturize. 

Apply a Japanese face powder meant to be worn overnight to beautify your skin in your sleep (it’s really a thing, and it’s really amazing).

Head to the kitchen to take a melatonin pill from a trendy beauty supplement company.

Feel bad about taking the pill.

Why do I feel bad? It’s not because the pills don’t work—they do. I feel lousy because every time I need to purchase a new bottle, I have to scroll through the brand’s site and be reminded that they think my body is a problem that needs to be fixed. 

In addition to my beloved melatonin supplements, the brand also sells formulas which promise “a flatter stomach,” “weight loss,” and “fat burning.” My teenage self would have begged my parents to buy these to help me solve the “problem” of my large body. Fortunately, I’m in a different place now.  The time I’ve spent working on Extra Extra Style has changed me—and my wardrobe.

Thank goodness for Bonobos! Its extended-size pants fit like nothing else I’ve ever tried.

So why am I buying my new wallet from Mr Porter, a site where the largest pair of pants available is a size 40? (Yep, I’m still a 42.) Why am I browsing products from a so-called body-positive wellness brand that also markets an anti-stretch mark serum and cream?

Why did I join the crowds of fashion and beauty influencers at the opening weekend of Hudson Yards to see New York City’s first Neiman Marcus, a store where the only thing I can fit in is a tie or a pair of shoes?  Hint: It’s not solely because the selection of ties and shoes there is fabulous.

The truth is that I shop at these retailers because I have to. There are so few brands that attempt to understand or accommodate bodies like mine. But my experience in the fashion industry has taught me one thing: Nothing will change until consumers of all shapes and sizes give the industry a reason to, and surprise—that reason is money.

I know that in order to be a legitimate body-positive consumer and advocate, it is critical for me to put my money where my mouth is. It’s not enough to simply voice support via Instagram; I have to demonstrate the necessity for inclusion as an individual consumer by wielding the power of my wallet (no, I’m not returning the wallet to Mr Porter—I’ve already used it, and I’m not a monster).

So, once I finish my current bottle of melatonin, I will be replacing it with a purchase from Olly, a nutrition and supplements company whose products are truly made for everybody. Not only do they have an equally effective formulation to help with sleep, but also, I can buy Olly products without encountering any of the triggering adjacencies of other wellness brands.

As someone who appreciates fashion and style, I’ll always be curious about the products on display at high-end retailers, even if I know, for a number of reasons, that it’s not the right place for me to shop. That said, I’m always happy to support companies and brands that truly are size-inclusive, like the following:

The OG big and tall retailer, DXL, carries brands I love like Ralph Lauren in extra-large sizes. 

These Nantucket red sailboat shorts are a staple in my summer weekend wardrobe. 

I don't know how I ever managed without this classic jacket. 

There are also some newcomers to the size-inclusive shopping game, including Nordstrom (which has over 1300 items categorized as Big & Tall on its site, not to mention its selection of wide-width shoes), ASOS, and beauty brand Megababe, which uses body positivity as a guiding principle, not just a trendy marketing ploy.

This unscented formula of Megababe's cult-favorite Thigh Rescue is also non-toxic, talc- and aluminum-free, and never tested on animals. 

While many people attribute the rise of social media influencers to the democratization of fashion, I've come to realize that you don't need thousands of followers to have an impact on the industry. There's an old-school way of being an influencer, and it's accessible to people like you and me: purchasing power. Every time we support size-inclusive brands, we are affecting real, measurable change.

Just as I can say, without hesitation, that every body matters, I can also say that every sale matters, regardless of the size of the company or the item purchased. Right now, inclusivity is not inevitable, but as we continue to support brands that support us, we're making a serious statement: You can’t take my money and not take me.