On Wednesday, my friend Asta (who is basically an adored adopted mum) and I went shopping for her extraordinarily generous Christmas present to me - a winter jacket or coat. Now, when she told me she'd reconnoitred Edinburgh Woollen Mill's collection, I intuitively knew that was where we were going to find my coat - that feeling of absolute certainty settled in my solar plexus. So I should have known that I really needed to steer her away from Debenhams and just go straight down to EWM...
I confess - I *hate* Debenhams and never go in there for clothes - for cosmetics or perfumes, fine, or even, erm, essentials. BUT. NOT. CLOTHES. The layout by designer rather than type of clothing irimtates me beyond all reason, and the clothes are just too trendy and self-conscious. However, since Asta, a Berliner, was in full Germanic efficiency mode, far be it from me to disrupt her, I thought.
We started off with breakfast in the Debenhams cafe, which was fine. Then I started trying on coats. In almost every shop, I am a UK 14/16 (read US 12, basically). Put me in anything at Debenhams, however, and a UK 16 makes me look like I have Jordan's boobs (I love my cleavage, but I don't need to be made to feel that each individual component is the size of one of Jupiter's satellites) and b/c the top part is pulled tight around the back, my bum needs a sign that reads, "Caution: wide load". And the journey through Debenhams coatracks were no different - it left Asta saying, "You've gained weight, your bum is sticking out." I rolled my eyes affectionately and refrained from saying, "Well, of course. Because these aren't 16s, they're more like...12s (US 8)."
Onwards and upwards to...you guessed it. EWM. Downstairs were the short coats, and the moment I tried on a 16, Asta noted the difference in size, cut and line. We asked about the long coats, which were upstairs.
And there it was - a long, gorgeous single-breasted coat in blackberry and a size 16. I pulled it on - and not only would I be able to fit an Arran jumper under it, I'd be able to fit the sheep it was knitted from without any trouble. Mission accomplished by 12.30.
But that got me thinking about the recommendation that an obesity warning be placed on all size 16 clothes. First of all, as you can see, there IS no standard size 16. I did not lose half a stone and several inches in the 2 minute walk to EWM. How can you put an across the board warning on something with such variation *across the board*? And isn't there quite a difference in shape between size 16s - for example, a 5'10" woman who is a 16 and a 5'0" woman who is? You cannot define obesity and health risk by a number on a label.
The AVERAGE size in the UK is...16. The AVERAGE size 16 woman has a waist of 30-31". Since when is a 31 waist considered obese? Since we decided that it was ok to come up with a size 0, which by its very name says, "You are nothing. You do not exist." To wear a size 0 means you have to have a 22" waist...the AVERAGE WAIST OF AN *EIGHT YEAR OLD CHILD*. Instead of obesity warnings, maybe we need anorexia warnings. Instead of harping on about Muslim women wearing veils, maybe we need to look at how we in the West veil women by forcing them into ideals of beauty that deny them breasts and hips and a real womanly figure. I asked one of my male friends once about size 0 women. His response? "EWWWW. If I fancied one of them, I'd be a child molester." (He feels the same way about Brazilians and Hollywoods.) Harsh? Perhaps. But thought-provoking, nonetheless.
So, I have a proposal: we're debating not treating obese patients on the NHS. Let's be fair - let's not treat anorexia patients on the NHS. After all, if you argue that obese people choose to put food in their mouths, you can also argue that anorexia patients refuse to put food in their mouths and thereby take up a disproportionate amount of mental health and hospital resources better used on people who are more likely to be successfully cured. So why is it ok to treat them and not obese patients? Because they're trying to fit the societal ideal of beauty and thus deserve our sympathy?
Either you decide that both sets are victims of their own choices and treat neither, or you allow that both sets have underlying issues that they cannot resolve on their own, and you ungrudgingly offer them the resources to deal with the problem, not the symptoms - at the microlevel, that will involve comprehensive psychological and nutritional plans to help individuals...and at the macrolevel, it will involve examining, widening and changing what we, as a society, define as beauty and value in ourselves and others - not just women.
If you're comfortable in your own skin, if you care about others, if you live life to the full - then you're absolutely gorgeous, no matter what size is on that Debenhams label.