A bigger and better way to shop

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I’m a strange brand of woman. I was born without the shopping gene. I take no joy from walking from clothes shop to clothes shop picking new outfits.

In fact certain shops like TK Maxx bring me out in hives. They may well be stacked to the gills with designer bargains but the very thought of whiling away an hour or two going through the rails looking for that special something makes me feel nauseous.

When it comes to shopping I’m very much a walk in, see something, buy it, take it home to try it on and see how we go kind of a gal.

There is no joy whatsoever in a retail experience for me.

Now I’m fully willing to accept this may be because the majority of shops in this town cater poorly for ladies over a size 14. (And believe me, it has been a few years since I last saw a size 14).

For a while we were relatively well served with Etams and Evans but even at this, for someone a bit younger, the clothes were often on the dowdy side. Smaller plus sizes (if that makes sense) sold out quickly, so you found yourself scraping through the size 24s and upwards trying to find something small enough to fit.

However at least you could, almost always, be guaranteed not to find yourself jostling beside teeny fashionistas in the dressing room and no-one gave you a look of horror/ disdain as you bought your super sized Spanx in an attempt to contain the post baby (and post too many turnovers) jelly belly.

Now with the closure of these shops we larger ladies are left to shuffle around other high street stores shopping for something in our size as opposed to something we actually like, or indeed something which will actually flatter our, admittedly larger, figure.

The retail environment is, largely, no friend of the fat girl.

Almost as soon as you enter any major high street clothing store (and there are many you just don’t go near because they actually don’t go above a size 14) your eyes are assaulted by 6 foot, size 10 mannequins, looking all svelte, skinny and gorgeous in a figure hugging ensemble.

With their jutting hips and defined collar bones, neat busts and perfectly proportioned ankles they ooze confidence and style.

They put the message out there that is what we, as the shopper, should aspire to. These mannequins, designed around the models who prance up and down the catwalk at fashion shows, are what make clothes look good.

They are who and what the retailer has in mind when they choose their collections. Flawless, gracious, ready to step out into the public arena at a moment’s notice.

I would think they do not really have the dumpy middle aged woman who still wants to dress like she in her 20s even if she is closer to her 40s, in mind.

We then have to shuffle through the rails, past the teeny size 6s and 8s which seemed to be there in copious amounts, to the back of the rail where the larger sizes hang glumly, flapping listlessly off the side of their hangers. And for many shops, they only hold a very small stock level in larger sizes, and not a selection of their full range.

What perhaps retailers don’t realise - or perhaps they do but just don’t care - is that the average British woman (and for the sake of argument let’s just say we’re British in this one instance) is plus sized.

She is 5’ 4” tall and a size 16.

Walking into a shop where it is almost impossible to find clothes which cater for the average woman is heartbreaking - and it’s not exaggerating to say it is soul destroying.

Any whiff of self-esteem and confidence you may have is knocked as soon as you see that skinny mannequin grinly inanely in the shop window or at the shop door. If you manage to run this gauntlet and are faced with the empty rails or the forlorn plus sizes, you (as in me) find yourself disheartened and turning instead to having a quick scout around the handbags or shoes for comfort. (Handbags, regardless of how good you’ve been on your diet that week, always fit!).

It would take very little for retailers to adapt to make “ordinary” women feel more welcome. Last week a storm brewed on social media over Swedish retailer Ahlens who have taken to using life sized mannequins on their shop floor. Alongside the traditional size 10 efforts, shoppers in Ahlens can get a look at what the clothes might look like on someone who is a size 12 or a size 16.

It doesn’t, as some would suggest, glorify an unhealthy lifestyle or normalise obesity. (A size 12 is not fat, a size 16 is borderline in some cases...)

What it does is celebrate the female body and encourage body confidence.

If a woman feels more comfortable in her own skin she is more likely to treat her body better. Trying to lose weight or get fit on the back of feeling like a freak of nature is never likely to be successful in the longterm.

I for one welcome Ahlens’ strategy and I wish others, closer to home, would follow suit. Although, perhaps, maybe my bank account wouldn’t thank me. After all, it could actually make shopping a more enjoyable experience.