Clothes shopping in eating disorder recovery is tough. Eating disorders are frequently accompanied by negative body image, including general body dissatisfaction, body image distortion, overvaluation of weight and shape, excessive body comparisons, and body checking behaviors. The negative body image that is often paired with eating disorders can naturally make clothes shopping difficult. The challenges of shopping can be compounded for those shopping for clothes labeled as “plus-size” by the fashion industry, as our society is often not as accommodating to people in larger bodies.
Although there are many people in larger bodies who are on a journey to body acceptance, not everyone is at the same point in their journey and very few journeys are a straight line. Therefore, shopping in a culture with weight bias and stigma is not always an easy task, no matter how far you’ve come in your recovery journey. One step toward embracing body acceptance is to be aware of the challenges of clothes shopping in recovery and to identify strategies for navigating the task.
Shopping When You Live in a Larger Body
Limited Store Selections
An issue that those shopping in larger bodies can experience is when stores have plus-size clothes, but only on their website. Imagine walking into one of your favorite stores, finding a really stylish shirt that you love that is just a bit snug, and they don’t have your size in the store. You decide to go to the cashier and ask if they can order a larger size and send it to your house. They tell you that they don’t do that and that you have to go online to order it. You would likely feel uncomfortable, perhaps like you are not welcome in the store because of your larger body.
Having to experience something like this can be discouraging, but it is so important to remember that this is not your fault. It would benefit so many people if clothing retailers could bring their online plus-size sections into their physical stores. As we work toward a more size-inclusive future, this could show people in larger bodies that they are welcome and deserve the same treatment as people in smaller bodies.
Inclusive sizing can mean something different depending on whom you ask. A store might launch an extended size collection that features sizes 0 to 18 and consider this progress, while many people in the plus-size community would argue that it’s not enough. The average size of an American woman is now between 16 and 18, according to a study from the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education. Therefore, referring to these sizes as “plus” does not accurately reflect the fact that these are actually average sizes. For a brand to truly be inclusive, it must cater to the needs of customers who are a size 24 or greater, while at the same time not forgetting customers who fall into the categories of petite and junior.
Another aspect for stores to consider as they become more size-inclusive is to have larger sizes for all of their clothing, not just a small selection that is typically offered to people in larger bodies. Plus-size sections are often hidden in a back corner or basement of the store, often adding an element of shame to them. It would be beneficial for so many people in larger bodies if larger sizes were just included in all the clothing offered by retailers. In a more size-inclusive world, this could show people in larger bodies that they are welcome in that clothing store.
Looking Toward a More Inclusive Future
It is hard to love your body when you are receiving so many messages that you need to change it. People living and/or recovering in larger bodies don’t deserve to be shamed for how they look or given the impression that they are not welcome in a store, yet this is continuing to happen in our society. Many of those in eating disorder recovery, as well as anyone in a larger body, would benefit from a shift in our retail stores towards inclusive sizing.
How to Manage the Stress of Clothes Shopping in Eating Disorder Recovery
Individuals with an eating disorder who are triggered by clothes shopping should work with a treatment team of eating disorder professionals to determine when they may be in an appropriate place to take this step. If your team determines that you are ready and you feel adequately supported, you may decide to clean out your closet, get rid of clothes that don’t fit you, and make a list of what you need. Then when you go to get more clothes, consider inviting a support person to have by your side, someone who understands your feelings and where you are in recovery. Another important thing to remember is to go at a pace that feels right for you; if it becomes overwhelming, try another day.
No matter what size you are, clothes shopping in eating disorder recovery can be a challenging experience. There are certain aspects of our retail culture that we cannot control that make shopping in a larger body difficult, but it is important to remember what we can do to make things easier for ourselves. We hope that the tips we have provided can help make your experience a more positive one!