Body Image and Cycling Clothes: An Unhappy Relationship

This is a blog post that’s been stewing for awhile. It’s been hard to get out of my brain for a couple of reasons. First, because the thoughts are all jumbled in there and I’ve needed to sort then out. Second, it’s a post which required some confession and I’ve needed to work up the courage. But after a discussion on Twitter yesterday  about the lack of cycling clothes for women inspired Sarah (@_pigeons_) to finally write her own body image post, I’ve decided to screw up my courage to write the post, because the more women who come out of the clothes closet and confess their body issues, the more women will not feel alone!

I’m a plus sized girl. Always have been, always will be. That’s just the way I am. I wear a US size 18 (UK 20/Euro 48). I have big thighs (made bigger by cycling!), big hips, a big waist (with a large tummy), big boobs.  And I would say that generally I’m able to convince myself that I don’t really care about my size. Except when I have to buy clothes. That’s when I feel fat. That’s when I start wondering how people see me, if they judge me because of my body, if people are disgusted by me. And I shouldn’t give a fuck! I’m a feminist, goddamn it. I know it’s society that makes me feel ashamed! But I can’t help it. When I think about clothes, and how I look in them, I always wonder how well I’ve hidden my belly and if guys who do see it are turned off by it.I know clothes that fit well and are flattering make a huge difference in how I look and my confidence. But damn, it is hard to find well fitted clothes when you’re a size 18 and have a large chest. When I know I need to shop for specific clothes (jeans, a dress, cycling shorts), I start getting anxious because I know it won’t be easy. I’ll admit- I’ve been brainwashed by society.

Today, as we were talking about cycling clothes for women on Twitter, I could feel myself starting to get emotional and stressed out. Buying regular clothes isn’t a picnic, but at least I know there are a couple of places I can rely on to have my size. When it comes to cycling clothes, forget it. I’ve never been in a cycling shop that has women’s sizes that will fit me. XL? Don’t make me laugh! I’m lucky if I can get my arms inside an XL, let alone zip it up. The male cut might be roomier in the chest, but there is no way it’s going to fit over my hips (trust me, I’ve tried). I don’t even bother looking at cycling clothes in the store, because I know they won’t fit.

This means I have to look online for my cycling clothes. And even online there are precious few options when it comes to extended sizes in cycling clothes. I hate buying clothes online- even everyday clothes. Even when they have good measurements, I still can’t tell how the fabric lays and stretches  or if the cut will be flattering to my belly and chest. Plus, if it doesn’t fit, I have to go to the trouble of sending it back. Buying cycling clothing online is even worse, because the sizing is awful. A nightmare. I spend days combing through sites, comparing sizing charts. I’ve even made a freaking spreadsheet. I need at least a 46 inch chest. Louis Garneau goes up to 3X. Sounds promising, right? Except their 3X is only 42 inches. Castelli? Their XXL is only 45. And let’s not ever talk about the high end brands. Rapha? 40 inch chest max. Even discounting the fact that there is zero standardization in sizing, how is sizing like that going to encourage more women to feel good about themselves on the bike?

sizes

My sizing spreadsheet

I know I’m never going to look skinny on the bike, but is it too much to ask to have flattering cuts, non-elasticized hems, and jerseys that don’t ride up?  And this is just the technical gear. What about all the new ‘stylish’ every day biking gear? Rapha doesn’t even have a women’s casual line. And besides Vulpine (which doesn’t have extended sizes), I’m hard pressed to even name another company that does casual riding clothes for women. And honestly, even if there were companies that did casual biking clothes for women, I wouldn’t even bother to look to see if they had something to fit me, because I know they won’t and it will just make me feel fat and ashamed when I see the sizing.

There are two issues at play here: body confidence and lack of options when it comes to cycling clothes. And I think the latter is affecting the former. When, time after time, I’m confronted with sizes that don’t even come close to my measurements, the message seems to be “We don’t want you size here. Your size isn’t normal and we can’t accommodate for it.” How is one supposed to remain body confident in the face of that?? Whether it’s technical or casual riding gear, time and again, I’m reading the message that my size isn’t “normal.” Even if I didn’t think of myself as fat, it would be hard to keep convincing myself of that when the only size that MIGHT fit me is an XXL, if I’m lucky. And even though I know they’re just arbitrary letters and numbers that don’t really mean anything, I can’t quite stop myself from feeling ashamed of my size.

Could I be thinner? Yes. I could do things to help me lose weight. I eat like shit and I don’t work out enough. If I improved my diet and rode my bike more often, I could lose a size or two. But I am always going to be plus sized. I’m always going to have big thighs, big boobs, a tummy, a large waist. When is the cycling industry giong to start recognizing that most women who ride bikes aren’t built like guys- they have curves, they have pooches, they have roundness. Women want flattering cuts to maybe help disguise some of the bits they don’t like. Or at least a cut that acknowledges they have HIPS and a WAIST. I’ve worn enough plus-sized, box shaped shirts to recognize the importance of defining a waist. I know I need to keep working on accepting myself, but it is hard to accept myself when it seems no one in the fashion industry or at the cycling clothing companies does.

But in an ironic twist, I don’t really care when what I look like when I’m on the bike. There is no where to hide when you’re wearing technical gear. All of the lumpy bits are out there. But for some reason, I don’t care. Even if shopping for cycling gear stresses me out to the max, once I’ve got it on and I’m on the bike, I feel comfortable. I feel strong. And I think, in the end, that’s what makes it all okay. I know many women aren’t like me, so I’m grateful I stop caring about how I look once I’m on  the bike. And as long as I feel strong on the bike, I guess that is what is most important.

RAGBRAI '13

At RAGBRAI ’13 with my dad and brother

So much thanks to Sarah (@_pigeons), for being brave enough to write her post. Also thanks to both Sarah and Jen (@_gavia_) for the great conversations which inspired these posts! Give them both a follow!

Update: Sarah has curated two posts on cycling clothing for larger women- Part 1 for plus sizes, Part 2 for XL and XXL sizing. AND Tina over at Wheel Women did exactly what I hoped this post would inspire- she wrote a blog post about her body image issues on the bike as well! Check it out here.

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