I’m already thinking about “gift ideas” posts for this winter, and it’s giving me a real dilemma – one that touches on some real insecurities for me as a woman and as a cyclist – should I promote companies that make clothes I can’t buy?
Just typing this makes me simultaneously ashamed, and angry at myself for being ashamed, and worry you’ll think less of me, and hate myself for worrying about being judged by a bunch of strangers on the internet – but I’m a UK size 16 (US size 10, Continental 44) and in some lines 18, especially in jackets and coats (I have broad shoulders and big boobs, and even at my fittest and skinniest, I’ve always been curvy). I don’t know if you’d think I was fat if you met me in real life, but I feel fat, all the time. I’m in my 30s, and I will never ever be a size 12 – and I’m struggling with thinking I need to justify my figure. For sure, I could never drink alcohol and eat cakes, but I also have a thyroid thing that slows down my metabolism. I’m fit, I can walk forever, and I love my bike for commuting and fun rides – but in the cycling world, I’m huge, I’m a whale, and nothing that makes me feel as fat as buying cycling clothing does.
It’s difficult, because in the usual shops for “normal” clothes, I know I can buy things in sizes 16 and 18 (and yes, I’m also very aware of how hard it is for women who wear bigger sizes than that) but so many cycling clothing ranges for women seem to think 14 is as fat as it gets – while at the same time, guys who are, relatively speaking two or three or four sizes bigger than I am seem to get catered to. I know we’re talking about a smaller market for women than for men (and MAMILS with lots of cash to spare) but I don’t understand it – guys who are “big guys” can wear cycling clothes, but women who are the average UK size can’t.
When I first started riding to work, I used to commute in my walking raincoat with one of those fluoro harnesses over the top, but as I got more serious, I wanted to swap to a proper jacket, and having been well-versed in the need to support my Local Bike Shop, went in there for a coat. I used to have 2 LBSs in a 10 minute walk – but the first didn’t sell any women’s jackets, and the second – they looked at me like I was crazy, told me I was too big for women’s cycling clothing, and that if I wanted cycling jackets I’d have to buy men’s cuts. I was totally humiliated, and looking back, I can’t tell if it was intentional or not, but it made me feel awful. I bought a jacket that made me look like a hi-viz sack of potatoes, when what I wanted was something that even vaguely moulded to my figure. I hate that jacket – and I’ve never tried to buy clothes in a LBS again. The guy (not even a skinny guy, a guy who was the equivalent to me in blokes’ sizes) told me they didn’t stock more women’s clothes because there’s not a market for it, and I’ve always wondered how many of the local biking women are like me, and don’t even bother trying their shops.
So here’s another embarrassing thing to admit – I’ve never even tried to buy bib shorts. If it was that embarrassing trying to buy a jacket, the idea of being in a changing room trying to squeeze myself into bibs, in front of a mirror – why do that to myself? So I’ve always ridden in shorts, and running trousers. I have an ongoing issue with the Aldi cycling kit. It’s so incredibly cheap, but that makes me think it’s made by orphans in sweatshops, so I can’t bring myself to do it – but it is in my size…
It’s a hard thing to write about, because on one hand I do flog myself for being too fat, and I understand about overheads, and companies choosing to target specific markets, and at a very basic level I believe (and I hasten to add this only counts for myself, and not for any other woman) than I don’t deserve nice things, because I feel that I’m disgusting to look at. BUT! it also makes me really angry (more for other women than for me) – especially when I look at the expensive ranges. When I was a 20-year-old size 12 outdoor activity instructor, or a teenage distance runner, I could never have afforded an £80 top or a £170 jacket – but as a well-paid civil servant, I couldn’t find shops that would take my money! And what about women who are born with big, or “big” figures, or whose bodies change as they have kids, or just get older? Are they supposed to give up riding? And what about women who are skinny sizes, but have big boobs? Are they meant to just go up a jersey size and have it flap around their waist?
It’s important to me because it really does impact on how I feel about cycling. Not when I’m on my bike, that just feels like riding, like flying, like freedom, but when I stop, rushing to change into something to cover myself up. Walking through my big open plan office in that hi-viz jacket, I felt like everyone was looking at me – not for the bright yellow, but for the fact I looked so lumpy. I want to feel proud that people can tell I ride, not embarrassed about it.
So, a dilemma and some questions for you, dear reader – from now on,do I feature clothing ranges where I couldn’t buy the clothes, but other people might like them? And if you’re size 16, size 18 or larger, where do you buy YOUR cycling clothing from – the things that make your cycling experience a better one, things you pull on and they make you look forward to the ride. Or maybe you’re a smaller size, but have big boobs – which ranges fit your figure and make you feel good about yourself? Let me know and I’ll make a post of them, because just looking around me, in real life and online, I know that no matter how I feel, I’m normal, this is normal, and it shouldn’t be otherwise.
I’ve been trying to write this post for months now, but I’ve kept chickening out, because I really am ashamed of admitting how “big” I am, and at the same time beating myself up for being so stupid about it. Thanks to Anna, @BloomingCyclist, for starting a conversation about this on twitter. You should all be following her, and listening to her Pelotonitis podcast.
UPDATE! Anna wrote her own blogpost about her feelings on cycling, body image and shopping for cycling clothes, and I strongly recommend you click through and read it – it’s here.
I’ve been slowly pulling together recommendations (and tearing my hair out over sizing charts – is nothing standard any more these days? Can wikipedia actually be trusted?) and Part 1, clothes for women over UK size 18 (XXL), is here and Part 2, clothes for women XL-XXL (UK 16-18) is here. Please do keep the recommendations coming, and any other blogs about this. I especially liked rpmx2’s blog on shopping for padded shorts, it made me laugh out loud!