H&M’s “Small Victory”, But Only If You Already Wear ‘Regular’ Sizes

H&M store front with Eat The Doughnut graphic overlay

Eat the Doughnut is a bi-monthly column by Becki Jayne Crossley, discussing body positivity, fatphobia in society and the media, and current events relating to the two! Content warning: this column will regularly discuss fatphobia comments, actions and ideas.

As a plus-size woman, clothes shopping can be something of a nightmare – especially when shopping on the high street. I have a certain amount of privilege in that some shops do go up to my size (usually a 20/22, for full disclosure), so high street shopping is still an option for me. But all too often I’ll see something I like, something a bit jazzier and more exciting than a plain vest top or pair of black leggings, and rifle through the rack to find that they stop at a size 14 or 16.

This has happened to me often enough that I know it’s not just a case of them selling out of the bigger sizes – they simply do not cater to people like me outside of ‘plus size’ or ‘curve’ ranges (that are often different and more limited than their ‘regular’ range).

So this week, when I saw the headline that H&M would be making their UK sizes bigger, I got excited. Maybe I’d finally be able to buy clothes on the high street other than plain t shirts or replacing worn out leggings! Maybe I’d finally have access to the pretty, cool and on-trend pieces that my smaller friends have!

Or maybe… not.

It turns out, H&M shouldn’t really be applauded for their actions, because all they’re doing is bringing their sizing in line with the rest of the high street. After public criticism from many, including an open letter that disgruntled customer Rebecca Parker posted to Facebook, the company will now bring their measurements and sizing in line with general UK sizing (their size 12 will now be a 10 and so on).

Apart from making their size 20 bigger (as their old 20 is now an 18), they will not be expanding their range to sizes beyond that point. Meaning that people like me, and people who are bigger than me, are still left either holding our breath (literally) on whether a piece of clothing will fit, or unable to shop there entirely.

“The only thing holding places like H&M back from diversifying their sizing is good old societally-enforced fatphobia.”

As already mentioned, very often ‘plus size’ or ‘curve’ ranges in high street shops differ from the ‘regular’ range, meaning we’re not offered the same choices as smaller people. Also, from personal experience, it appears that plus size ranges will often cost more than what’s offered in a ‘regular’ range. And although the same can probably be said of ‘petite’ ranges – having never shopped that category I wouldn’t know for sure – smaller people typically don’t have as much trouble finding clothes their size in the ‘regular’ range as plus size people do.

There’s also something to be said about the fact that people’s annoyance was not at just having picked up the wrong size, but they were specifically disgruntled that they were a size bigger than usual in H&M. Would there have been so much outrage if it had been the other way around – if the clothing store labelled a size 14 a 12, and so on? If people picked up their usual size and found it too big? Be honest; if H&M ‘corrected’ their sizing by altering their measurements in line with UK standards to make their bigger sizes smaller… would they have been applauded? Or would people have been aghast that they could no longer ‘fit into a size this or that’?

What we want ­(what we really really want) is for the size on your clothes hangers to have zero impact on how society sees you, and on how you see yourself. And of course, for ‘regular’ clothing rages to expand their sizing to include plus size people, and I’m not just talking a size 22 or 24. There’s a very flimsy argument that did the rounds on Twitter recently that ‘bigger sizes need more fabric so should cost more’. SPOILER ALERT, wrong. If you want to base your argument on that, you should also take issue with the fact there is no price difference between a size 4 and a size 14, but you’re probably not going to do that.

The only thing holding places like H&M back from diversifying their sizing is good old societally-enforced fatphobia. Society says fat = bad, fat = unattractive, and brands only want their ranges to evoke connotations of beauty. We’ve got a long way to go in deconstructing the toxic ideas society holds about weight and size, but high street shops catering for larger sizes would certainly be a start.

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