Mixed Messages

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

There's no doubt about the kind of negative messaging women get about their bodies from fashion. I have learned that goes double for fitness gear.

I thought the problem was that I was really, really overweight. Turns out that wasn't it at all.

Now that I've lost 140 pounds and am eyeing my first Half Ironman, I realized I need a new wetsuit.
2015 Chicago Triathlon ~ size 14

The one I wore 80 pounds ago is simply too big now. I passed it on to an awesome woman in my running group. She's a far better swimmer than I will ever be and races more often, so I'm happy to see it get used like nature intended.

My old suit is a size Large/Athena ("Athena" is code for "fat" in triathlon world) only because it was the largest size available anywhere, from anyone. I really needed one a few sizes bigger. Many women who need suits that much bigger go for men's suits. I'm very short and very curvy - men's cut suits simply aren't an option for me.

Imma be honest, the suit baaaaaaarely fit when I was size 22. That alone was depressing, because I'd lost 50 pounds at that point. But it's stretchy enough it got the job done, with the caveat I could only sort of breathe, on account of even women's cut wetsuits aren't intended for my pre-mastopexy 40J girls.

That said, it saved me in several races, and made the biggest race of my life so far possible because hello, Lake Michigan was 59 degrees. It was all I had and I was grateful it got me in the (really fucking cold) water.

Cut to present day. Based on my shiny new weight, I figured I'd need a Small. That's my regular size now in most things, and they're stretchy.

To my dismay, based on my measurements (a muscular 5' 2" and 135-140, which is somehow both a size 4/6 and technically overweight) I discovered I need either a size Medium/Athena or a size Large.

This is from the size chart of the wetsuit company that was the first (and may still be the only) brand to offer designs in Athena sizes and with designs that account for things like hips and boobs.

I like this company a lot. They made it possible for me to have a wetsuit at all. But... damn. Way to make a girl feel like crap.

I shouldn't be surprised, I routinely have to size up to Medium or even Large in running gear. It all tends to run small. But it pisses me off to no end. I shouldn't have had to spend the last decade feeling grateful I was able to force something to sorta work when I spent just as much money as everyone else.

It was far worse when I started out at a size 26/28 - finding fitness clothing was my biggest barrier to becoming fit.  With exception of the Danskin brand, which will have my loyalty forever for clothing me in accurate sizes when no one else would, the "plus size" offerings out there all run just as ridiculously small as their regular sized options. (Case in point... I bought a size 3X Garneau bike jersey that finally fit when got down to about an XL, a real world size difference of 22/24 to 14/16.)

Let me be clear, this isn't about how I feel about my body. I've done a lot of physical and mental work to make peace with my body. What upset me so much is that the average woman is not a size 4. And I will always identify with the women who are not a size 4 because I spent the last couple of decades being just about every size a woman can be.

No woman who is motivated enough to be out there, doing the hard work it takes to race, should be made to feel like she is regarded by equipment makers with disdain simply for existing in a normal, human sized, age grouper body.

The average beautiful, healthy woman is a size 14. And she should not be made to feel like an outcast when searching for something like an expensive piece of equipment to facilitate participation in an endurance event she is doing to feel good about herself and her health and her body.

Women are constantly criticized for our bodies and told to fix them. But fitness gear is cut for anorexic, flat chested pixies. There is little available to comfortably fit most normal, average sized, everyday women with hips and breasts. It's patently absurd that even someone like me, who has gotten down to wearing XS and S in clothing sizes, is forced to be looking at the uppermost size range of what's available on the fitness gear market. And even then, it often doesn't fit because they aren't cut for any sort of real bust.

I can deal with what that does to my dysphoria in therapy. But it doesn't change what it does to the vast majority of us when we are out there sweating in the training trenches, actively doing the right thing for our health, yet are faced with size charts saying we aren't even invited to the party.

No wonder we all hate ourselves.