I am a lucky woman. My mother instilled in me the love for being outside. Horseback riding, skiing, and camping were regular things that happened in my childhood. My scout leader was a biologist, and I believe we learned things that other girls in scouts didn’t get to—we set up tents, cooked our breakfasts on tin cans, hiked, and investigated wildlife. We camped multiple times each summer. We spent our time riding bikes on the Great Allegheny Passage and paddling kayaks across local lakes. There are so many memories that I am privileged to have. These were the experiences that shaped my passions before I was shaped by a society that told me I needed to be thin.
The Coveted Beginner… But Only If They Fit
The National Ski Area Association focuses greatly on converting beginners into a core winter sports audience. I am sure we can see similar goals across all outdoor sport associations. This is an effort that I am passionate about, from not only a professional standpoint, but personally, as well.
Countless studies have been conducted to figure out how to grow participation in outdoor sports. Out of the entire ski and snowboard demographic, only 8% are classified as beginners and 17% of those beginners continue to enjoy it, according to the NSAA. “In order for the ski and snowboard industry to grow… it is necessary to overcome unfavorable demographic trends, time poverty, increased alternative leisure activities and an overweight population need to be addressed.”
We all know what that means, but I’m going to twist the last part of the note above into how I want to address it: Why can’t we make it acceptable to get outside and try something which encourages movement in the outdoors regardless of weight? “The Average American Woman wears between a Misses size 16–18, which corresponds to a Women’s Plus size 20W, with greater distinctions found when considering race and ethnicity.”
This average pant size statistic is pretty much common knowledge at this point, and it doesn’t even address the Average American Man. Yet for some reason, outdoor retailers continue to ignore the facts when it comes to providing appropriate sizing in their clothing options. Through this, we are excluding the a major percentage of the never-evers, the Beginner that everyone in the outdoor industry is working so hard to acquire and convert. Yes, that can definitely include a plus size skier… or snowboarder, or hiker, or climber, or kayaker, etc.
I would love to try and ski and feel it’s something [my fiancé] and I would bond over because he loves it, but I went to a ski shop once last year and tried on every pair of pants I could find that I thought would fit me, and nothing did. I would’ve had to resort to men’s bibs and I felt so bad about myself and still haven’t gone skiing because of that experience.@genakeebler
My Own Experience… I Don’t Fit
Let me note that this does not affect only beginners. I’ve had multiple experiences like Gena myself. I am your average American woman, size 16-18. This usually converts to an XXL. Classified as fat in just about any industry, obese in the medical field. But I’m fat and I ski, I hike, I lift, and I do yoga. I am fat and I try to shop at REI, Backcountry, and local retailers. I scan Patagonia, Burton, and Roxy websites each season. I’m fat and have spent more money with the outdoor industry before the age of 30 than I care to calculate. And maybe one day I will be lucky enough to spend even more money getting my future children outside… I am your ideal customer, yet I still can’t find my size.
I have been skiing for over 25 years, and rode close to 30 days from December through April this year. And I almost couldn’t even find pants this season.
It’s not that I didn’t try endlessly to fit into how I am supposed to look. But how much longer do I have to stomp my own self-worth into the ground because I don’t fit into a
specific standard pair of pants? My relationship with food and perception of my body’s size are going to be things that I have to continuously work on, and I envy the confidence of the #fatgirls movement on The Gram. For now, the goal is a life of self-love and body acceptance and health. That’s where this post is coming from.
For the last 8-ish years, I’ve worn Men’s Bonfire pants and an XL Men’s Burton jacket. I looked pretty fly although the jacket ends halfway down my thighs, tight on my chest, and I ski with my pants unbuttoned (they fit when I bought them!). Looking at Bonfire’s sizing chart, Men’s XL pants would most likely just fit me without having an inseam to my knees. Women’s XL cuts off right before a waist measurement that fits me. They don’t offer Women’s XXL. This is literally how I’ve skied the past few seasons because I knew it was going to be difficult and depressing to find a new pair of snow pants. It was time to enter the shopping minefield again.
Fast forward to November 2018. I needed black snow pants for work. Determined to find a women’s cut, I looked all around and decided Burton might have stylish pants that could fit me. They had women’s XXL after all. But come early December, any XXL Burton women’s snow pant in black was sold out across the Internet (I’m talking from the website, any online retailer, etc.) and thankfully a customer service rep found a brick and mortar store that had them. Honestly, supporting a local shop was for the best, but the chances I could walk in to one and actually find pants were always rare. The closest shop that had women’s XXL black Burton pants was 3 hours away from me. And while I had great customer service at Burton and over the phone at the shop, XXL sizing doesn’t ever guarantee me anything with snow clothes, so naturally I was nervous. Usually I can’t move in the way I need to ski in women’s sizing. But Lo and behold! I ripped a page out of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and they magically buttoned.
Where do we go from here?
Part of me feels like the only limits we have are the limits we place on ourselves and fat people shouldn’t depend on stores to get their sh*t together, but the other part of me feels like not having a warm down packable coat that fits me is rude and I want to rage about it…@fatgirl.hiking
I’ve been trying to comprehend and write about this for a while now. The feelings have always been there, but I’ve been sitting in semi-silence. Thoughts whirling in my head. Drafts written and ignored. Some chirps here and there on Twitter. But mostly I sit with quiet breath, holding it in. Sucking it in.
Follow and support plus-size outdoor advocates. Share their message. People like @samortizphoto are making waves in the outdoor industry. @unlikelyhikers‘ Jenny Bruso wrote an incredibly detailed post regarding Plus Size Activewear and mentions all sorts of brands that can get you outfitted and outside. @fatgirlshiking also has a detailed Resource Guide that supports smaller companies that support plus-size hikers.
I want you to experience winter on a mountain. Through writing this post, I’ve already been inspired to write additional entries and am excited to share my thoughts and get you out on the snow with me next season. “More than 85% of all women surveyed believe the outdoors positively affects mental health, physical health, happiness and overall well-being, and 70% reported that being outdoors is liberating.” I want this for everyone.
It’s been obvious that REI is working diligently to expand available sizing. “It takes time to balance the science and art needed to create products that truly fit every active woman; designers need to work with developers to create blocks, or patterns, that take into consideration the nuances of the human body.” I hope that with REI taking a stand to work on this, this will inspire more popular outdoor brands to do the same.
We’re here for the outdoors in all shapes and sizes. We’re asking to be recognized as a part of the demographic, because, well, we are. Get out there and tell your story, even if you have to do it with your pants unbuttoned. The industry is taking a look, we just need to show them that we’re a big part of it.
Deborah A. Christel & Susan C. Dunn (2017) Average American women’s clothing size: comparing National Health and Nutritional Examination Surveys (1988–2010) to ASTM International Misses & Women’s Plus Size clothing, International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education,10:2, 129-136, DOI: 10.1080/17543266.2016.1214291
Model for Growth. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.nsaa.org/growing-the-sport/model-for-growth/