A Pair of Pants: How Outdoor Clothing is Keeping People Inside

I am a lucky woman. My mother instilled a love for being outside in me when I was young. Horseback riding, skiing, and camping were regular events that happened in my childhood. My Girl Scout leader was a biologist, and 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 with more science behind it than a 7 year old needed. 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 long before I was shaped by a society that told me I needed to be thin.

Four girls stand on skis with a mom. Faded picture of a printed photo.

The Coveted Beginner… But Only If They Fit

The National Ski Area Association (NSAA) 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.

Christina Skis smiles in a red jacket.

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 a mere 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 needs to be addressed.”

I’ll address the last part: Within the outdoor industry, it needs to be acceptable to get outside and try something which encourages movement in the outdoors regardless of weight.

It is common knowledge that “the Average American Woman wears between a size 16–18, with greater distinctions found when considering race and ethnicity.”

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 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

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 a major percentage of the “never-evers” that everyone in the outdoor industry is working so hard to acquire and convert. Why can’t that include a plus size skier… or snowboarder, or hiker, or climber, or kayaker?

My Own Experience… I Don’t Fit

Let me note that this does not affect only beginners. I’ve had multiple experiences like Gena, quoted above. I am your Average American Woman, size 16-18. This usually converts to an XXL. Classified as a “fat girl” in just about any industry, and obese in the medical field. I’m fat… but I ski, I hike, I lift, and I do yoga. I am fat and I try to shop at REI, Backcountry, Patagonia and local retailers. 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 in Pennsylvania this year. And I almost couldn’t even find pants this season.

Skier doing a happy dance.

It’s not that I didn’t try endlessly to fit into how I am supposed to look. But I realize—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 body positive 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. But the Women’s XL waist measurements cut off right before numbers are even is in my range. They don’t offer Women’s XXL. Unbuttoned 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. But 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. Thankfully, a customer service rep found a brick and mortar store that had them. Supporting a local shop was for the best, but the chances I could walk in to one and actually find pants were 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, XXL sizing doesn’t ever guarantee me a fit that will allow me to move the way I need to ski, so naturally I was nervous. 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. I am excited to get you out on the snow with me next season. Here’s why: “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.

A post shared by Sam Ortiz (@samortizphoto) on Apr 9, 2019 at 11:18am PDT

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 part of the demographic. 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 people bigger than their mold are also a big part of it.


References:

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/

Parris, A. (2019, April 08). What Is REI Doing About Extended Sizing in 2019? Retrieved from https://www.rei.com/blog/news/what-is-rei-doing-about-extended-sizing-in-2019

Stritzke, J. (2017, December 29). Force of Nature: Let’s Level the Playing Field. Retrieved from https://www.rei.com/blog/news/force-of-nature-lets-level-the-playing-field

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