I Have Fat Arms… And Other Myths Perpetuated by the Fashion Industry

September 15, 2016

My girly biceps raised in protest.

My girly biceps raised in protest.

Earlier this week, Kristen Lamb wrote a blog post about the fashion industry’s unwillingness to believe that 90% of women are not, in fact, waif-thin teenagers.

Every woman I know has a story about the time she tried to buy clothes and wound up crying in frustration and despair. I am one of the luckier ones – except for a few years in grad school, when a combo of antidepressants, undiagnosed food allergies, and unhealthy lifestyle caused me to gain 30 pounds in 6 months, I’ve always been in the middle of the BMI. But I have a cross to bear too. Apparently, I have fat arms.

My arms don’t look very big, compared to the rest of me. But 80% of the shirts I try on have sleeves so tight, I either get seriously unattractive armpit bunching, or lose all circulation to my fingers. By the time I find a size with big enough sleeves, there’s enough room in the trunk for a much bigger me.

I am confused by this. Is it possible that fashion designers are unfamiliar with the concept of girly biceps? Have they never considered that, like men, women have arms capable of lifting small children, bags of groceries, and heavy welding equipment, often all at the same time?

This is just one of many questions I harbour about the fashion industry, and one of the many reasons I’ve never been “in style” in my life.

What about you? Do you dread shopping for new clothes, knowing nothing in the stores was designed for women who look like you? What confuses you about the fashion industry? Share your stories in the comments!


10 Comments on ‘I Have Fat Arms… And Other Myths Perpetuated by the Fashion Industry’

  1. Ugh. Clothes shopping has scarred me for life.

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    1. Necessary evil…

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  2. If your arms are fat, mine are morbidly obese, LOL. I have always had very large shoulders and by the time I can get my shoulders into the top I look like I am in a clown suit. If you have an athletic build you are just buggered. I hate clothes shopping with the power of a thousand suns.

    And what vexes me is there ARE clothes that fit, they just don’t stock them. For instance, Target had all these color-coded pants. The pink ones are CURVY and have a wider thigh and hip and narrow waist. But they never have them in stock and all the other colors are for pin-think skinny bodies. They NEVER SELL. They are always being clearanced out. That makes ZERO sense.

    If your spreadsheet SAYS the curvy ones are selling faster than you can stock them while the others collect dust until you have to GIVE THEM AWAY, don’t you think you should stock more of what is selling? But then they bitch how the economy is bad and that is why they are struggling *head explodes*

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    1. I agree 100%! Stock is managed electronically, so the store always knows exactly what’s selling and how fast. It is really bizarre that they don’t adjust their counts.

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  3. Hohoho….yes, most fashion hypes are oddly crazy and many are unwearable. But the real thing we woman should be fussing over is that the men’s trousers and Bermuda shorts and shirts are permanent press. The same item made by the same company for women will not have this feature….so we get wrinkled just walking out the door. This of course, boosts dry cleaning and softener sales, iron & ironing board sales, etc. And the aggravation is ‘frosted’ by the fact that Bermuda shorts for huge men will cost less than the same company’s shorts for a teen-age girl size 4.

    I do have fat arms….so I’m not dismayed by the fact I have to shop carefully for a good fit. That’s my own problem after years of teaching and not exercising or dieting or just being sensible about calories and aging. And yes, the stupid cap sleeve is a travesty for anyone over the age of 10, but I know most clothes are being made in a galaxy far away where the average height of a woman is 5’1″ and she weighs 94 pounds. They have to visualize what American amazons look like. Even the baby clothes and age 2 clothes I’ve ordered online for my grand-daughter had to go to charity because they were tiny compared to a healthy American child. I turned to combing second-hand shops for clothes 1-2 sizes larger. But her other grandmother was 6 ‘ tall…..ah, genetics.

    Still I’d love to see some rants about quality of women’s clothing instead of rants over women who get out of shape and then blame the designers. Just move on to another store…..and like me at 71, get out and walk. I’ve also brought out the sewing machine and made summer clothes for myself and my daughter. It’s not impossible to do and when cold weather hits, the clothes are usually made with more knits and are more adjustable. Yes, this is heartless because some ladies have wide shoulders, etc. I apologize for not considering you in this rant. I have essentially no bust at all but am fat….and nothing fits. All 1X blouses are made for 1X sized racks….hahaha. I just have the 1X belly. Shame all around.

    I protest by writing to both Target and Walmart and Woman’s World and Catherine’s management with sketches about the styles for us short and fat and flat-chested types. Walmart is the only store that responds and for awhile, did remove the cap-sleeves in Large sizes. This summer they were back and I took 3-4 shirts I’d bought in the years of decent designs to show their manager. She was surprised at how different and complimentary the 3-4 year old styles for large women had been. She was fairly new. I don’t get that much response from Target or any other store. Start speaking up! Even a temporary hiatus in bad styles is worth something.

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    1. Oh, I never order clothes online anymore. You really do have to try everything on. It’s good to hear that WalMart is somewhat responsive to your concerns though – I would not have expected that of them!

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  4. Your story about struggling to find shirts that accommodate ‘girly biceps’ resonated with me deeply. I’m curious if you’ve found any brands or designers that are more inclusive and considerate of diverse body types, particularly when it comes to sleeve sizes? Additionally, have you come across any resources or strategies for navigating the fashion industry’s narrow standards and finding clothes that make you feel confident and comfortable? I’d love to hear more about your journey and any insights you’ve gained along the way. Thank you for sparking this important conversation!

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    1. Hi Laura! I’m afraid I still haven’t found any shops or designers whose clothes fit me consistently – if anything, the situation’s gotten worse since I wrote this post. Even pant sizes that are supposedly measured in inches don’t seem to be correct anymore, so I’m taking a range of 3 sizes into the fitting room and hoping for the best. As for sleeves, these days I pretty much wear tank tops and oversized hoodies or cardigans for warmth. I’m lucky enough to work from home, so I very rarely need a professional top. When I do, I tend to go with a tank top and a kimono-style wrap, which still gives me plenty of space to move my arms around.

      While I’m annoyed that I’ve had to change my personal style for the sake of comfort, there is another advantage of this – now that I’m in my mid-40s, the layers give me extra flexibility for regulating shifts in body temperature. Silver lining, I guess!

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  5. Have you discovered any DIY alterations or hacks that help make clothing more accommodating to your body shape? Additionally, do you think there’s a growing awareness in the fashion industry about the need for more inclusive sizing and designs? I’m interested to hear your thoughts on potential changes or improvements you’d like to see in the fashion world to better cater to women of all shapes and sizes.

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    1. Hi Forbidden Pants! I have absolutely zero sewing skills, which means I need a tailor for any alterations. I try to avoid buying anything that needs customizing, because it just gets too expensive.

      I’m definitely seeing more inclusive sizing online these days, at least in terms of overall SIZE – some shops are offering everything from an XXS to an XXL, which is awesome. But I don’t think there’s been as much improvement in recognizing differences in body SHAPE, except perhaps among high-end lingerie companies. And I’m finding that size charts online often bear little resemblance to the actual size of the garment, so I’m back to shopping exclusively in store, where I can try everything on.

      One thing I’ve discovered recently? In addition to having big girly biceps, I apparently have very large calf muscles for my size. So legging that should fit my waist size won’t pull up higher than my knees, and if I buy them to fit my calves, they are super baggy around my thighs. No skinny jeans for me! Anything that fits my legs that closely has to be in a super stretchy fabric.

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