Dear Maternity Brands: Plus-Size Women Get Pregnant, Too
I have never met an expectant mother who was actively fond of maternity clothes. That is, an expectant mother who felt that the styles out there specifically designed to accommodate her growing baby bump were anything other than fugly. The world of maternity fashion is a bleak one. It is characterized by frumpy, matronly, ill-fitting garments. There are "comfort panels" glued to jeans and early 2000s-esque tunic tops for days. When it comes to plus-size maternity fashion, however, there is almost nothing. Forget sh*tty options. We don't really have options at all.
For fat moms like myself, the message to be received from this exclusion is clear. Maternity brands (not unlike many facets of the fashion industry) seemingly don't like to remember that fat women exist: That many fat women want to dress up their bodies in form-fitting, trendy, or just somewhat interesting looks. That many fat women are sexual beings who, very often, get pregnant, too. That many of those fat, pregnant babes want to show off their bodies, rather than hide them.
This isn't just another "void" in the market, but a particularly harmful one. Mothers and mothers-to-be are frequently desexualized and stripped of their identities when children come into the picture. The pressure to conform to antiquated ideals of "what a mother is" or "what a mother looks like" (exemplified through the garments made for soon-to-be moms) is very real. These are limited ideals that do a disservice to the myriad ways there are to exist as a woman or feminine person, and as a parent.
In terms of plus-size bodies, however, we're already at increased risk of simultaneous de-sexualization, over-sexualization, and overall stigmatization. It is already assumed, even when we are not pregnant, that we are disinterested in sex and style, for example. Or, that sex and style are disinterested in us, and will remain so until we "fix" our damaged figures. When maternity brands in positions to do something about all this simply don't, they only end up perpetuating those misconceptions.
In the UK where I currently live, there is one main plus-size maternity brand available online. One. Bump It Up Maternity, sold on YoursClothing, is a mixture of the aforementioned "classics" of the maternity specter (comfort panels, tunics, et cetera) and some rarer, cuter pieces like overalls and embroidered smock dresses.
Skeptics may ask what the big deal is. Surely, plus-size pregnant people can just size up in standard styles to make way for their bellies. This is certainly what I have had to resort to through both of my pregnancies, and what many fellow fat mamas do as well. The trouble is that unless an expectant woman's weight gain is evenly distributed through her body (when has that ever happened?) the end result will usually be wearing garments that are tight on the tummy and loose or otherwise poorly fitting everywhere else.
Skeptics may still wonder what the big deal is, of course. Fashion, so often deemed trivial, shouldn't matter this much, should it? Clothes are just clothes. We don't need to be defined by them. We don't need to allow an outfit to hold power over our emotions. And if we're so concerned about our pregnancy aesthetics, why not just lose weight, right?
The plus-size void in the maternity market feels like proof that our sociocultural imaginations around body shapes are horribly limited.
For many of us, however, these arguments are intrinsically flawed. Fashion isn't just the clothes we put on our bodies because it's a cultural requirement to not be naked. It's one of the most basic forms of self-expression. An outfit can set the foundation for the day ahead. It does have the power to shape our moods and elevate our confidence. It holds the ability to make us feel ready to tackle all the sh*t this world throws at us. And since pregnancy and parenting in and of themselves are constantly throwing the sh*t, it can be essential to feel comfortable, strong, sexy, or any derivative thereof in the clothes we're tackling it all in. Why should it be up to us to change our bodies in order to be accommodated? Why must representation and access be things we can acquire only if we actively work towards smaller waistlines?
The plus-size void in the maternity market feels like proof that our sociocultural imaginations around body shapes are horribly limited. Whether brands are not making us clothing because they don't feel plus size women need or want it, because they don't want to be associated with fatness, or because it honestly hasn't occurred to them that fat women the world over are banging and reproducing as a result, there are some deeply rooted prejudices to contend with.
These prejudices not only affect the day-to-day babes who can't dress their changing bodies, and who subsequently can't fully celebrate their pregnancies in the ways they wish they could, but they also affect the brands. As of 2016, the plus-size fashion industry was worth over $20 billion in the U.S. alone. We also know that 67 percent of women in America are plus size. As Fashionista reported in 2017, plus size women have historically been responsible for only 20 percent of women's apparel purchases, but it has not been out of a disinterest in clothes. Rather, it has been a question of options, and the lack thereof. If catering to plus sizes is not an opportunity for brands to make money, then I don't know what is. For the most part, we can't expect most retailers (maternity ones included) to do the "right" thing out of a desire to be more inclusive or forward-thinking. But potential revenue talks.
In the meantime, as is so often the case, it is up to plus-size women to continue raising awareness of the dearth of maternity options. It's up to us to proclaim that we, like so many expectant moms of all sizes, don't have time for the de-sexualization that comes with becoming mothers. That we have no interest in eschewing our identities just because we're adding "parent" to the infinite facets of those identities. It's up to us to keep reminding people that we exist, that we f*ck, that we procreate, and that we want to dress our bodies fiercely while doing it all.