Plus-Size Maternity Wear Is Failing Fat Women Like Me & It Needs To Change
As an enthusiast of all things sartorial, finding out I was pregnant meant one thing: The opportunity to get myself some fabulous plus size maternity-wear and dress up my baby bump in all the glitter, all the bodycons, and all the horizontal stripes I wanted. (OK, so maybe the news of the life form I was creating meant more than the opportunity to explore a facet of fashion I hadn't yet participated in, but clothes were definitely up there on the list of things making me feel damn excited.)
At the time, I was working in an office filled with fabulously stylish women, one of whom was also pregnant. She often wore a figure-hugging (and belly-highlighting) black and blue striped dress that reminded me of a vintage sailor, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on something similar. It should have perhaps been obvious that finding legitimately cute maternity-wear in sizes 20 and above would be dishearteningly challenging. I mean, since when has finding cute apparel in sizes 20 and above ever been anything but psychologically trying? In the back of my mind, I suppose I should've known this. I was just pushing the thought back — hoping that I'd find something precious enough for the already-precious bump growing larger each day.
What I couldn't have predicted, however, was the extent of the desexualization I'd feel when perusing clothes designed for fat pregnant people. Instead of tight dresses meant to showcase the miracle of life and all that cliché goodness, all I could find were tarp-like ones that seemed to scream, "Your job as a woman is done. Plus, you're already fat. Why should you need to feel sexy?"
Plus-size fashion (albeit particularly plus-size fashion up to a size 24) has come a long way in recent years. I tend to think of 2012 as the time when things started changing for the better. Where before, fatshion was limited to boot-cut jeans, A-line silhouettes, tunic tops, and dresses more comparable to potato sacks than actual clothing, the plus-size blogging revolution and the increase in unapologetically vocal fat activists seemed to directly correlate to shifts in the retail industry.
I can find low-cut, slinky, thigh-baring, booty-hugging wears that seem to embody my right to bodily autonomy and sexuality as a person who weighs over 250 pounds. But if I want to do that now — as a person who weighs over 250 pounds and has a very clear baby bump to boot — it's as though time has turned backwards. Plus-size fashion has perhaps evolved. But plus-size fashion for pregnant people is still stuck in the Dark Ages.
Prior to 2012, it's difficult for me to remember ever purchasing a piece of clothing I was happy with. Most plus-size fashion perpetuated every notion of "acceptable bodies" I'd ever come across. Because fat bodies were allegedly shameful, unattractive, and definitely not worthy of sex (or even of the feeling that is self-love-fueled sexiness), our garments served to hide every roll, wobble, and chunky bit. "Sexy" silhouettes were out of the question entirely. So were any that showed off the layers and intricacies and curves of our figures.
Things are more diverse than all that now, for sure. If I want to show off my love for my body by decorating it in threads that make me feel fearlessly sexy, I can turn to indie brands like Re/Dress NYC or Zelie For She or larger names like Fashion To Figure. I can find low-cut, slinky, thigh-baring, booty-hugging wears that seem to embody my right to bodily autonomy and sexuality as a person who weighs over 250 pounds. But if I want to do that now — as a person who weighs over 250 pounds and has a very clear baby bump to boot — it's as though time has turned backwards. Plus-size fashion has perhaps evolved. But plus-size fashion for pregnant people is still stuck in the Dark Ages.
There's a recurring theme when it comes to the discussion and representation of fat bodies in the public eye, fat female bodies, especially. We are often either sexualized beyond tangible necessity, depicted and thought of as "desperate" women who will settle for anything and take whatever crap the bro-skis of the world throw our way just to get a bit of action. Or we are desexualized entirely; stripped of our right to explore sexuality of any kind and discouraged from finding empowerment or sex appeal in the bodies we are meant to be disgusted by. When it comes to plus-size maternity wear, it's the latter trope that feels most relevant. Many pregnant individuals struggle to feel sexy as their bodies change and hormones manifest in totally unexpected ways. But many feel precisely the opposite.
From weeks 20 to 28, I can attest to a higher sex drive during my pregnancy. My body was in complete disarray, but the messiness of it all made me feel wild and even kind of naughty. I wanted so badly to decorate my body in clothing that showed off the self-love coursing through my veins, and that personified the simple fact that my fat, pregnant body was nothing to hide or fear. Instead, the tunics that were once the only things fat women were ~allowed~ to wear slapped me in the face like only a bejeweled or baggy remnant of 2009 ever could.
I cannot help but wonder if the issue at hand is the stigmatization of fat bellies. Although I firmly believe that fatness of any kind is socially mistreated at large, the stomach always seems to be at the core of body shaming in more ways than its anatomical location. When many people think of "getting fat," or consider the way the fat bodies of others look, it's likely the tummy that comes to most minds: The beer guts, the visible-belly outlines, the double-tiered stomachs, and the wobbling guts that culture tells us correlates to failure.
Perhaps, in turn, the assumption that guides many designers of plus-size maternity wear is the belief that fat people are even more likely to want to cover up their shame; preserve the innocent eyes of spectators from having to gaze upon the embodiment of aesthetic failure. But whatever the reason that plus-size maternity wear seems years behind standard plus size fashion, the messaging these garments sends out is clear: Our bodies are not for public consumption. They are not to be celebrated. They are not to be visible at all.
The reality that we must have gotten pregnant in the first place by participating in some kind of sexual activity (oftentimes, I am sure, consensual and brilliantly fulfilling sexual activity) hasn't seemed to crossed the minds of the folks at the heart of this industry. The reality that we might adore exploring our sexiness hasn't even made it to their radar. The reality that plenty of fat women love their fat bodies — including their fat, pregnant bodies — seems far removed from the way these pieces of fabric are sewn together.
It isn't even just the aesthetic of the plus-size maternity wear out there that's lacking, though. It's the sheer absence of a plus-size maternity industry altogether. With the exception of British brand Yours Clothing (which actually does produce some of the few fashionable options for fat mamas-to-be out there), there are almost no plus-specific brands focusing on the maternity sphere. This area of the fatshion market seems pretty specifically run by major department stores — and they're just not doing that great a job, if you ask me.
The lack of options out there only fuels the messaging of desexualization, though. The idea that there could be millions of fat people out there enjoying the sexiness of their bodies, experiencing phenomenal orgasms with partners, and, yes, having babies, still seems absurdly taboo and fictional to too many. It's something that's confirmed every time I get an email from readers and trolls that accuses me of "lying" about my sex life or "paying" my thin partner to be seen with me.
The truth, however, is that plenty of fat people feel sexy AF on a daily basis. Many choose to celebrate that fact by dressing their bodies in the sexiest clothes they can find. Others choose to celebrate it by having fabulous sex and deciding to have a kid. And throughout the process of forming that kid, a lot of them want to explore fashion that represents the vitality and sex appeal they feel. They do not want to hide their bodies. They do not want to be forced to act as though those bodies are shameful and worthy of tarps and little else. They just want to show off their bumps, the expansion of their love handles, and the latest curves to hit their already fat and fabulous figures.
So to the designers of plus-size maternity wear who perpetuate (even subconsciously) the message that fat pregnant people do not deserve to feel seen, sexy, or satisfied, I urge you to reevaluate your mantras. There are many of us out here, ready and waiting with our hard-earned dollars to dish out on a body-hugging mini dress. We are growing every day, we are loving (almost) every minute of it, and we are ready to celebrate.