Whenever I’m out shopping with friends, Forever 21 is always the best place to walk into. They have a plus size section, so I don’t have to worry about following my skinny-mini friends around when they complain about how hard it is to find clothes in such a huge store, and how we might be there for hours. I usually say something like “well, that’s one plus side to being plus sized, there’s only one section for me”.
In Times Square, NYC, the Forever 21 holds about 90,000 square feet (four floors) of inexpensive fashion. Each floor is set up into “rooms” or sections, dedicated to different trends. Forever 21+ (previously named a much less size-aware “Faith 21”) occupies only one of the smaller “rooms” on one of the floors. The room is darker, and there are usually no employees walking around this section. The plus size patrons shop in the near dark and are completely cut off from the rest of the clothing and accessories, and have no stylists to ask for guidance. We are strangers to the fashion world put before us.
When I went to visit this four story store, I noticed that the plus size section didn’t have many full-bodied mannequins. There was no representation for what the clothes looked like on a bigger body. There was no representation of any of the bigger bodies that they are catering to, for that matter. In Sweden, plus sized mannequins have been spotted in department stores. This proves that it is not impossible to find different shaped plastic or silicone replicas to drape your company’s clothing over. It’s overwhelming to finally find clothes that might fit and not have any guidance on what they might look like on my body.In other stores of the chain, the plus size section is the only section which features headless mannequins.
As seen in the photo above, Forever21’s plus size mannequins have no heads. Bigger bodies have a hard enough time finding representation, but now when we go to shop in one of the two or three stores that we CAN walk into, we have no face. This reiterates the feeling of being a stranger. Our size has no identity. To Forever 21, and other companies like this, we are only our size and our body. Companies like Forever21, as booming as they are, are making a decision NOT to feature these larger bodies.
Another harsh example of this was when Forever 21 changed the plus size name from “Faith 21” to “Forever 21+”. When the line was first launched, we were granted a name with grace. Like the other Forever21 lines, our name spoke to a feeling and power that these clothes would give us. “Forever 21+” takes away that passionate feeling for fashion and turns us in to the “added”. Our larger bodies had to be an exception to their regular straight-sized clothes. I don’t want my clothes to be an extended portion of fashion, I want my clothes to be part of mainstream fashion.
We are finally given permission into this over-sized store and then we are only happily welcomed in to one room. Plus size shoppers are treated like outsiders when shopping off-line. When I’m shopping for the same trends as my size 0-12 friends, I want to feel like I am included, not like I’m waiting to be invited to the popular kids table. I’m too old for shit, I mean, that hierarchy in clothing.
My most important concern is the lack of correct representation in a space that is supposed to be plus size-friendly. I want to see bodies like mine, because there ARE bodies like mine. I’m not the only one with thighs that touch or stomach that rolls. With a lack or representation, we are programmed to hide our bodies behind these clothes instead of adorning and complimenting our bodies with them. We are programmed to buy only what fits, and not what we like, because as bigger bodies, we are trained to wear whats “flattering”; but the higher your pants size, the less options you have for finding something both stereotypicaly “flattering” AND what would be considered, “in-fashion”. If Forever 21 was forced to give us a face, or a more personal identity, they should also be forced to give us more clothing options, just like their other sections. They should be forced to acknowledge that big bodies exist, and can be fashionable. If we are given a face in their company, it would be admitting that we, as big people, are also human.
Ingrid (a.k.a. lilgrrrlcreep)
Editor In Chief