herald

Monday 20 November 2017

Do women really love shopping?

The Herald Body Image Survey found that 59 per cent of Irish women have difficulty finding high street clothes that fit. jeans and trousers cause the most trouble

Pedestrians in Manhattan on October 15, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Pedestrians in Manhattan on October 15, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Best fit survey graphic

How we feel about our bodies and how we dress our bodies go hand in glove - or leg in drainpipe trouser.

When we feel bloated we reach for billowing tops and elasticated waistbands; when we feel slim we opt for more revealing attire. I hasten to add that "body-con" (as in dress) is short for "body conscious".

Clothes convey, and compound, the way we feel inside. Those aforementioned billowing tops make us feel shapeless and inelegant; a well-formed dress, however, can lift the mood and boost confidence.

Yet finding these hallowed dresses is by no means easy. Fifty-nine per cent of the women that took part in the Herald Body Image Survey said they had difficulty finding high street clothes that fit; while 76 per cent of women are unhappy with their bodies before they even go shopping.

Our problem areas are our tummies (73 per cent); thighs (53 per cent); hips (39 per cent); bums (36 per cent) and calfs (32 per cent) and it is in the changing room that we are confronted with the frock horror of the situation.

It is in the changing room that we discover jeans that won't close and dresses that cling in all the wrong places. It is in the changing room, with its unforgiving three-way mirrors, that we finally get an answer to the eternal question of 'does my bum look big in this?'

And let's not forget the cruel fluorescent lighting that illuminates the big reveal in many a high street chain. It is under this light that women have been introduced to flaws they didn't even know they had (cellulite above the knees, anyone?).

Forty-five per cent of the women surveyed said they had cried about how they look. I'm guessing it took place in a changing room. The collective mood of self-loathing doesn't help.

I'm also guessing that most diet plans are enacted in changing rooms. There's no hiding from yourself in that confined space.

Twelve per cent of the women surveyed said they had no difficulty finding high street clothes that fit. I imagine they're the women who put the body into body-con; who buy clothes that celebrate their figures. They are probably the women that take changing room selfies.

Flaws

The rest of us go shopping for clothes that conceal our flaws. We all have our system: larger-chested women know to avoid round-necks just as petite women avoid knee-high boots.

According to the survey, the most problematic items for women are jeans (25 per cent) and trousers (21 per cent).

I'm surprised these statistics are not higher for it takes a talented pattern cutter - and an understanding of engineering - to contain the female form into a garment that we only really started wearing in the 60s. It was around the same era that some smartarse invented tights.

Modern fashion hasn't been kind to women. Heels are becoming higher, clothes tighter and fabrics ever more synthetic. Our grandmothers knew how to work the female form. They had stockings and sleeved dresses and pencil skirts and cincher belts.

And they had tailors. They didn't agonise over clothes that didn't fit because everything that was bought on the rail was taken to a tailor as a matter of course.

The prevailing ethos has changed. We want fashion fast and cheap but we've forgotten that one size does not fit all.

We all know the chains where a size 12 fits more like a size 10 and we all have a mountain of pieces that were worn once before being consigned to the back of the wardrobe.

Some of us even own pieces that we decided we'd "slim into", proof, if ever it was needed, that shopping decreases the supply of oxygen to the brain.

Elsewhere, I know women that squeeze themselves into too-tight bras and shoes rather than concede that they are a certain size.

For the vast majority of us, shopping is an exercise in reminding ourselves that we are not thin enough or rich enough.

Zombies

It makes you wonder who exactly these stock images of women with glossy hair and big white teeth swinging oversized shopping bags are aimed towards. A group of zombies would better illustrate the experience.

As for the phrase "retail therapy"? All I know is that I need therapy after a day spent hauling items into a hot, crowded, six-item-only changing room before sending them all back to the rails.

Perhaps the aforementioned 12 per cent of women that don't find high street shopping challenging are also the women that buy fridge magnets reading 'born to shop'.

For the rest of us, body image is wrapped up in the clothes we wear and the clothes we would like to wear, and for most women there is a major gulf between the two.

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