Body politics


Everyone is talking politics at the moment – I am going to assume that you’ll be voting Labour (if you’re in the UK) and leave it at that. Any other decision is clearly nonsensical so….

Today’s topic is clothes, and the design thereof. I am an average UK size – shortish, plumpish round in the middle. I’m an apple if you are interested. In fact if you look up the UK average on the web I am that woman, some are bigger around the hips than me but smaller around the waist, some have bigger legs, some have shapelier ankles, but combine the height and weight of all the women in the UK and consider the mean…I am it. Size 14, around 5 foot 4 and about, well, you can look up my weight yourself.

Because I’m 52 and I want to live until I’m a decent age, I refrain from most unhealthy activities, eat a fairly healthy diet, drink a wee bit too much (but I’m trying to manage that) and I like to exercise. Not aerobic or anything too vigorous, I had a total knee replacement for osteoarthritis several years ago and much of my skeleton now creaks, so I avoid anything that is painful or bad for my ill-used joints. In short, I walk, quickly for the most part.

I walk quickly enough to work up a sweat, so I would prefer to wear sports clothes: they are designed to soak up sweat, they are theoretically comfier and they make you look like you are serious about exercise. However, the sportswear designer and the shops they collude with, assume two things: one that you are already fit and lithe, two that you are about 21. They design their clothes with the average model in mind. Leggy, thin and preposterously low on body fat. Consider this illustration (I drew it myself. I am not an artist)


The human being to the left is me, and the average UK woman. The rough sketch is a model. Have a look in fashion drawing section of a bookshop and this is the shape that aspiring Versace’s use – this is the shape that catwalk models are. This is why that garment you took into the changing room looks rubbish on you.

The model has long legs (skinny long legs) – much of her height is in her legs in fact, although she will also have a slightly longer torso too. Her arms aren’t shorter but they look like they are compared to yours (you kinda look neanderthal don’t you?) – that’s because they are are shorter compared to her long body. She has a tiny bust compared to the average UK (which is about 36 D or indeed double D according to some surveys) and that obviously makes you look heavier around the chest too. All in all you look nothing like a model. Even if you stopped eating today and subsisted on lettuce, cigarettes and toilet roll (to fill your stomach) you would still not be tall enough to model.

You would like to think that designers have the average in mind when they put clothes together, and maybe the high street does, but styles filter down from the catwalk and the fondness for things that make you look rubbish is influenced there. Cropped trousers that make your legs look even shorter. Tick. Wide pants with hight waists that brings clowns to mind? Tick. Bare midriffs, BodyCon (ie clothes that emphasise your ‘curves’ ho ho ho), yep all there. You would like things that fit a bit but don’t constrain, are comfortable but flattering and if possible are sized up from 14/16 rather than 8/10. If you are 52 you might want something that is age appropriate but not stuffy or dull. Tough.

My simple requirement is exercise kit that will not embarrass me while out walking. I suspect that I will have to design it myself.