Nike has finally launched its first ever plus-size range of clothes for women and it is incredibly overdue. My instinctive reaction – why the hell didn’t this already exist? – aside, this is a hugely positive statement of inclusivity and acceptance for women who work out.
Contrary to what your Instagram feed might have you believe, women above size 16 work out, play sport and run marathons. All the damn time. But the aesthetic of the commercial fitness and well-being world is almost exclusively skewed towards women who are size 10 and under with washboard abs and thigh-gaps. Not only are these images damaging and unattainable for a lot of women, they also help to foster a strong sense of exclusion.
The reality of athletic women’s bodies couldn’t be further from this air-brushed mould. We can be tall, have big feet, be muscly, or gangly. We can have broad shoulders, we can be built for speed or strength or explosive power, we can weigh more than average, or less – there’s no mould that can possibly contain all of that.
And it isn’t just workout apparel that consistently fails to acknowledge this diversity. We see it in advertising across the board from fitness studios to protein products – the same “perfect” idea of woman on the box, poster or TV ad. It screams the same message over and over to anyone who doesn’t fit the ideal: “You don’t belong here.” And if you couple that with being physically unable to buy workout clothes that fit you, then you’re likely to feel seriously unwelcome.
This first thing I did when I heard about Nike’s new range was message my sister. Becky, 26, has a newly-developed fondness for spinning at the crack of dawn. But two years ago she’d have sooner gouged her own eyes out than set foot in a gym. And no small part of that was to do with being bigger than your average Sweaty Betty poster girl. “I’ve never felt the fitness industry was meant for me”, she explains. “I found gyms over-priced, over-crowded and full of judgement.
“The hardest thing about working out when I was bigger was the embarrassment – also the fact that walking up a gradual slope used to make me feel out of breath. I felt ashamed to be anywhere near anyone in the gym – I felt like they were all the real deal and I wasn’t. Walking into the gym for the first time, by myself, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. You feel the second glances – and I really struggled with that.”
“I was next to a fit guy on the treadmill, trying to sweat attractively, when a drunk man walking past the gym window with a burger, waved it in my face and shouted: ‘I bet you want one of these!’ After the ground had swallowed me up, I left and cried all the way home!”
While the general feeling of not belonging was hard, there was one particular moment of outright ridicule that really stuck in Becky’s memory: “I was next to a fit guy on the treadmill, trying to sweat attractively, when a drunk man walking past the gym window with a burger, waved it in my face and shouted: ‘I bet you want one of these!’ After the ground had swallowed me up, I left and cried all the way home!”
Starting a journey towards fitness when you’re overweight can seem like an insurmountable challenge – you’re not only taking on the physical aspect but also complex and varied insecurities and, occasionally, drunk, burger-wielding wankers.
Becky thinks the little things, like Nike’s new plus-size range, could help ease these anxieties: “It’s probably been a long time coming. Few things are more depressing than trying on a t-shirt labelled ‘XXL’ by a global brand and not fitting into it. I hope it means other companies will follow suit as I think it will encourage so many girls to feel more confident – that’s genuinely half the battle.”
Fitness is so much more than a means of losing weight and perfecting your figure. It’s therapy, stress-relief, an expression of creativity and above all – a celebration of your body and its capabilities, regardless of what size leggings you’re wearing.
Fitness is so much more than a means of losing weight and perfecting your figure. It’s therapy, stress-relief, an expression of creativity and above all – a celebration of your body and its capabilities, regardless of what size leggings you’re wearing. Becky agrees: “I love how I feel instantly after a workout. I could have spent all weekend lounging and getting absolutely nowhere near my step count for the day, and just one spin class will make me feel amazing.
“Working out is the best distraction – in a bad mood? Go to the gym. In a great mood? Get in the gym bitch! It’s now my go-to response rather than reaching for anything covered in chocolate.”
And to those of you unsure whether plus-size workout gear is enough to get you moving, Becky says this: “It will make you feel like Super Woman. I’ve had the best of everything in my life since I took control of my weight and my fitness. The best changes in energy, the best changes in my career, the best sleep, the best sex – experiences that before I was too tired or too embarrassed for. Wear whatever the hell you like; just get yourself in there. You will not regret it.”