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a discussion of womens' athletic apparel: in which i bang my head repeatedly against the wall

Posted Oct 06 2009 10:01pm
In this post I am not looking for solutions from my readers; I simply must vent.

I am SICK and TIRED of bicycle apparel manufacturers who insist on making clothing in such limited sizing ranges.
I am frustrated with bike apparel designers who insist that ALL womens' specific bike clothing should ideally fit a woman who is slim-hipped, flat-chested or bordering on concave, and essentially built like a 13-year-old boy. And I am tired of being told, in a million signs and signals and advertising messages, that I am "fat" by athletic standards.

At the Cross Crusade race on Sunday I saw women of many varying sizes try their hand at cyclocross. Most were skinny, flat-bellied and not especially well-endowed. But quite a few were built more like me, with a belly, or with a big chest, or with abundant hips. Some were considerably larger than me. And all of us were thrilled to be out there racing our bicycles on a gorgeous fall afternoon.

Not all of the larger women were attired in bike-specific clothing, because the fact is that some of us would not have been able to find anything out there to fit us. I was fortunate to find a couple of team-mates who had extra kit to sell off so that I could have a team jersey and shorts to race in; but the truth is that my new-used jersey fits rather snugly over my chest and I will be relieved when my new, more accurately-sized team jersey is shipped.

I'm mostly pretty happy with my body. (Well, I'd REALLY like not to have Crohn's but that will have to wait till the next lifetime around.)  My body is a miraculous thing that, in spite of chronic disease, heredity and a lack of a lifelong, competitive sporting history, does nearly all of what I ask it to, nearly all of the time. That right there is pretty cool. Especially since I've started asking it do some rather ambitious things of late. My body, quite frankly, performed beautifully on Sunday and I am still tickled pink at just how exhilarating the whole experience was. I will also admit that I AM vain and that, thanks to a lifetime of cycling, I have pretty decent-looking calves and quads. I think it's totally okay to like your body and when it comes to mine I am a reasonably satisfied customer.

The bummer comes when I have to sell a woman bicycle-specific rain wear, and she's built like me, and I have to inform her that she takes a womens' XL or 2X. I've accepted it for myself, but, as I've said to any number of athletic clothing reps and designers, you do NOT even want to be a fly on the wall when I tell a woman my size that she takes a 2X in ANYthing. Because it's ridiculous.

I'm not talking about someone who is clinically, morbidly obese and needs radical medical help in order to survive.
I'm talking about someone built like this:

(Me, moments after completing my first 'cross race on Sunday.)

Contrary to what nearly every fashion magazine out there would have you believe, a woman who stands 5' 7" and weighs 160 pounds is not fat. She should not always be forced to buy a Man's Large jersey and live with the excessive garment length in order to accommodate a larger chest. Moreover, no woman this size should ever be told by any salesperson that she takes ANY bike-specific garment sized 3X. Not because it's insulting -- my body doesn't insult me, it just finished a cyclocross race and today it feels like the body of a rock star, thank you --  but because the standards by which women's clothing sizes are determined are simply absurd. And if I ran the athletic apparel industry I would change the way women's athletic clothing is sized so that ANY woman who wanted to buy the best apparel for the sport of her choice would have ALL options available, regardless of how she is proportioned.

(Then, I would go after the advertisers to make them destroy the awful messages based on a narrow, false vision of what beauty and strength look like. Women need to know that they can be strong AND beautiful, no matter how they are proportioned. But that's another post...)

The sports apparel industry could be making so much more money by getting so many more women into their sport-specific clothing; and yet they continue to ignore this segment of the market. 

This past weekend, hundreds of women out on the Alpenrose course -- and thousands of women across the cycling universe -- got it. They went outside on their bikes, turned the cranks and perhaps breathed hard a little, they reveled in the feel of their athleticism and strength and found beauty in it. That's a powerful image that any smart company could get a lot of mileage out of. The fact that sports apparel companies ignore this sometimes makes me want to bang my head against the wall.

End of rant.

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