Skip to Content
thescene_blogheader_large.jpg

I'm fat, Vancouver. Get over it.

Read More:

Photo of Emily Walker, author of "I'm Fat, Vancouver, Get Over It."

 

There are many reasons to fall out of love with you, Vancouver-- high rent, rain, traffic, asinine liquor laws. My reason for falling out of love with you lurks in your shadows, never mentioned, and that is— what seems to be an institutional dislike of women in this city who are plus-sized, or more plainly, young fat women.

In 2004, while preparing to come to Vancouver from Portland to study at UBC, I wish someone had warned me about the tears I would shed in this city. Tears shed because I would not be able to find clothes that fit me, or people who would accept me for who I am, fat body and all. If someone had given me the warning, I would have seriously thought twice about moving here.

My first year in Vancouver was a major shock. While my friends strolled down Robson buying dresses for our dormitory formal, I would reach to the back of every rack in every store and see the tags max out at size 8, sometimes 10, very rarely size 12.

I usually wear an 18 in pants and an XL in shirts. I went underdressed to our formal, in a black cotton skirt I brought from Portland and the largest blouse I could find downtown that did fit me-a large. In summer, my friends went swimsuit shopping and swimming in English Bay.

I knew better by then to even think I would be able to do that. I finally did go swimming later that summer in my friend’s parent’s pool in Maple Ridge. My friend had to loan me his brother’s swim trunks and shirt.

During my first week of graduate school two years ago, another plus-sized girl who was from the States cornered me at a party when she heard I had also done my undergrad here. “Where do you buy your clothes up here?” she whispered. I felt awful, because I was going to break her heart.

I told her the truth. I returned home to Portland often, with an empty suitcase and would pack it full of new clothes for three to six months until I could get back down to the States again.

Only in the last few years have I been able to find Canadian versions of American stores (Old Navy and Forever 21, namely) who will ship plus size clothing to me here in Vancouver. But, I have to wonder exactly how much money I’ve spent on shipping fees for clothes that I could have picked up off a rack in many other cities for less.

I have to say things have gotten a little better on the clothing front in Vancouver, thanks in part to a thriving burlesque scene here that does not ask for acceptance of all body types, it demands it. As a result, there are stores now where I can actually buy pants or a dress that are stylish and age appropriate, but only in East Van. They’re also expensive and spending $150 on a dress is probably not wise when you’re a grad student, yet I’ve been forced to do it to have age appropriate clothing that will fit.       

And then there’s my dating life in this city. I’ve basically become as celibate as Mother Teresa. After seeing exactly how dismal my sex life was, a roommate of mine convinced me to join a dating site.

In six months of being on the site, with a full body shot on my profile page, I received not a single message from anyone in the Vancouver area. The place I received the most requests for dates? Bellingham.

In the time since I’ve moved to Vancouver, I’ve managed to partake in a few nights out in other cities: Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, and every major Scandinavian city brimming with beautiful blondes, including Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Oslo. In none of those places did anyone feel the need to go out of their way and verbally berate me about my weight as they have here in Vancouver.

One night, I was drinking at a bar near my house waiting for friends, when a guy in his mid-30’s sat down and offered me a drink. We got to talking and for some reason this guy decided to bring up the fact that he was barely over 5’7’’.

(140) Comments

Kelly June 30th 2012 | 9:09 AM

Honey, none of us should feel like we need to fit someone else's model of a "perfect" woman, yet, as you've laid out here very succinctly, it does seem to be a major expectation in parts of Vancouver.

I'm size 18 as well... sometimes 20.  I was size 14 last year, but my body is going through a lot of changes right now.  I like to shop at Penningtons on Broadway (near Main/Kingsway), but it can get a little pricy.  At least it's a plus-sized shop.

 

One thing that I'm very happy with is living in East Van.  East Van is the place to be if you don't feel like you want to compete with the slenderfest going on in Kits, West End or Yaletown.  East Van embraces diversity in colour, gender identity, sexual preference and body type.  It's a remarkably loving and caring environment.

 

Drop me a note, you sound like someone I'd love to hang out with!  I'm Kellyanne73 on Facebook :)

 

jjase5 June 30th 2012 | 9:09 AM

My daughter has PCOS a hormonal dissorder that causes weight gain. She has alot of muscle mass but any type of mass around here people think is just fat. I took her to Bellingham to get a Christmas dress and had the same issue as Vancouver I guess becasue they cater to Canadian shoppers. 

It makaes me so mad to have family and friends judge every little mint she puts in her mouth while teir skinny girl eats slurpees and junk daily. I love Vancouver but I agree she may have to move to find a good guy to marry . 

wow
Jessie K. June 30th 2012 | 10:10 AM

Firstly, this is a very well written article and as a plus-sized woman I find this to be overwhelmly true. 

It's sad that I don't want to share this on my facebook, because I don't want Vancouver friends and acquaintances to judge me.

I actually just emailed Lululemon because they've recently stopped carrying anything larger than a 12 despite the fact that they used to go up to 14. Even a brand that says they're trying to promote a healthy lifestyle and fitness won't help larger people by giving them good work out clothing. 

 

 

Elle June 30th 2012 | 10:10 AM

Thank you for being courageous enough to write this piece. As a plus-size female, I've fortunately not experienced weight-related harassment, but definitely have been made to feel less than by clothing stores and the dating scene. 

However, I think the anger towards Vancouver is misdirected. As both a Canadian and American citizen that has lived and travelled extensively in both countries, from experience I would say this is a cultural difference between both countries, rather than Vancouver-based. 

MiK June 30th 2012 | 10:10 AM

....vancouver itself is asinine!

Jewell June 30th 2012 | 1:13 PM

I am incredibly sorry to hear about the challenges you have faced in this city with regards to your weight. The sad truth is that there are several categories in which Vancouver could do a lot better in. Although I'm not overweight, I am a strong, independant woman and it has taken me 11 years to finally find a man strong enough to approach and date me in this city. Apparently I am attractive, but in a unique way - men love to look at me but it never seemed to go further than that. I went on the dating sites...hardly a hit. This city needs to learn to respect and accept people who are different, unique and not "perfect". We can't all be blonde, big boobed and skinny.

Tamara June 30th 2012 | 1:13 PM

...on the Sunshine Coast now, but it used to be on Main Street - they do have online shopping though. (And it's just in Gibsons so a lovely place to visit and I guarantee a welcoming environment.)


It is called Bodacious, and it's run by an absolutely wonderful woman named Lorna. Back when it was on Main Street, I got to know the ladies and I eventually wrote a piece on them and the store for the Globe & Mail. Oddly, even though my editor had accepted my pitch and granted me an assignment, when I filed the story, the editor said something about the photos not working out, and she killed the piece. (I had written about 20 pieces for them before, so it's not that it wasn't G&M-worthy.)

It was a great mystery to me why it was killed, and quite embarrassing. I ended up starting my own online magazine and I published the story there.

Their site is www.bodacious.ca, and I do hope you will get in touch. Lorna would LOVE to hear from you! And if you'd like to read my piece, I'd be honoured. This will get you the downloadable pdf: www.delishmag.com/Delish_LEARN_fall_2011.pdf.

Good luck. Dammit, we'll miss you. Vancouver does NOT need to lose another nice, rational, smart person.

 

Sherry June 30th 2012 | 2:14 PM

Hey, I'm a size 10-14 depending on the year ... and you know what? It's STILL impossible to find clothes in my size as they seem to only carry small sizes that fit rich, small, Asian people around here ... places like lululemon only make clothes that fit you if you're size 12 or under (and their 12 is like an 8). Why don't they realize they're missing out on a large market share?  And the men do seem to mostly think they should all be dating supermodels, no matter their own physical attributes, so I've met my share of jerks. Best of luck to you ... believe it or not, there ARE normal people around here, too ...

superstu June 30th 2012 | 2:14 PM

Assuming your unhealthy weight is not caused by a medical problem, which is true in the majority of cases, get help for your insecurities. As your self confidence grows so too will your ability to take control of your weight. Just "accepting" you're obese and wishing everyone treat you a certain way is running away from both your problems and the solution. Stop the denial and see a therapist.

juechi June 30th 2012 | 2:14 PM

Hi, 

It's not just Lululemon (and as an Asian in response to @Sherry, I don't think that company's just catering to Asians: they'd go out of business if the market was that narrow. We're not all into yoga).

High-end designer clothes, if I'm not mistaken, also don't really do sizes larger than 16 UK (which is actually not that big). Read this story from the UK about an average-sized woman being turned out of Chanel and Louis Vuitton because apparently, super-rich women don't get fat: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1176973/Too-fat-fashion-How-Tanya-Gold-size-sixteen-shunned-designer-brands.html

superstu June 30th 2012 | 2:14 PM

Why in the world would you think anyone would accept that a person is trying to kill themselves with food? Or that a person's psychological problems are being broadcast with every step they take? Seek help! Gain self awareness and strength through counseling. As a person's self respect increases so too will the ability to manage weight.

elizard June 30th 2012 | 3:15 PM

Just...wow. You really don't see anything wrong with what you just wrote? Just when I get all homesick for Vancouver, something like your comment appears to remind me of what I don't miss, and why I rarely strayed outside of East Van. So, you know, thanks for that, I guess.

claire burke June 30th 2012 | 4:16 PM

Just wanted to respond from the retail point of view - I opened a store 3 years ago with the intention of selling a full size range, from 2-22. After seeing that most boutiques carried up to 8 and *maybe* 10, I was determined not to make women feel excluded, and to offer them something that was fun, flirty, and confidence-inspiring. I put on fashion shows and used a lot of plus size models in them, who everyone said were the most fun to watch, with their sexy struts and attitudes.

My store was in Gastown, called Planet Claire, and unfortunately I have recently closed it (until the economy becomes friendlier for small businesses here), but I do underground pop-up shops, and sell online (the site is need of a major update coming in July, but I do offer free pick up/delivery if it's convenient to meet in the Gastown area). The concept of the store is sustainable, ethically produced clothing, and while I do my best to keep the prices reasonable, I also offer a selection of vintage and consignment clothing of all sizes, at very good prices. So while I don't want this to come off as self-advertising, I do want you to know I feel your pain, sista(s)! And there are options for you here in this beautiful and sometimes very shallow city. 

You can find out about the next pop-up shop, and such things through my facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/planetclaire.clothing

And my website: http://www.planetclaire.ca/

Thanks for writing such a brave and straight-up article.

claire lindsay burke

claire@planetclaire.ca

Teaflower June 30th 2012 | 4:16 PM

I'm truely sadden by the fact that you're experiences in Vancouver have been only satisfactory because how you've been treated by the general public. With that said, there are many individuals and groups here and Vancouver that do not judge a person's self worth in accordance to physical appearance.

I feel that most people are very insecure about their looks so they belittle others to feel better about themselves...on the other hand, people who are already sensitive about their appearance preceive any comments (whether intentionally negative or not) or things regarding their looks as a hit to their ego.

When it comes down to it, people can be very petty. There are much more important things in life to dwell on besides "looks". Take everything in stride.

 

Tiko June 30th 2012 | 5:17 PM

I'm going to have to say that I really don't feel terribly sorry for her. Being a little overweight won't cause most people any trouble, but being really overweight means 1: you are obese, as doctors will tell you and 2: you are probably in more of a minority than you care to admit. What are the rest of us to do just because you can't lose weight? Sorry, this may be cruel, but I think I speak for most when I say you have little reason to grumble.

Anu Sandhu Bhamra June 30th 2012 | 5:17 PM

Emily - a very well written personal story that asks some pertinent questions, the most important how we wrongfully judge people by appearances. And I agree with Juechi's comment above, it's more to do with our obsession, fueled by fashion design houses, to be thin than with racial clientele. I hope you take away more than these bitter memories. Good luck!

laurie ford June 30th 2012 | 6:18 PM

I lived in Vancouver most of life and now live in the Okanagan ,I have to say people are very different here a hell of a lot nicer and accepting.it's obvious form the negative fat comments on here that there will always be those that judge based on our looks.Sad yes but it's their loss for not having you and me and all those others that don't fit the "Vancouver" image in their lives.Be proud of who you are and what uou have accomplished and smile as you walk down the streets and show them all you are happy being you :)

Rache June 30th 2012 | 7:19 PM
Thank you for writing this article, it's brought tears to my eyes and really touched home, because I thought this way of living was normal.... You mean other places in the world bigger girls are accepted??? The part about being skeptical of any positive attention is my way of life, I shrug men off who are being nice because thats what I assume their intentions are, just to be nice :( your lucky to have been able to move somewhere els and experience somewhat more acceptance than you met here. Hopefully one day I will be able to experience the same acceptance.
Celie June 30th 2012 | 7:19 PM

I don't think that you're actively being discriminated against in not finding plus sized clothing.  A lot of Vancouverites are fit people and so it could be that there just isn't a big market for larger clothing sizes. I  mean, how would a store stay open if most of the population couldn't fit into their clothes? I am sure stores would carry larger sizes if they sold-out more often or there was a large demand.  Usually stuff on sale is 10 or 12+..I rarely find smaller sizes.

If you have medical condition which contributes to your weight, it's very unfortunate, but if clothing size is based on something such as market demand then yes, going to the U.S. to purchase clothing is what you may have to do.  Also, I have seen overweight women really own it - they take the time and effort to find what clothing works to them and their frame and they look specatular. (But yes, it does take a lot of time and effort).  

 

Morel Carr Zupanic June 30th 2012 | 8:20 PM

I am so sad that the author of this article, and other people, have had to put up with this unecessary unkindness.  What is wrong with people today, that they have to make sure to share the meanness in their hearts with others, especially those they don't know?


Think about what you say and do, and how much it could hurt other people!  Aren't you lucky, that you don't have a weight problem.  And yes, it is luck more often than not.  Nobody wants to be fat, and it isn't as simple as you might think.

a visitor June 30th 2012 | 8:20 PM

That's kinda funny- Vancouver is where I bought the only pair of jeans I've ever bought new in my life, because they're the only pair of new jeans that fit me.  In Kits.  I have 48" hips.  I must have had an odd experience.

(Mavi, if you're looking.  Not cheap.  But they fit! my god!)

Fat
Bob from Surrey June 30th 2012 | 9:21 PM
Stop being fat, fatty. Eat properly, exercise and get into that size 8 or whatever you consider thin. Dammit are we at a point where being fat is some sport of disability??
C Kelly June 30th 2012 | 9:21 PM

I grew up there, i am not a small girl, i am definitely plus size. Have a felt insecure at times? yes. have i felt insecure in other cities? yes.


although you say there is no where to buy clothes that is over the top because there are many places to buy clothes and not look like your in mom jeans!

 

Size 2 June 30th 2012 | 9:21 PM

So Vancouverites are all bad for being fit - wtf? Last time I checked EVERY place had some sort of discrimination or racism and most people have had their fair share of hardships, be it because of being obese, race, homosexual, gender...etc and although I'm certain it's hard to deal with, they do without making their life about how others treat them. You act like you’re the only person who has ever been made fun of and it's Vancouver’s fault. I do feel it's cruel and wrong for people to be disrespectful and hateful - I don't condone it. As for stores and their clothing sizing, I just want to understand this - you want Vancouver retailers to specially order you clothing to accommodate your needs - I mean don’t you think they order the sizes that are in demand? Fact Richmond has the lowest body fat percentage per capita in Canada, with only 5% of people from there considered obese - I don't think Vancouver is far off that mark including how you feel apparently supports it too (Vancouver’s obesity rate is 6.2%). If you feel that there is a need to make plus sizes, it's called entrepreneurship - start a business....I hear Portland has a market

claire burke June 30th 2012 | 9:21 PM

[quote=Celie]

I don't think that you're actively being discriminated against in not finding plus sized clothing.  A lot of Vancouverites are fit people and so it could be that there just isn't a big market for larger clothing sizes. I  mean, how would a store stay open if most of the population couldn't fit into their clothes? 

 

 ~Actually it has a lot more to do with the cost to businesses, and what their philosophy is.

As a business owner that catered to a full size range (2-22/XS-2X), that meant I had to purchase 50% more and carry double the amount of stock. Most stores would rather sell to a smaller, 'exclusive' client base, that tends to be sucked in by media images of skinny = sexy = fashionable.  I don't like the idea of 'segregated' stores for "fat" or "skinny" chicks - I wanted an inclusive and respectful environment for women to shop in and feel good about themselves. And guess what? You can still be a 'fit Vancouverite' at a size 12 or 14.

Julie Martin June 30th 2012 | 9:21 PM

I have experienced so much of this here in Vancouver too. I have been stopped as I walk into stores and advised "nothing will fit you in here" by the people working there. I have had a hairdresser scream out "there goes fatty" on Davie street as I walked by. I have been stopped by people on the street who feel the need to tell me "You are so fat".

Funny lesson that Vancouverites need to learn is that skinny is not healthy and fat is not always equivalent to lazy and overeating. I have a metabolic disorder that sums up to everything I eat turns to fat, I can maintain it somewhat through diet but losing weight is about 5 times harder than most people. When I was seeing a personal trainer twice a week, working out 5 to 7 days a week and running, I still weighed over 200 pounds and I am 5'4. No matter how I restricted my diet or worked out, it was not good enough for anyone. 

I had my daughter almost four years ago and have been unable to lose weight despite exercise and a diet that would make anyone want to cry. I became gluten intolerant after my pregnancy and to be healthy live a low sodium and low preservatives diet with restricted dairy because of dairy sensitivities. I don't eat refined sugars or drink pop and ice teas. I am healthy in every way according to my doctor, except my body refuses to lose weight. Even with my daughter I average walks and hikes per week of around 20km.

My mother is american and so whenever I go down to the states I am flirted with and treated as a normal person. I agree that it is hard to accept and there is always this voice asking what they are after because they can't possibly be attracted to me, no one ever is. I buy most of my clothing from the states as everything up here is over priced and often not easily accessible.

I work actively towards changing the opinions of people but it is an uphill battle every day.

Lynne June 30th 2012 | 10:22 PM

I'm obese and have lived in Vancouver for almost 10 years, but I also spend a significant amount of time traveling--and sorry, I don't find Vancouverites treat me any differently than I get treated anywhere else. If anything, I'm likely to get fewer comments or dirty looks here, based solely on the fact that Vancouverites are in general cold and less inclined to make eye contact with anyone. Yes, there aren't many plus sized clothing stores--but there isn't a high proportion of these stores in most world class cities. Vancouver is by its nature a very fit city, and one thing I have found somewhat frustrating are the lack of available treatment options for obesity in this province, which doctors have told me is directly related to the fact that there just isn't a huge demand for it--but I can hardly fault and demonize this place for being healthy. Society is hard on those that are obese, it is one of the last acceptable forms of discrimination, and that extends far beyond Vancouver.

Lynne June 30th 2012 | 10:22 PM

I'm obese and have lived in Vancouver for almost 10 years, but I also spend a significant amount of time traveling--and sorry, I don't find Vancouverites treat me any differently than I get treated anywhere else. If anything, I'm likely to get fewer comments or dirty looks here, based solely on the fact that Vancouverites are in general cold and less inclined to make eye contact with anyone. Yes, there aren't many plus sized clothing stores--but there isn't a high proportion of these stores in most world class cities. Vancouver is by its nature a very fit city, and one thing I have found somewhat frustrating are the lack of available treatment options for obesity in this province, which doctors have told me is directly related to the fact that there just isn't a huge demand for it--but I can hardly fault and demonize this place for being healthy. Society is hard on those that are obese, it is one of the last acceptable forms of discrimination, and that extends far beyond Vancouver.

Amanda June 30th 2012 | 11:23 PM

I completely relate with this article... I have struggled finding clothes to wear in the common shops around Vancouver and the lower mainland. I did happen to stumble upon the most magical store though, which is called New World - in Gastown. The owner, Heidi, spent hours with me, giving me her opion while I was trying on so many dresses that I needed a break! I must have tried on 20 dresses, and left with 4... the shop caters to all sizes up to a 2x... which fit me and I'm about an 18-20. She can also special order dresses in if you need a different size that is not in her shop. She altered my dress in the store, and I left feeling like I was on cloud 9. I get more compliments than I have ever recieved before and I know its because I feel confident while wearing quality clothing that fits me properly.


To hell with what all these people are shouting at you. I try to remember that as long as I know my true value their opinions are none of my business.


Support these awesome local business that cater to ALL women, even though the prices may be a bit higher its better than buying the same pair of pants 4 times because the thighs keep wearing out.


Head high all of you women, regardless of size <3

 

Amanda June 30th 2012 | 11:23 PM

Wow, so rude. All she's asking for is size equality in the stores. As soon as you cross the border they carry larger sizes in almost all of the shops, why is it not the same in Canada.