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’’.