I’ve been asked to write an article about my experience as “happy curvy girl”. It has just been published on weekly women magazine Io donna, supplement of Corriere della sera, the most important newspaper in Italy. Here you find it:
Bridget Jones’s “wobbly bits” have been very appreciated by her beloved Mark Darcy. Mine, instead, usually receive a very different reaction, ranging from panic to pity. As soon as I step foot in an Italian clothing store, it’s the same old story, especially now, after the lockdown and right before swimsuit season. Saleswomen usually stare at my love handles, with fear in their eyes. Even before I touch a shirt one of them approaches me and grabs it out of my hand. She shakes her head anxiously, as if thinking: “There’s not enough room for you in there”. And, on top of that, as soon as I mention a size XL, she whispers to me: “We absolutely do not sell such a thing”. She sounds so outraged.
I am so ashamed, but I try again with self-deprecating humour: “What would you suggest, then, to a not-exactly-tiny girl like me?”
She stiffens: “You can look for it at the flea market, they sell all this kind of stuff over there”. And by then I have been escorted to the exit, in order to avoid bothering the other customers with my overall gigantic dimensions.
That’s the way my country treats plus size people. Every time I look at a store window I feel something is wrong with me, since I seem to be so out of place and that’s the reason why I look for my clothes in the stores’ darkest corners. They look likes old Blockbuster’s sections for adults, now dedicated to “comfortable sizes”. Comfortable for whom, exactly?
There are straightways, I know, and I am ok with that but curves do exist too. And I am not saying, “fat is good”, but I am looking for a civil coexistence.
Even my parish priest suggested I follow a strict diet in order to “exalt femininity”, but that’s just a politically correct way of saying: “My dear child, you need to lose weight right away, unless you are planning to stay a spinster forever”.
Facebook & co.
Of course I appreciate a diplomatic way of describing my body: I have been called “larger than average”, but I prefer the nickname “Nutella size”. Finally I have learned to love myself the way I am, but self acceptance does not make me impervious or insensitive to criticism.
I wish my elementary school’s classmate could had stood up for me while her Facebook’ friends were commenting our old picture together. It was taken at her ninth birthday, with a cake on the table. The nicest comment was: “Be careful. This kid will eat you too”.
I wish my former boyfriend could have stopped himself from laughing so hard at my expense while the guy at the gas station gifted me a birth kit with supplies. He insisted that I was pregnant (which I was not, by the way). At the time I stayed silent, as I was used to facing this kind of situation. My housekeeper used to called me “fatty” and she alwayes loved to counting aloud every Coca Cola can in my trash. Even then I was not able to reply jokingly.
Deep down I was sure I was asking for it, basically it was my fault, all the time, even when the waiter at the restaurant tried to swap my chips for a salad, no dressing. At least he winked.
I was on diet once
Strangers, friends o relatives, it doesn’t matter: everyone, since my puberty, has felt the need to provide me with unsolicited advice to “make me feel better”. I have even listened to them at one point and I have been on a diet (as a result ii shrank to 130 pounds, 5,75 feet tall). I have changed my dietary regimen, but I have not found any magic wand, at least one that was able to file my wide bones. I have inherited them from my paternal side of the family, a mix of horsewomen and Viking women.
I was thinner but far away from being more confident, maybe because I was dreaming, day in and day out, of a lasagna. Eventually I was able to understand that nothing was wrong with me: it happened while I was in London, UK. The store manager at Piccadilly Circus explained to me the reason why I have never found any decent clothes: “In Italy – she said – the size system is less generous”. What does it mean? Basically Italy embraces an aesthetic canon, based on a ideal of beauty and physical perfection, with no chubby thighs and big hips allowed. Basically, the same skirt, from the same brand and on the same size suits better in the US and in the UK than in Italy.
Do not judge, please
A while ago I was in a jeans store in Los Angeles. I was afraid of been ridiculed by the shop girl, but eventually I have found the courage to ask her a size 12. She immediately raised her eyebrow. I was thinking: “Well, here we are again. She is about to kick me out or suggest I wear a trash-can cover”. Instead she invited me to take a look around: many plus size women, herself included, were walking around wearing perfectly fitting jeans. They compliment the natural curves of their bodies instead of trying to hide them all away.
I have started enjoying it and since then I have always shopped abroad, no sense of guilt attached. I have looked for – and I have found it in about 20 minutes – a formal dress for my best friends’ wedding in Amsterdam. The only downside? The boutique owner was sure this dress was supposed to be worn by the guy friend sanding next to me (as a drag queen). Nothing odd, really: everyone, abroad, enjoys the freedom of wearing whatever he or she wants, no bias, verbal and non-verbal micro-aggressions, attacks, judgements attached.
Luckily for me, I am surrounded by my “fairy godmothers and godfathers”, smiley people like my tailor Andrea, a pixie-like lady from Colombia: she is always able to entertain me with endlessly funny stories of customers who are “wider” than me (and always happy, no matter what). Her mother has an easy time shopping in the US too, where even the wardrobe is democratic and you can find all the options (petite, average e tall heights). She is the first one to celebrate the only dress I have ever asked her to clutch… to be honest, I was not thinner at all. I have just bought it in Florida where you can find every size, from “The amazing Mrs. Pepperpot” to “Totoro”. I have been all day long at a mall in Orlando looking like Alice in Wonderland: I have stopped consider myself like a crime scene or body evidence.
I have found a new balance
I have just stopped weighing my overall dimensions and I have started smiling again, whilst eating an home-made gelato/icecream. I live in a nice studio apartment in Southern Rome and the neighbourhood …….(meaning: many residents mix leopard print and zebra-striped). Nearby there is a rotisserie with a spinning chicken and Alvaro, the owner, calls me by my name and orders the usual. I am finally at peace with myself.
What “Body positivity” means to me is balance and – my nutritionist agrees with me – I have learned to stand up and demand more respect. I am now ready to imagine more inclusivity for Italian companies and brands, more fairness for their saleswomen and the ability to share a larger choices, for everyone and not only for an elite or for mannequins. I dream of a different reality, a place where plus size people are no longer segregated, like some kind of freakyloo.
I demand choice for any pocket size – from fast fashion to haute couture – because there is no dignity in begging for more inches of fabric. In the meantime my foreign friends keep asking me: “There are no plus size clothes in Italy? How is that even possible? You do love pizza”. That’s so sweet: if they knew “cuoppo”, fried fish cone from Campania, I am sure they will ask to include it among Unesco heritage listed wonders.
Here you find attached the article “Happy, curvy, adventures” (Le avventure di una curvy risolta), published on June 27th 2020 on weekly women magazine Io donna, supplement of Corriere della sera, the most important newspaper in Italy.
Here you find attached my previous article about body positivity on newspaper Leggo (translated in English here, Confession of a plus size mind).