Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Acceptable Prejudice

Dear Mr. Marketing-Dude [Not actual name, in case that isn't obvious],

I'm responding to an e-mail you sent a few weeks ago in which you inquired as to why my last purchase at [establishment name] took place over a year ago. I'd thought I wouldn't send anything in response, but after some time to consider further, I believe I will. Even knowing going in that nothing will likely come from this note, I do think it's important to voice opinions in order to see change, so here I go...

And so this letter, sent several weeks ago, began -- even though I started and stopped many times before actually hitting "send." I wanted to express my opinion about lack of size options for a variety of individuals, but I seemed to find myself hesitating because I know that little changes in the cycling industry when it comes to what is being supplied to those in need of non-standard sizing (smaller or larger). Additionally, I grow weary of sending similar sounding notes to various manufacturers. It's exhausting to waste my breath (key-strokes?) trying to explain something to a group of people that seem to not understand at all.

Neither of the individuals in our home have an easy time finding cycling clothing. One often can't find clothing small enough, and the other struggles to find items on the larger end of the spectrum (being a male and smaller than average is nearly as bad as being a female who extends beyond a U.S. size large), and I wanted to express this to the marketing individual who had reached out (granted, in the form of a mass e-mail that I'm sure was sent to everyone who hadn't purchased from the company in some time).

What amused me most was that there was a swift response directing me to something that doesn't exist in their inventory, and that also didn't address 75% of what I had written about in the letter. Besides that, is ONE item supposed to suffice as inventory? For once in my life, I'd been concise so as to not eat up the day of the person reading my letter, but I still felt as though I received a canned/brush-off response. I'm used to this though. No one seems to have follow through. Customer service is lacking almost anywhere. From the grocery store to big box home improvement, or brick-and-mortar retail to Amazon, I find few who are willing to actually do even the very basic necessities of their jobs.

More frustrating than anything is the internal battle/argument I have before attempting to address a situation. In the weeks prior to sending the above letter, I debated myself, trying to decide whether it was futile or not to respond to such an e-mail, but I know that if nothing is said then changes never materialize.

Over the years, I've written and called many companies expressing a desire (not only for myself, but for others as well) to expand their current size line for cycling, hiking, and other outdoor wear. While I often get some sort of response, it is almost never a response that takes any of my comments into consideration, nor will these organizations acknowledge that there is a need that isn't being met.

Another example of this was an e-mail sent to a different cycling wear company back in May of this year. I had purchased a pair of mountain biking shorts online. For those who fit into standard sizing, finding a pair of women's mountain biking shorts is not a big deal. These folks can walk into nearly any local bike shop and find something that will fit their needs. If, however, you are a female who needs shorts larger than about a U.S. size 12, you can pretty much forget about ever finding something in a shop, or even in all the vast and far reaches of the world wide web.

So, when I saw these seemingly fabulous mountain bike shorts on the company's website that stated they would fit me (per the size chart), I was ecstatic! Hurrah! Hurray! Finally!!! After searching for nearly a decade for mountain bike shorts, a company was finally creating something that would fit my body!

According to the size chart, I should have plenty of room in my usual size, but I decided to go up one size to ensure that I'd have lots of extra room, if needed.

Alas, when the shorts arrived, it was a comedic sketch-in-the-making. First, when I pulled the shorts out of their packaging, they were as flimsy a material as I've ever felt. Lighter than even the thinnest swim suit I've ever seen, thinner than the skimpiest of running shorts, I was shocked at the lack of substance to this product.

But, I still wanted to give them a chance. Even if they were lighter than I'd anticipated, finding a mountain bike short that fits has been a near-impossibility. As I unfolded the shorts and prepared to put them on they seemed small visually, but this is often typical of cycling clothing. I proceeded to pull and tug in an attempt to affix these shorts to my body with great effort. Eventually, they were on my body, but they were certainly not usable in any fashion as a mountain bike short, as I could barely button them and they were excruciatingly tight.

I cannot begin to express my disappointment. With a sigh, I packed the shorts back up and put them in a return envelope.

A level of frustration and annoyance had taken over at this point and I decided that I was not going to let this go without some kind of response. I sat down and typed out a letter, expressing my dissatisfaction with a company that I had once found to be one of the few organizations that supplied cycling clothing to women with more meat on their bodies, and in particular, I wanted to express my concerns with this particular garment.

I relayed that I have other pieces purchased a few years prior from their brand that are smaller in size and still fit fine. I expressed my disappointment with the quality of the fabric as well, and also advised that perhaps using a larger sized model might help with future iterations of clothing in larger sizes (since I'd even purchased up a size from their chart measurements and still could barely squeeze the shorts on). None of my remarks were said in anger, but were expressed in a manner that I hoped would be helpful to future lines of clothing and to assist the organization in potentially adjusting their size chart (which was definitely not accurate).

Before I sent the letter though, I decided to try ordering another pair, simply to see if I'd received a short that was a blemish or somehow cut incorrectly. Unfortunately, I had the exact same results, so off the letter went in both my return envelope and via e-mail. I wanted to make sure that the information was received, as I know that not everyone is willing to take the time to express problems directly to companies.

The response I received was shockingly argumentative and frankly, almost hostile. Instead of taking in my concerns and presenting a thoughtful response, this representative decided that she would rather have an electronic battle of wills, telling me that I was wrong and that their organization already uses a plus-size model for their larger sizes.

Her lengthy response hit on almost none of what I had addressed and she read into my words far too much, making assumptions about aspects that I hadn't even remotely thought. I could only assume that she was either having a very bad day or simply was accustomed to hearing only positive comments about their garments and therefore wasn't prepared to respond to someone who simply had a few constructive critiques to provide for the future (and, I even stated that I simply wanted to express my personal experience).

Having two such interactions with cycling companies in a relatively short amount of time is off-putting (to say the least), but it's just a surface scratch of the issue. It isn't just these two companies, nor is it limited only to cycling clothing manufacturers and businesses. Although I'd guess unintentional, over time, these types of responses from organizations direct a person to believe that s/he is alone in a battle that isn't going to produce a win or even small amounts of change, and often lead to thoughts of being unworthy of appropriate clothing for regularly engaged-in activities.

A few weeks ago, I was looking for some information on training to do a half Ironman race. It's something I've thought of doing for several years, but I've always hesitated because running is not something that agrees with my body (A messed up back/pelvis/hips, and genetically fragile knees don't make for the best runner in the world, especially carrying extra weight). Whether or not I'll actually try this is still up for debate, but I like to have information at the ready, just in case I do decide to give it a go.

As I was looking for training information, I happened upon a few-year-old thread that almost immediately sent me into fired-up mode. It started innocently enough with a person asking a question about how someone could be fat and complete an Ironman. For those unfamiliar with this type of race it consists of a 2.4 mile (3.8 km) swim, 112 mile (180.25 km) bike ride and ends with a 26.2 mile (42.16 km) run, all completed within a specified time frame (from what I've seen, usually racers have 17 hours to finish, with time cut-offs throughout the event that could end the race earlier for an individual).

The responses that the original poster received were many and varied, though most were extremely derogatory toward fat individuals. I was surprised that whomever was moderating the thread was willing to let many of the comments through, until I remembered that prejudices and these types of comments toward fat individuals are the last acceptable form of hatred (sizeism, fat phobia, etc) in the U.S. Everything from people stating that the time frame for completion needed to be lowered to "keep fatties out" of the race, to suggesting that the only foods an individual could be eating while training that hard and stay fat would have to be ice cream, pizza and cake.

You can imagine the other sort of talk that was taking place in this forum, so I won't go into it further (mostly because it just gets me worked up again). All that I could think while reading these comments was How dare you say such things about someone training to and completing a massive goal! and What business is it of yours what someone eats? I seriously doubt anyone is living on pizza and cake when training for any kind of event - Ironman or otherwise - or they'd be very sick and incapable! and So, because someone doesn't complete a goal in the same amount of time as you do, it invalidates their effort, training and accomplishment? There were other thoughts as well, but you can easily see where my mind was going as I perused the very long list of individuals who were judging those that they believed shouldn't be allowed to compete in these types of events.

While this likely sounds like a lot of ranting (and it is, at least in part), occasionally I feel the need to put something here to remind myself and others that this is not an acceptable way to treat each other. Whether an organization that doesn't want to produce product for a certain population, or an individual who is spouting off anonymously (or otherwise) online, this kind of thinking and speaking doesn't provide anything positive or constructive.

Why do we as humans feel the need to make others feel lesser in order to make ourselves feel better, stronger, faster? Why does trying to invalidate someone else's accomplishment make our completion of a goal better or cause us to feel more worthy? How does tearing someone else down improve our own idea of self?

If you haven't seen it, check out this story about a plus-size model who confronted a man on a plane who was sending comments via text to a friend about her body size before a flight to Los Angeles. It's a short video, so it's a quick watch, but it assists in illustrating my point: society at large finds it completely acceptable to body shame those who are fat; and for some reason, it seems to be more acceptable to do this to females than males. Of course, that could be an entirely extended discussion about gender bias in this country as well.

I am by no means perfect, and I understand that we are all surrounded by imperfect humans. I also accept that we are each going to do or say things that we will later regret or feel differently about than at the time a statement was said or an action was made. But, how do we change the dialogue that takes place, particularly in a web-focused, easy-to-be-anonymous world, so that attitudes begin to change and hatred for others dissipates? How is a world created where we appreciate each other's differences and embrace the reality that we excel in different areas of life?

Here in this space, we come together over a love of bicycles and riding. I have no doubt that we are all of different stature, ethnicity, and weight. We come from different upbringing and backgrounds. We have different religious and political beliefs. We have different careers. Some are single, married, have children or don't. Some are gay, straight, bisexual, or transgender. Some train for cycling events, some are happy to ride for transportation only, and others can't stay off a bicycle no matter the purpose.  Regardless, we can come together over a shared love or appreciation. I suppose I find it challenging to understand why this cannot spread to other areas of life. Maybe it can.


  1. I know how you feel. So frustrating. I don't think we will see any change in offerings from the brick and mortar bike shops in our life time. For whatever reasons, it seems too many LBS owners are old, not tech savvy (unable to track or mine customer inquiries and search data), and small in stature.

    The funny thing is the few retailers that do offer larger sizes quickly sell out. But because they offer so few, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy that the numbers sold are low.

    1. It seems to be difficult to find gear that's even manufactured, so I understand why it's limited in local bike shops, if it's found at all - and yes, when it is there, it seems to disappear off the shelves quickly (unless it has poor fit).

      When I worked in retail women's clothing in the early 90's, I remember unpacking the boxes of clothing for the racks and even then having an awareness of size disparity. I happened to work for a company that carried sizes from 0-26, crossing the range from the very petite up through plus size. Anyway, the boxes always came separated (as though cooties were somehow going to cross over onto the "other" clothing) with standard sizes being in one box and plus being in another. It may have been that the sizes were produced by different manufacturers, but what always struck me more than that was how many of each of the sizes arrived. I don't recall exact numbers from that time, but it would pretty much lay out as 2-XS, 8-Small, 10-Medium, 2-Large, 2-XL. Inevitably the large and extra large would be the first off the shelves, leaving an excess of the small and medium sizes. It wasn't that all the sizes weren't needed and purchased, but it always fascinated me that there was rarely a large or extra large left after a couple of days on the floor.

      The other day I was linked to a website that was selling t-shirts for some sort of cause, but I always look at size charts simply because I'm curious what manufacturers are doing. They had separate men's and women's t-shirts instead of unisex, which is always nice. The men's t's went from small up to 4X. Admittedly, it's not horribly common to see a t-shirt range that extends to a 4x even in men's sizes. The women's t's though were sized from XXS to XL, and then had a caveat stating that the shirts ran two sizes small. Basically, telling the world if you're bigger than a size medium, don't even bother.

      I guess what I'm saying is that in a world (cycling clothing) where fit is already snug, usually runs small, and has a limited market, I suppose it shouldn't surprise me that there is both a lack of production of product and little willingness to try something different - even though I do believe there is a consumer group for the product.

  2. I test/review a fair amount of cycling clothing, and sizing seems to be a complete and total crapshoot. Take baggy/mtb shorts, for example. One company's large will fit my 36" waist, whereas I need an XXL in another brand.

    Shoe companies don't appear to shy away from producing larger sizes, so maybe we can use that as leverage with the clothing companies.

    1. I think your experience follows right in line. If a male with a 36" waist is buying XXL shorts, something just seems off, doesn't it? Personally, I don't care what the number/size is on clothing, but I wish there were better consistency and enough variance to cover everyone.

    2. I agree - the sizing across brands and even within a brand sometimes -- is terribly inconsistent. What drives me crazy is when the sizing chart gives actual measurements for waist and hips, but the garments don't match those measurements AT ALL. Ugh.

    3. Kendra, I think that was my biggest annoyance with the one cycling clothing company I contacted... that the size chart suggested that my measurements and the clothing measurements aligned, so when that wasn't the case (even after going up a size), I think anyone would be slightly (or more than "slightly") peeved.

  3. Ugh. This is very frustrating. I will say that I can fit in most women's large cycling clothes, however, no one considers me a large person. So this is problem number 1. Unrealistic sizing. The large size never fit me well, because while I'm tall and skinny, I have an odd shape. But what is MORE frustrating to me is I entered into the cycling industry 3 yrs ago, and I have MANY female customers that do not fit into cycling clothes - and I hate it. I want to promote womens cycling, however, I a not able to offer them a wonderful line of sizes, fabrics, colors that make cycling more comfortable and fun.

    1. It is very frustrating. I believe the only way things will change is when there is a larger voice coming together that causes the industry to understand that riding a bicycle has nothing to do with being a certain size, shape, weight, and so on. When the few are trying to fight a battle that affects many, it can be challenging to get an active response and change from what has been done for many years.

      I do believe some of it has to do with an overall perception within the general population that fat people don't do anything...which could not be farther from the truth. The reality within the cycling industry is that a person could be of average size and still have a problem finding clothes that fit properly. I've had friends who are considered "normal" in size (just as you indicated) who also don't find appropriate wear for cycling because of various reasons. Everything from having shorter or longer limbs to off-the-standard proportions and so on. Sometimes, it's simply that the clothing is cut so small.

      Unfortunately, I don't have an immediate answer to this issue, but I do hope that the voices who are speaking out will be heard and change will come.


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