I've never had to think all that hard about finding things to wear to the gym — throw on a pair of shorts or leggings, a sports bra, and a tank top, and I'm good to go.
But that's not the experience that many plus-size women have when shopping for athletic wear, according to a new study from Washington State University.
Researchers found that bigger women have a much harder time finding exercise clothing than any of us who wear straight sizes may have guessed; in fact, some even resort to wearing men's clothing to work out.
Researchers surveyed 56 women in the US between the ages of 20 and 72 who wore a size 14 or above. And while the sample size is only 56, 37% of them said they wear men's clothing to work out. Another 34% of those surveyed said they wear unisex clothing (which includes "a free and/or cotton t-shirt from an event").
"Consumer reports show that over 65% of women in the US wear plus-size clothing, which is defined as apparel over a US size 14," the study reads. Yet many popular athletic-wear brands, like Lululemon, only go up to a size 12; Sweaty Betty offers an XL size, but a look at the company's sizing chart shows that an XL also equals a 12.
In limiting sizes to 12 and under, these brands are basically saying, we're willing to cut out an entire demographic — an entire revenue stream — because they're not good enough to shop here.
"The results clearly demonstrate that the athletic apparel industry assumes that plus-size and obese people are not active — so why offer them clothes?" Dr. Deborah Christel, one of the study's co-authors, told Revelist via email.
"Most people assume that obesity and excess body weight is a choice and a personal problem," she continued, "I strongly disagree. Obesity is a very complex issue and many factors contribute to body weight."
And the fact that many trendy fitness brands don't make clothing above a certain size while larger women are often fat-shamed and told to "just work out more is "a vicious cycle that is perpetuated by many industries.
Overweight and obese people are highly discriminated against by personal trainers, doctors, nutritionists, therapists, etc., Dr. Christel said. Then, add to that the difficulty of finding workout clothing that makes you feel good about yourself, which, Dr. Christel adds, "greatly impacts women's motivation to be active."
"Despite these many social barriers, plus-size women are active," Dr. Christel said, "and they deserve fashionable, affordable, easily accessible athletic clothing."