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Health and weight (young people)

Clothes, shopping and weight

Shopping is a popular activity for teenagers in the UK. But for people who are overweight and don’t take a regular clothing size, shopping can be stressful and humiliating. Both girls and boys said shopping made them feel miserable because nothing seemed to fit and it reminded them that they were different from their friends.
 

Rachael would like to be thinner so she could buy the same clothes as her friends.

Rachael would like to be thinner so she could buy the same clothes as her friends.

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So yeah I'm not happy with my size. And I would like to be thinner so that I could go into a normal shop and buy the clothes that my friends are wearing. I could choose the fashion that I want to wear. I mean like this, this is a men's top, you know. Grant given it was because it was the only sizes they did for the printing that we wanted. But you know. It’s a case of a lot of the time I can’t go to normal places. I can’t go to your uber fashionable places. But the places where I go most of the clientele are like a lot older than me - you know they're like mid forties plus. And that's weird to think that, you know, you'll be, you’re wearing the same clothes as like your 50 year old neighbour or whatever. That's kind of weird, you know it does mean that sometimes you can't be as uber fashionable because you do have to be conscience of what you're wearing as well.
 
It’s not pleasant because you think, you just kind of think, "If I was thinner I wouldn't be doing this you know. Again it’s because I'm fat that I'm doing this." And it isn't nice. And it does, you are always thinking about it, especially in public. But like I said, if I had the choice I wouldn't be this size. But, again I wouldn't want to be really, really thin, you know. Again going on this quest for normality. To be honest I doubt I’ll ever really find it because normality changes so often.
 
How does that make you feel?
 
It does kind of leave you in limbo. You know you kind of think, well you know especially like if you’ve got friends like, "Oh I got this from this uber trendy shop." And then you kind of go, "Yeah, I didn't." You know you do kind of feel left out. And like even stupid things like going shopping with your friends, you have to go to completely different shops.
 
And, you know you have to separate, like I'm off into the plus-sized sections and stuff like that. And you think, "Why am I doing this? I'm 18 you know, I should be a healthy weight. I should be buying clothes that my mates are buying. I should be in there with the rest of them."
 
You do feel kind of like isolated. And you know like if you go out on a night out and all your friends have got like really short dresses and uber high heels. And you think and you’re still there in jeans and a nice top instead because you daren’t get your legs out you know. Something like that it isn't nice to be always marginalized and on the outside of things.
 
 

Alex used to feel insecure when she went shopping with her friends. (Animated clip).

Alex used to feel insecure when she went shopping with her friends. (Animated clip).

Age at interview: 14
Sex: Female
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I just felt like upset and stuff like in clothes shops because you think, “I’m not going to fit into that,” and you can’t wear the same stuff as your friends and things like that. But now it’s just a healthier lifestyle and things like that. And now it’s changed a right lot since I started SHINE (Self Help Independence, Nutrition and Exercise). And it’s helped me gain more confidence.
 
So I’ll just ask you about some of these things. So you think you were overweight before you came?
 
Yeah.
 
And when you say ‘overweight’ what do you mean?
 
Like just not massively overweight, but like I were in the ‘obese’ category to start off with. But now I think I’ve dropped down to ‘overweight’ category. So I’ve lost quite a bit. And it’s helped me a lot with like school and things, and friendship groups and things like that.
 
And so with the, because you said you were in the obese group, and what does that mean?
 
It means like, you’ve got your underweight, and then you’ve got like average, and then obese, and then morbidly obese. And I were like overweight, but I were just like in the obese category. But I’ve kept it going and so I’ve like lost it. So I’m maintaining on ‘overweight’ now. So if I carry on I should be average for my height.
 
And so, I mean can you tell me, because I think you said, did you say that you can’t wear, you, or before, you couldn’t like get the same clothes as your friends and things like that?
 
Yes.
 
So were you a different size from your friends then?
 
Yes. My friends, they’re not skinny, but they’re not obese. So it just made me think, “Oh, I wish I could wear things like that and fit into them clothes.” And when I went shopping and stuff with my friends, I used to be like right insecure about like what I were going to pick up and think, “Should I get it?” Because I’m with them and I don’t want them to know what size I were. Things like that.
Asking ‘stick thin’ shop assistants for large sizes made some girls feel very embarrassed. One girl’s way around this was to get her mum to ask for bigger sizes pretending the clothes were for her. Another was never to try anything on and guess which size might fit. Several young people said that, although they liked the idea of shopping, in reality it made them feel like ‘crap’.
 

When shopping, Vicki sometimes gets her mum to pretend the clothes are for her. She never tries anything on in shops.

When shopping, Vicki sometimes gets her mum to pretend the clothes are for her. She never tries anything on in shops.

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Clothes as well, I tell everyone that I hate shopping, well I don’t really hate shopping, I hate shopping, I hate Top Shop, I absolutely love Top Shop. I just hate the fact that the biggest size they go up to like is a size 14 to 16. And I remember I went in there with my friend the other day and she’s got a really nice figure, she’s a size 12 I think and - well it wasn’t the other day it was the sale in the summer when the Kate Moss range had just been launched - and I walked in there and I was like, “Well I don’t know where I’m going” because I know that I’m going to want to buy something, but I don’t want to have to go up there and be like, “Excuse me, do you have this in an 18 or a 20 or something” because you know a) it’s Top Shop and they wouldn’t have sizes like that anyway, and b) it’s just embarrassing having to ask someone for a size that big. Like for me anyway, for an 18 year old girl to go up to someone and say, “Can I have a size 18 to 20?” it’s just like, “Ohh.” So I don’t do it, like, I get my Mum to go shopping for me, or I’ll go shopping with my Mum, and I know it sounds really sad but she pretends to be buying all the clothes for herself because I get so embarrassed about it.
 
And another thing that I hate about shopping as well is changing rooms, and like having to.. I don’t like trying on clothes, so I’ll buy a piece of clothing, not try it on, and then if it’s too big I’ll take it.. I won’t take it back, sorry, I’ll just be like, “This is really embarrassing, ‘cos they’re gonna, “ Too small? Because they’re gonna know that it’s too small - or I feel like they’re gonna know it’s too small. And like the girls in the door, on the changing room doors like, “How many items have you got?” “Three,” “Okay,” and I just feel like they’re looking at the sizes as well while they’re looking at it and I’m like, “Oh this is so embarrassing.” So I just don’t try on clothes anymore.
 

Huw finds clothes shopping 'demoralising' but luckily doesn't care much about fashion.

Huw finds clothes shopping 'demoralising' but luckily doesn't care much about fashion.

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I want to get to a healthy weight because that’s what matters, but I don’t want to be a stick figure. I think getting slim is being optimistic, I think I just want to cut down to be honest. It would be nice to go clothes shopping, because clothes shopping is the demoralising thing, I mean we’ve got a new mall, lovely clothes shops to go in but none, none, in my size, and I have to watch my friends and then I have to go and shop in like other places which have bigger sizes, which is so rubbish sometimes, and makes you feel crap when everyone else is wearing fashion. Well luckily I don’t give a damn about fashion, so it’s all fine. I don’t have any money anyway.
Losing some weight made some young women feel much better. They could buy the latest fashions from high street shops and no longer needed to borrow things from their mothers or wear clothes made for older people.
 

Now Alex has lost weight she’ enjoys choosing clothes and wearing the same as her friends.

Now Alex has lost weight she’ enjoys choosing clothes and wearing the same as her friends.

Age at interview: 14
Sex: Female
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Because you want to be up to date with like fashion things and you want your hair all the same. But like you just think sometimes, “If I wear this it might make me look bigger,” and things like that. But just ordinary daily life things have become much easier, like picking clothes in shops and things like that. And I can now wear the same as my friends and things like that. So it’s much happier to go shopping. I used to struggle before, if I went shopping with my mum I used to get upset, or if my mum like picked something out for me and it didn’t fit me, I used to get upset saying, “I’m not having a bigger size” and “I don’t want this,” and things like that. But now it’s just much easier because I can deal with it. If it don’t fit me I just think, “If it don’t fit me. I can get a bigger size. It don’t matter.”
Parents felt that their children were let down by fashion designers and high street shops. It was difficult for their teenage daughters when shops only stocked small sizes.
 

Dee and her daughter used to end up arguing whenever they went clothes shopping.

Dee and her daughter used to end up arguing whenever they went clothes shopping.

Age at interview: 47
Sex: Female
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Oh it was a nightmare, it was a complete nightmare. It was okay up until she was probably, because she’s always been big so she was always had clothes that were sort of a few years older than her age group. But up until about eleven, twelve that was fine and that but it was the teenage years that were the hardest, the teenage years were a nightmare because you’ve got, because you’ve got all these shops that sell, like Evans and ‘Roger Roger’ (there used to be a Roger Roger which was Jeffrey Rogers or whatever he’s called) their big shop, but the clothes are all for much older, they’re for sort of, you know, people in their thirties and above as it were and of course she wanted to wear all the teenage stuff because she was a teenager. She wants to wear all the young clothes and of course the young clothes don’t fit, you know, so it was really quite hard and that and if they do fit they don’t look right, as it were. So we ended up, you know having to go to shops and sort of buy stuff and then she sort of said, “Oh, you know, I look like I’m 40, sort of thing. I don’t want to look like I’m 40,” and that. So then she got into, so she created her owns fads as it were, so she became a ‘hat girl’ and so she’d have loads of different hats, all sorts of different coloured hats, and then she’d accessorise them with scarves and handbags and so it was a handbag-scarf sort of thing.
 
So she found her own way of sort of dancing up her outfits and things, she did it herself, she was quite happy with that but no , I was really glad actually I used to hate going shopping with her because it would always end in an argument. Always end in some sort of argument because it would always be, you know, that there wasn’t anything there that fitted her or if it did fit her I wasn’t happy with it so… you know. And she’d want to find, ”At the end of the day you are my child, you know, and I don’t want you to be walking around sort of wearing a belly top with big rolls hanging, you know, it just doesn’t look attractive.” “Oh you don’t like me the way I am”. “It’s not a question of me not liking you the way you are it, you’ve got to accept the fact that you’re too big. It’s too small - the top’s too small. You’re too big and it doesn’t look right”.
 
So it would always end in a big fight, so I hated it, absolutely hated it, and so I’m quite glad now that she can go and do her own thing, I don’t have to get involved.
 

She wishes her daughter wouldn't follow fashion and wear things like skinny cut jeans because...

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She wishes her daughter wouldn't follow fashion and wear things like skinny cut jeans because...

Age at interview: 47
Sex: Female
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But I don’t volunteer my clothes or anything anymore. I don’t want to do anything that’s going to make her feel bad. The going shopping bit is more difficult because obviously the sizes fit, but I think she looks at herself in the mirror, and what she sees is the shape of her rather than whether she’s a 10 or 12 or a 14. (That’s an irrelevance because people come in all sorts of sizes, you know somebody can be a size 16 and look absolutely gorgeous because it’s in proportion and it’s not just rolls of fat globbering around the place. It is their shape. It’s fine.) But poor [name] at the moment is whatever size she is because there is the extra and it distorts her shape.
 
Then of course I think it’s difficult think being a teenager because she wants to be in fashion and so if it’s low-waisted skinny-cut jeans, it’s not really the most flattering shape for her at all but she insists on wearing it because that’s in fashion. And then of course actually you’re constantly aware because you’ve got this muffin top and you’ve got this zip that’s struggling to stay up, whereas if she just wore combat trousers like me she’d be fine! Who knows when the fashions change? I do think how you feel in your clothes affects how you feel about yourself. And if the fashion is against you it just makes you actually feel bad about your body image even though your body might be perfectly fine just because it doesn’t go with whatever is supposed to be the shape now.  
Some parents said they felt sad when they saw their child trying to squeeze into clothes that were too small for them. They wondered whether they should tell their children the truth about how they looked, or pretend they looked OK.

Last reviewed July 2017.
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