Friday, December 12, 2003
posted by Julie |
Fitting in shouldn’t be so hard
I’ve had a long, eventful day, in and out of cars and elevators and meetings. Pushing carts, managing shoulder bags, noticing all the little ways that my body, at 100 lbs. lighter, pushes through and fits into the world better than it did before. Even as I consider this, though, I feel a rising anger and indignity that the world is, in fact, designed for people of medium height with very little body fat.
When you’re overweight, it’s hard to fit into things and places, or to find things that fit you. Fact is, possibly two thirds of us are overweight, and fully a third of us are obese. So when the “design of everyday things” favors the vast minority, you know something’s wrong.
In one of my past lives, I worked for a New York-based company that produced a famous architect’s bentwood furniture. It was fun, working on that project, with one glaring exception. When I visited New York, the company invariably put me up in a fatally hip hotel, where the furniture in the lobby could not accommodate my hips. It was all designed by another superstar industrial designer, but the seats were too narrow to allow me to sit in the lounge. I thought at the time, and still do, that this was an easy and obvious way of making sure only the prettiest people grace your lobby.
Another scene comes to mind. Shopping for jeans my size. Jeans are designed first for the runway, with pockets and appliqués tooled once for the production line. As sizes grow larger, the pockets and patches remain in the sample size, so that the whole garment looks ridiculous and ill-proportioned once it’s sized to fit the majority of the population. I gave up jeans and patch pockets for years.
This preference for the un-typical body affects bra engineering. Straps don’t stay up on rounded shoulders. Sock engineering – sock length is determined by smaller calf length and width, so socks don’t stay up on wider calves. Boot engineering – larger women give up on knee-high boots. Your no-line panty styles? Please. Who cuts these things?
It’s been an uncomfortable life. And while the world is just starting to get more comfortable for the heavier majority – T-style bra straps, stretch-suede boots, clothes designed by normally proportioned designers -- I have joined the minority ranks.
It’s an amazing thing, not having to leave my coat unbuttoned so I can reach under layers to pull up bra straps several times per car trip. It’s an odd feeling to walk across a parking lot, up a flight of stairs, sit at my desk and reach to pull up socks that are already up. Odd to make it through my day without a wedgie. Well, most days. It’s really something to see a chair and think “I will sit,” rather than, “can I possibly sit in that?”
While I believe these small comforts should be everybody’s right, I grew accustomed to going without them. The indignities of bad fit weren’t deserved or fair, but I lived with them, feeling somehow I did deserve them.
Now I know better, and though I’m happy to have a body that fits better in the world, I’m mad that more people don’t. The world should be made to fit people. Actual people. Not some idealized, preferred vision of what people could or ought to be.
I don’t know how the industrial and fashion design communities can work to catch up with the rest of the world. But I hope they do soon. Learn what sizes and shapes people really come in and focus a little harder on function and experience to provide all people with a more dignified life.
The Design of Everyday Things
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