Before The Slow Shift
Some athletic apparel companies are finally listening to consumers and are answering the call to create lines specifically for Athena athletes. Others continue to promote the idea of an aspirational body, restricting the sizes of their products in order to maintain a sort of weight-body-type status quo; in doing this, they miss out on an incredible opportunity to clothe an entire segment of the population that wants and needs well-made, high quality, functional, and beautiful sportswear.
Meet Susanne Johnson, a nurse practitioner, blogger at Purl Before Swine, all-around phenomenal woman and an Athena athlete. She began her fitness journey a few years ago after completing graduate school. She struggled to find apparel that fit her (i.e. didn’t ride up or down, bunch up between the thighs, cause chafing, or cause her to constantly adjust it, thereby ruining the spirit of the workout), but she soldiered on anyway, making her limited selection of clothing meet her needs. She could rarely shop at any sportswear store; the sizes would often only go up to an XL, which could be sized at 12-14 or 14-16, even though nowadays the average American woman’s waist ranges from 14-18. Susanne would often have to travel to the back of department stores to sections with labels like “Women” (which begs the question, Who is everyone else that identifies as female?), “Special Sizes,” “Plus Size,” “Maternity” and other terms that caused some discomfort and sense of alienation. It was a constant struggle for Susanne to find clothes that actually qualified as athletic and that weren’t pieces intended for athleisure.
Susanne also resorted to mens’ clothing too, even though the vast majority of items in XL and above wouldn’t even fit plus-sized men in the right way. They would typically be pieces that had not been sized and proportioned to fit actual people—they were simply cut larger without regard for the broad array of human shapes that did not fit in the standard sizing algorithm.
Here’s what she needed: compression material that actually compressed, wide waistbands that came up over the belly and butt and stayed there during exercise and quality material that was functional and flattering.
As I got deeper into my own fitness, I had the same list of needs. I looked all over, both in brick and mortar stores and online. Occasionally I would find something. I remember jumping for joy when I finally found a piece in over here in Marshall’s, there in Dick’s and further over there in the bottom of the clearance bin at Ross. These pieces might not have been intended for the constant rubbing and up and down and side-to-side movements of actual exercise, but they were a start.
So how did we get from having extremely limited choices to today’s growing (but certainly not sufficient) array of Athena apparel?