Inclusion, representation matters

Cortney Wood

Cortney Wood
Cortney Wood

I’ve heard the whispers my entire life. As I walked down hallways in middle and high school, I always heard the hushed comments about my weight. I get it—I’m fat. This isn’t news to me. I’ve been overweight my entire life, and while I’m not exactly the picture of health, I know that I should never be made to feel like I don’t matter. Like I shouldn’t be around. Like I don’t belong.

So, I blended in.

If you see me walking around, chances are I’m sporting a T-shirt, shorts and my Chacos. Maybe a jacket if it’s a little chilly out, but on most days, I’m pretty consistent. Being overweight, I could never just walk into any store and hope to get cute clothes like all my friends. Heck, I was lucky if they carried a T-shirt in my size, and over time I learned that department stores didn’t want me. As I would walk through the rounds of clothes and pick up shirt or touch a pair of jeans, I felt the employees eyes. I could hear their internal monologue: “As if she could ever wear that. Those pants would bust at the seams if she stuffed herself into it.” So instead of subjecting myself to that brand of torture, I stayed in my bubble, away from anything my fat may bulge out of. And so went my life. T-shirts, shorts and shoes. Absolutely ordinary. Absolutely hidden. Because I never saw representation, I knew I didn’t belong with everyone else.

This was until a little over a year and a half ago on June 10, 2016 when a new plus size inclusive store debuted in Wichita Falls.

Sikes Senter Mall is one of the only shopping strips in town, and is an easy spot to kill a few hours. I’ve roamed the mall my entire life, so when a new store debuts, Wichitans tend to get excited. As the store began to come together, my curiosity piqued. Torrid? I had never heard of it. But a place that catered to plus size women? I was up for anything.

After one single stop into the store, I was hooked.

Before you even set foot into the store, you’re greeted with a bright, bold sign, in all caps, illuminated by a soft light, unafraid to be noticed along side three plus size mannequins dressed to the nines. So I walk inside and am greeted with smiling faces eager to talk and build relationships. People who look like me. People that dress in stylish clothes, not hidden by whatever they can fit in, but instead clothes they choose. Not stuck with anything, but instead wearing clothes made specifically for their bodies, not just thrown together out of necessity.

According to their Glassdoor webpage, Torrid’s “exclusive collections are designed to fit flawlessly, inspiring to feel confident and sexy-with no apologies.” For once in my life, I began seeing those words as descriptions of me: not of someone who hid, but someone who is beautiful, confident and unapologetic for that.

Just one store opening in little ole Wichita Falls opened me up to a level of confidence I had never experienced. Before then, I never understood the fuss about inclusion or representation. While I will never know the harsh extent of what isolation feels like, I can attest that inclusion matters, and it affects people more than anyone would realize.

Because I see fabulous women confidently standing together to encourage one another, I understand the gravity of inclusion, on a minor scale, granted, but it forced me to see why society has to be better. It has to raise us up so no one feels left out or let down.

Because I once blended in. Now, I stand out.

Cortney Wood is a mass communication sophomore.