Is This What Fat Shopping Heaven Looks Like?

New York has always had a reputation as a shopper's paradise. And it can be. But for 67% of women, that Sex And The City-fueled myth is total b.s. The city is a plus-shopping desert. There are some bright spots however, like Big Fat Flea. The day-long shopping extravaganza held at the NYU Law School features new and vintage clothing in sizes large and up. And with everything priced at $12 and under, it makes sense that hundreds of people flock to the annual event in droves. But the fashion is just the beginning of what they find there. Community. Sisterhood. Confidence. These are just a few of the words that came up again and again as we talked to some of the Flea's shoppers. Ahead, we profile four women, who not only share their favorite finds, but explain why we desperately need more size inclusive shopping options for people everywhere.
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Name: Liza Eckert
Age: 34
Size: 22/4 or 2X/3X usually
How did you first find out about the Big Fat Flea?
"I first found out about the Big Fat Flea back when it was called the Fat Girl Flea Market... I was relatively new to fat acceptance at the time, so being in a big room of people who were built like I am and loving themselves for it was inspiring. I remember being at the actual event and seeing people who would just drop trou wherever they could find space to try something on and being amazed that people were so comfortable with themselves. Several years and a lot of fat acceptance work later and I’m still not sure I would do that."
How is the Big Fat Flea different or similar to other shopping experiences you've had?
"It’s very different than most other shopping experiences, in the best way possible. First of all, they actually have my size. Most places don’t, unless you’re in Lane Bryant or that single sad-looking rack of plus sizes they tuck in the back corner of places like Marshall’s or TJ Maxx. At the Flea there’s no corner of shame, hidden away so as not to offend the delicate eyes of the thins. It’s all fat all the time, right out in the open. The environment is supportive; no one is going to tell you you shouldn’t wear something because it doesn’t mask your belly, or it’s not 'flattering' (Ugh!)."
What have you bought?
"I know I bought a plaid flannel shirt and denim mini skirt one year. I got a few sweaters, too, and they will make a reappearance on my body as the weather gets cooler."
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It can be hard to find community as a fat person. Even if your friends are well-meaning, if they’re thin there are things they just don’t get.

Why are events like the Big Fat Flea important? What does it do to create awareness for the plus community?
"Events like this are so important. It can be hard to find community as a fat person. Even if your friends are well-meaning, if they’re thin there are things they just don’t get. New York can be downright hostile for fat people, too. We’re surrounded by mainstream fashion, plus the city’s health department is still on its anti-fat crusade. That’s gotten a little less blatant since [Mayor Mike] Bloomberg left office, but there are still ads on the subway that show a bottle of soda with a belly telling us we’re all doomed because we’re fat, so to have a place to go where we can just be us and celebrate that is wonderful. Even if you don’t buy anything, being in a room of supportive fatties is amazing.
"I think it’s important for events like this to get a lot of attention and create awareness of the plus-size community and our needs. Fat people turn out in droves to buy clothes, so why aren’t more brands selling them in brick-and-mortar stores? I think we’re finally making a tiny bit of headway in the fashion world, with more brands using plus models at Fashion Week and with Project Runway using size diverse models this season, but there’s still a long way to go. I should be able to walk into any store with a tiny little size 4 friend and walk out having bought the exact same outfit as her for the same price. I don’t think that’s too much to ask."
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Name: Brenda Jones
Age: 59
Size: 26
How did you first find out about the Big Fat Flea?"I first found out about the Big Fat Flea through friends in the community & NOLOSE, a volunteer-run organization dedicated to body empowerment."
How is the Big Fat Flea different or similar to other shopping experiences you've had?"My first experience at the Big Fat Flea was when it was at the LGBT Community Center. I saw friends arriving, leaving, hanging at the entrance, talking, flirting...it was unlike any shopping experience I ever had. I rarely shopped with other people and often made my own clothes because shopping was always so disappointing — this was fun! There's also so much encouragement from other shoppers at the Flea — no judgements, just lots of love! Folks travel from pretty far distances to shop. You can find so much: I dress a bit femme-ier; one of my roommates looks for business attire; another dresses more masculine. It's all there.
What have you bought?"Shirts, pants, a vest, a jacket. One of my roommates finds a lot of their work wardrobe there. The other finds super-size clothes."
Why are events like the Big Fat Flea important? What do is it do to create awareness for the plus community? "The Big Fat Flea is a wonderful, joyful event — it's a chance to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. We also don't have many opportunities to shop and feel good about our bodies. And now, with so many retailers who have their plus-size clothing online only, we don't have the opportunities to shop with others, it's often done in isolation, very solitary. It's also pretty cool to take over a space like the NYU Law School; we're all around the building and the neighborhood! Lots of fat folks in the trendy Village! It's wonderful visibility; we get to take up the space we need, together."
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Name: Misha Mayers
Age: 37
Size: 18/20
How did you first find out about the Big Fat Flea?
"I was introduced to the Big Fat Flea through one of my closest friends, this was back in 2011 when it was called the Fat Girl Flea Market. Back then only a few brands were providing trendy clothing for fuller-figured women. All my life I’ve been a die-hard fashionista, and a few thoughts had ran through my head: What a rummage sale tailored around plus size women, who thought of this? Possible awesome vintage finds, I’m in there."
How is the Big Fat Flea different or similar to other shopping experiences you've had?
"My first Big Flea was awesome. My daughter was 1.5 years old, and my friend had cancelled on me. I couldn’t find a sitter, so I decided that I was going to take her with me. I didn’t really know what to expect, so I was a bit nervous around the possibility of the event being disorganized and the having to deal with rude New Yorkers. Nonetheless, I was still going to attend — plus, I used the stroller as a cart!
"I passed quite a few woman on the street headed in the opposite direction carrying pink and black bags. I saw that the bags were labeled 'Fat Girl Flea,' and this put more pep in my step. The venue was filled with beautiful fuller-figured woman that looked similar to me. I was overjoyed. The fact that there were tables of clothing that could fit me and proceeds go to a good cause... I was ready to shop. I recall my daughter and I rolling away with two shopping bags filled with clothing. One of which contained an all time favorite: a 2x navy blue Calvin Klein trench coat. I still have it to this day."
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What have you bought?
"Since 2011, I have gotten more pieces that I can count. I have gotten bathing suits, dresses, coats, tees, jackets, shapewear, belts, necklaces, bags, and shoes."
Why are events like the Big Fat Flea important? What does it do to create awareness for the plus community?
"Events like the Big Fat Flea provide a positive environment for the plus-size community. We get to laugh, share styling tips, foster relationships, and overall have a blast. It creates awareness that you don’t have to be a single size to enjoy the beauty of life and fashion. Our sizes don't make us any different from any other women. The Big Fat Flea is what I call an all-exclusive warehouse sale, where plus-size women can be comfortable trying on clothing in a positive environment. Every woman is bound to walk away with more confidence and fashionable items. What more can a girl want?"
Name: Janie Martinez
Age: On the interesting side of 40.
Size: Gargantuan. Suigeneris. "Specialty Catalogue Size"
How did you first find out about the Big Fat Flea?
"My friend Marina Wolff, the founder of Big Moves, introduced me to the vibrant world of NOLOSE and The Fat Girl Flea Market, and its newest incarnation Big Fat Flea."
When was your first experience at the Big Fat Flea and what do you remember about that experience?
"It was as if I had been in the desert for a lifetime searching for water and I finally found an oasis that was so welcoming. It was so refreshing to be in the presence of people who looked like you, who welcomed you, cheered you on, and supported you in any possible way. Maybe this is what heaven is supposed to be like? What stood out to me was the freedom. That is to say, when we were in the communal changing room, there was a sense of sisterhood and support that I had never had before in my life. Women of all shapes, sizes, ages, in walkers, with friends, everyone just sharing the opportunity to play dress up. That's pretty cool, isn't it? It's all one big sandbox, and we all still want to play.
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"The retail experience will never compare to the Big Fat Flea. In the Flea, we are all cheering you on, being positive, size inclusive, encouraging you to love yourself and embrace your curves and support everyone that walks through the door. Retailers might co-opt the language of inclusivity, but the Big Fat Flea is the real deal."

I live for the Flea because it would be cost prohibitive to try to dress like regular/straight size people. The burden is unknown to them.

What have you bought?
"I don't play when it comes to shopping at the Flea. I will take all the clothes in my size when possible (because they don't make that many in the 4-5x range). Most of my quality clothes come from the Flea. I have fantastic dresses from Igigi, SWAK, and several LBDs from Torrid, Avenue, and Catherine's. It's NYC baby, you gotta have your black dresses to take from the office to the bar! I make sure I take very good care of them because the cost of these dresses are very expensive, especially in special sizes, so you never know if a retailer is going to offer that size, material, or design again. I live for the Flea because it would be cost prohibitive to try to dress like regular/straight size people. The burden is unknown to them. We cannot just go to any store and pick up clothes at affordable prices."
Why are events like the Big Fat Flea important? What do is it do to create awareness for the plus community?
"The Flea is important for many reasons, it stands as a way for our community to unite, not just as a marketplace for clothes, but as a podium for ideas. It revives the batteries of our advocates who fight day and night to give voice to our plight for fairness and respect."
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