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Essay: The Weight of Poverty

Contributor Katy Stegall reflects on the overlooked costs of plus-sized fashion today
Painting by Noah Saterstrom of San Diego Magazine contributor Katy Stegall featuring her taking a selfie and reflecting on the weight of poverty
Painting by Noah Saterstrom

By Katy Stegall

Recently, I met someone and shared with them that I grew up in a single-wide trailer. He acted surprised. He said I didn’t look like I had.

I was immediately defensive. What exactly does a person raised in a trailer park look like? I wanted to ask. But I already knew the idea he had in his head: Chain-smoking in clothes that haven’t fit right in five years, dollar-store eyeshadow, and a sweat-slick messy bun in a yard littered with trash. This low-income white persona is one I often fear emulating.

And while this image is nothing like my quiet trailer park back home in Big Bear, people have ideas, and I’m painfully aware of them.

We live in a society that hates poor people. We also live in a society that hates fat people, and since I grew up checking both of these boxes, I have often felt the need to overcompensate to avoid being stereotyped.

I wish I had the privilege thinner women have of showing up to work with no makeup on, in jeans and a t-shirt. But I’m terrified of being seen as lazy or unkept. I overwork to the point of burnout out of a fear of being perceived as careless. My love for makeup doesn’t stem from some artistic appreciation, but from the dread of being read as messy.

Katy Stegall sitting in her car as she reflects on her experience with plus sized fashion and poverty
Courtesy of Katy Stegall

It all adds up. It’s expensive to look good when you’re overweight.

Because let me tell you, clothes for fat women aren’t cheap—even if the material they’re made from is. The most size-accessible stores are usually a few trend cycles behind. Some of the options are actually horrific. Shops like Torrid, the plus-size clothing store that holds the monopoly in this market, are still trying to sell us cold-shoulder tops. The trend died over 10 years ago in straight-sized fashion, but I have yet to escape it.

Since I can’t afford the overpriced choices, I add them to the wish list, wait, then hope a major sale comes along before the few items I want are sold out.

It’s worth it for the consistent compliments I receive on my cute dresses and flawless makeup, but I wish all this overthinking and overspending wasn’t necessary.

I have spent an egregious amount of money to avoid looking like I didn’t have money, and that comment—that I don’t match someone’s idea of what a trailer park kid looks like—had me feeling proud… while simultaneously being embarrassed for feeling that pride.

I wish I could just live like everyone else. Some days looking good, and some days just getting out the door. But that’s not an option for someone like me.

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