Taglie Forti: The Plus Side of Being Plus Size
There is a store in Bologna where I go to buy fat clothes. It’s a discreet corner property with a small private parking lot and windows on two sides that advertise (even this, somehow, discreetly) “taglie forti.” Taglie forti is a genteel way to communicate the equally genteel concept of “Plus Sizes.”
Let us be frank: If you’re not built like Daniel Radcliffe (5’5” and fashionably gaunt), buying clothes in Italy is a nightmare. What Italians call XL is what Americans would call “medium” and even the rare Italian “XXL” doesn’t usually fit me. Meanwhile, there’s so little uniformity among sizes that you can’t just memorize the fact that you’re, let’s say, a “60” (which, if it’s meant to express centimeters, converts to 23.6 inches, which – what’s that about?) and dash in to riffle unobtrusively through the racks for something in your size. I have a pair of “60” jeans that are too big, and a pair of “60” khakis that are so small Dolce Metà could wear them without tightening his belt much (and his “taglia” is far from “forte” although, like the vast majority of Italians, he’s obsessed with his weight). Then there’s the fact that stores virtually never carry that size in the first place.
In fact, going into an Italian clothing store—even the working-classish ones like Oviesse—is sufficient to bring on an instant shame attack. Among all those gently rolling hillocks of Ken-sized slacks and flocks of pigeon-chested shirts that swoop in at the bottom like a corset, how not to feel like a freak? I mean, let’s visit Amazon.com’s helpful “Apparel & Accessories” department for a reality check: Good old Lee’s dungarees are right there in my size (and w-a-y bigger besides)—you don’t even have to click on some semi-hidden link for “Junior Morbidly Obese Petite.” And Dockers, the pants for men with middle-age spread, have me covered as well (so to speak). All that in less than a minute. So what’s the problem?
[Answer: Other than the fact that U.S. clothing retailers are legally prohibited from shipping clothing into Italy, either via Amazon or directly, nothing.]
Once I get back to the house after a clothing outing, I rediscover my rage: What do I have to feel shame about? But there, in the store, when one thing after another doesn’t fit, the experience is invariably humiliating. Aren’t other people looking at you and thinking, Italianly, “What you need is to fare una bella dieta”? Aren’t they thinking, “You’re sure not going to find anything here in your size, ciccio bello”? And maybe you’re kidding yourself. Maybe, when you look in the mirror and see not-exactly-outrageous middle-aged chub, it’s an optical illusion of the mind and you’re only a kilogram away from having Geraldo show up and saw open the front wall of your second story and haul you out with a crane like a grand piano.
Now, Italians would have you believe—or, perhaps, it’s foreigners who would like you to believe, since they’re often much more interested than Italians in maintaining the myths of Italy—that there are no fat Italians. (See, e.g., my review of Anthony Doerr’s dippy little book about Rome—http://tinyurl.com/4d7k3a.) But it isn’t true: They’re everywhere, and on more than one occasion I’ve been tempted to go up to one of them and ask him where he buys his pants. Me, I’m mostly living in the clothes I brought from the You Ess of A more than three years ago, and they’re not terribly far from turning into dust rags.
Anyway. Margad, the place to go in Bologna for taglie forti. The doors of Margad are like the entrance to the Time Tunnel: Inside, it’s always 1962. The salesmen are quiet, excruciatingly polite men with crepe-soled shoes and an air of dignified solicitousness. They’re all of at least middle age, though the fellow at the register qualifies as verily ancient. Everyone speaks in semi-whispers. The store is much larger than it appears to be from the outside, and your clerk (who accompanies you the entire time) whisks you off to a counter far from the front of the store where you can be alone with him. He asks what you want. You wait there and he brings you things, as much as you want: shirts, pants, underwear, walking shorts, from all over the store. You can take hours. Outside the dressing room, your clerk hovers politely on the other side of the curtain to take a first look at you so you don’t have to come out into the main part of the store and be seen wearing something that isn’t right. Best of all, the clerks at Margad virtually never, ever pull out a measuring tape. They glance at you and they Just Know. They’re not salesmen, they’re Dressers.
What isn’t straight out of 1962 at Margad are the prices. Indeed, all of this attention, as you might well imagine, costs (to say it with the Italians) an eye out of your head, which means I go there rather less often than I probably should, given the condition of my wardrobe. But it is the mere fact of having to go there that truly mitigates Margad’s virtues. The quiet, courteous attention can be read as a sort of complicity with the forces that propel you there in the first place: The guys in the shop know you’re embarrassed, and their courtesy suggests a sort of “we know it’s dreadful to be here, but we’ll make it as painless as possible” attitude, the way I imagine people treat you at an abortion clinic.
It is a reminder that I am a failure. That I am not a person who has Weight Loss Goals. That I don’t Drink More Water to Lose Fat or have Fat to Fabulous Success Stories to share. I don’t ever expect to Be Thin For Life, Burn Carbs, or Beat Back Belly Fat. I have not signed the Make Fat People Lose Weight petition on PetionOnline.com and don’t foresee ever changing my email moniker to “former_fatty.” You cannot Ask Me How.
Worst of all, I suppose, is that I don’t really care. Or rather, I do, at least intermittently, but there’s quite a lot of competition. I care about it somewhere down the list from “Am I going to finish this translation before the deadline?”, “What if I get kicked out of the country?”; “Will Dolce Metà ever manage to learn English?”; “How am I going to find the time to clean this oven properly?” and “Do we have enough money to pay the rent, the credit cards, and the Brobdingnagian gas bill this month?”
If anybody is especially concerned about my lack of concern, I invite him/her/them to resolve all the issues listed above, at which point I promise to dedicate myself full-time to a Realistic Weight Loss And Healthy Exercise Program To Live Longer and Feel Great! In the meantime, I’d really appreciate it if skinny people would clear the area when I’m shopping for clothes: You make me nervous, and it’s just like they used to warn back in fourth grade: You wouldn’t want me to sit on you, would you?