Buenos Aires has an established reputation as the fashion capital of Latin American. Yet, for many, finding stylish clothes that fit can be a nightmare, as many shops and designers focus only on small and skinny sizes.
According to research by NGO Any-body Argentina, around 75% of Argentine women cannot find fashionable clothes, while retailers in the country mainly sell clothes that only 30% of women here can actually fit into.
Sharon Haywood, a body image activist working at the NGO explains that “average sized women are excluded in Argentina. Even the clothes which claim to be one size fits all are only really in a small size.” She stresses that it is not only the overweight that face difficulty. “I am talking about normal women with normal size bodies, often shops do not stock more than a size 38, there is a complete discrimination against average sized women.”
Ley de Talles
This problem exists despite legislation that obliges retailers to stock an extensive range of sizes for women’s clothing.
Since December 2005, the Ley de Talles (Size Law) has required that shops in Buenos Aires province stock Argentine sizes 38-48, which equates to a UK 10-20 or a US 8-16. The law also stipulates the actual size to be clear and visible on the garment rather than a vague small, medium or large indication. Similarly, it obligates the garment must have a label with the bust, waist, and hip measurements that adhere to standards set by IRAM, the National Institute for Normalisation and Certification.
A similar law was sanctioned in the capital in late 2009, requiring retailers in the capital to stock eight sizes between Argentine sizes 36-50. The legislation also sets out to standardise sizes according to IRAM. Adriana Nuñez, from the organisation said: “The problem is that the public do not know what measurements the clothes are, for example in some shops a size three is a completely different size to other shops. It should be like shoes where you are the same size in every shop you go to.”
However, despite the legislation, and the threat of a fine or closure for retailers that don’t comply, questionable enforcement means that finding larger-sized clothes remains a challenge. Any-body Argentina believes that the law has a mere 25% compliance rate in the province. The group says the main reasons for this poor compliance rate are because of the initial investment it requires and the high corruption of the government agencies who check the retailers.
According to Nuñez, this lack of enforcement is particularly problematic in the capital. Almost two years after passing through the city legislature, the law is still awaiting final regulation and approval from Mayor Mauricio Macri.
With no enforcement, many retailers and designers are reluctant to change. Silvia Barios, who works at ‘La Rural’, a clothes shop in Palermo specifically equipped with bigger sizes and stocks up to a size 70, claimed that often designers prefer the appearance of their clothes on smaller women and they want to save costs so do not produce larger sizes.
Some brands simply want to maintain their fashionable skinny image. Veronika Salemon, owner of Mabruk boutique in Palermo said, “My shop sells up to a medium, I suppose we think that it is just smaller girls who want these clothes. We do sell some things in larger sizes such as coats.”
Why is a Law Needed?
The limited range of clothing sizes angers many who say it encourages the idea that women here must have a certain ‘ideal’ body type. When introduced, the legislation on sizes was primarily targeted to curb eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia, which have a higher incident rate in Argentina than any other country except Japan.
Angela Meade, a psychotherapist, says the inability to find clothes that fit can be damaging. “If women’s natural appearance is rejected by way of not being able to buy clothes in their size, many women internalise this message as being failures by way of their womanhood.”
This stereotype of beauty is promoted by the Argentine entertainment industry, which features programmes such as ‘Bailando por un sueno’ that distinctly sexualise young women and can be particularly damaging for teenagers.
María Augustín, an Argentine mother said, “I went shopping with my 15-year-old daughter in Palermo shops recently and it was a disaster. She is a size 40 and her weight is normal but she could not find any trousers so now she thinks she must diet. The lack of sizes makes people think we should all be as thin as the mannequins in the shop windows.”
Taking the Initiative
In the absence of correct enforcement, some are taking the initiative themselves. To try and boost compliance, the Any-body group has set up a new initiative to reward shops that stock the correct range of sizes with a logo sticker on the window, helping women know where to find clothes in their size.
Initially, the organisation wanted to reward retailers with a 100% compliance rate; however they could not find a single one. But shops such as VER and Portsaid have been recognised as selling a wider range of sizes and their sticker can be found on these shops’ windows.
Other recent activities include a catwalk show ‘Nobody measures your body’, which took place in La Plata on 26th September, featuring models with a mixture of body types to promote the importance of retailers stocking clothes for different body types.
The NGO Start Over organised the fashion show, along with politician Horacio González who stated that not being able to buy the right clothes is a “form of social violence”. Additionally, on 29th September, Mariana Petracca, an ex-winner of the Argentine weight loss programme, ‘Cuestion de Peso’, and a militant campaigner for the law, took to the streets of the city to vocally campaign for more awareness and compliance of the issue.
Petracca says: “Real women, with no weight problems but with curves have to forget about buying clothes they like and just get the clothes they fit into.” She has a shop on Cabildo for women with curves as she strongly believes that women cannot show off their bodies when they can’t find clothes that fit.
Call to Action
Campaigners hope that creating more awareness will pressure the authorities to enforce the size law.
In the province of Buenos Aires, at least, some progress is being made. According to the newspaper Periovista, in the first four months of 2011, shops in the province were fined $450,000 for not complying with the size law. This is a 170% increase on fines in the same time period in 2010.
Santiago Cafiero, the sub-secretary for industry in the province of Buenos Aires, emphasised that it “is very important that female teenagers have access to all sizes, especially to combat bulimia and anorexia.” He also claimed that the government have held meetings with the textile industry unions so that they fully understand what the law entails.
In addition, on 5th September of this year, the law was amended to include a wider range of sizing in men’s clothing too. Although they may be less vocal about the problem than women, they still suffer from size discrimination.
With election year almost at an end, there are hopes for more improvements in the coming year. “Hopefully in early 2012, Macri will sign the law for the capital of Buenos Aires so that there can be more enforcement of the issue here,” says Adriana Nuñez. “Argentina also needs an international law regarding the issue.”