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The “F” Word… by Ozlem Arpaci

The “F” Word… by Ozlem Arpaci

Ozlem Arpaci, the Marketing Assistant for Igigi.com, offers this essay on her first year in the plus size fashion industry… Her inspirational words beg us to ask ourselves, “What will we dare to do in 2007?”

2006 was certainly a very interesting year for me both professionally and personally.

After long years of serving in unfulfilling positions mostly in the high tech industry, I decided it was time to save the day and the future if I wanted to live the rest of my life doing something I actually enjoyed and cared about; I quit and started off the New Year with a clean slate in my dream and passion industry, fashion.

I have been a fashion addict ever since I could get on my both feet and walk. My first excursions were into my mother’s closet where I would get in and come out hours later, having turned the place upside down as if a bomb just hit it. My favorite activity, singing to the passers-by on the street dressed in one of my mother’s outfits with a comb serving as my microphone in my hand, would follow suit until some neighbor showed up at our doorstep and told my mother that her daughter was performing live on the balcony again which would be followed by me being dragged inside by my mother as I screamed my guts outs, and the balcony door being sealed until I would figure out a way to unlock it again.

This addiction and obsession with fashion continued through my teenage years and twenties always trying to figure out a channel for a breakthrough so that I could actually have a career in my passion.

Last year, I took a position as a part-time sales associate at one of SF’s best boutiques to learn the business and to figure out if I would really like it as much as I thought I would and to see if I was as good at selling clothes as I am at shopping for them.

Looking back, the comments I got from people when they found out that their double major, MBA holder, bilingual friend, relative, acquaintance etc. quit her job at one of the country’s biggest and fastest-growing high-tech companies to work on the sales floor of a little-known boutique outside of San Francisco, were drastic to say the least.

“You will not last a month.” said one friend who claimed she knew me very well. “You will work on the sales floor and deal with the Marina bitches? I don’t think so” commented another.

I turned to the only person in whom I have more faith than I have in anyone else and who knows me like the palm of his hand, for reassurance. “I think it is time for you to test this out and see what happens.” said my dad, who has always been my number one supporter in every adventure I dived into whether I came out afloat or knee deep in it.

Time showed everybody who was right and who was wrong. My part-time position turned into full-time sales and then into a managerial position as Key Holder training for Assistant Manager in five months and to a Marketing Assistant position at IGIGI where I have been for the last six months.

The funny thing is that I am working for a plus size women’s fashions company, and now that I have been in it for half a year, it is mind-blowing to me how very little I knew about this market before.

I had no idea how limited the clothing options have been, how ignorant and arrogant people’s perceptions about plus-size people and fashion can be, how many communities, blogs and other independent and individual parties including activists, writers, actors, models there are publicizing and promoting issues regarding the plus-size community yet how very little of it reaches the masses through the media to break down barriers and misperceptions. Had I been deaf and blind or had I been lazy and victimized by mainstream media? Turns out, a little bit of both.

The last six months have been an eye-opening episode in my life to say the least. I kind of fell into my position at IGIGI. It was not a concerted effort on my part to find a job at a plus-size fashions company. It just happened, and I first learned to like it and then grew to love it. To my surprise, so much so that, most of the time I feel like smacking the life out of someone when I am asked “Why I am working for fatties.”

To be honest, I questioned that in the beginning as well. But, my dilemma was entirely different and personal. Here I was, having landed a job in an industry I now know is my raison d’etre at one of the most progressive and fastest growing companies, and I couldn’t wear a single thing on the hanger. I mean what is the point of a fashion junkie working at a fashion company if she can’t wear the clothing? I felt like I took away my biggest joy in life with my own hands.

Thank God, time proved me wrong. The answer started to form in my head as the days went by. I started reading, writing, meeting and listening to people in the industry getting to know about their needs and desires, satisfactions and frustrations, and came to realize that fashion is not a matter of size, it is a matter of every woman’s desire to look and feel beautiful. It is about how an outfit that fits her well makes her feel inside and how that is reflected in the way she carries herself. It was the clothing I cared about anyway; I could care less about size. As long as I could touch it, feel it, dress someone and write about it, I would be fine and happy. I became size blind.

Why is there an inherent need in people to change people? If a woman is happy and content to be a size 22, who or what gives anybody the right to criticize, brainwash or pressure her into becoming smaller? And how small is good enough? Who can truly be happy about herself and enjoy life without all the pressure about physical looks in a world where a size 6 is considered to be the new size 14? Do we all have to starve ourselves to be size 4 so we can conform? Why is it that the people have to conform to the clothing when it is the people who pay to have it? Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?

The solution is in providing the tools so that a woman can have the formula to be content, happy and successful without having to change herself. Every woman regardless of shape and size has a right and a formula to looking good and everybody feels better about themselves when they look together, leading to self-confidence and success. And that is why I work for fatties.