What you’ll read below is not a criticism, but a pitch for change.
I hope that this bit of honesty leads to something. But even if it doesn’t, hey, a girl can dreams.
Known for its beautiful exteriors and comforting elements, Westchester County is full of surprises, top to bottom. In one town, you’ll find tiny shops, hometown details, and loads of history. Then you’ll turn your head to see a forest cottage, tucked within a secluded road. It is a place that has one foot in modern ideals and another in old-world charms. But for me, this New York suburban world has been my home for the entirety of my life.
To get down to specifics, I currently reside within Bedford Hills – a town that is stuck right between the most aesthetic of neighborhoods (Katonah) and one of the more lively areas (Mount Kisco.) It lacks a real identity, but does contain one of the most beautiful movie theaters in the county, along with precious stores, and a church that once was the home of my art camp. Yet throughout my 30-year existence, I’ve ping-ponged back and forth between the two mentioned towns. I was born in Mount Kisco, raised in Katonah, went to middle/high school in Cross River, and then found myself in Bedford Hills. It’s been a wild, cozy, at times mundane, ride.
Parts of historic Katonah, Pre-COVID
But for all of Westchester’s delicate pros, it has its cons. Some visitors will notice the drastic economic shift from one town to another. Others will gasp at the many overly-priced estates that can be comparable to Rebecca’s Mandeley. And as one can guess, with such social distinction, comes a particular image. One that is equally shabby chic meets glossy, suntanned, and polished. Think 2006’s Laguna Beach but with an Anne of Green Gables sprinkle on top. It’s comfortable, nostalgic, but only inviting to a select few.
Unfortunately, I haven’t ever been among the welcomed elite. At first, it was due to my neurologically different noggin never being entirely accepted in any academic nor social circles. But when I turned 11, it became quite apparent what made me stand out. No, it wasn’t just my hemangioma birthmark on my right arm, or my vampire teeth, as the kids called my set of chompers. It was all of those things wrapped together into a package referred to by my classmates as “chunky.”
Now I’m not saying without those physical factors I would have ever truly fit in. As I mentioned, I already had ADD, dyslexia, and other struggles on my side to make life not easy. And when you couple that with my quirky interests (that labeled me a nerd sheep in initially Hot Topic wolf clothing), let’s just say my world was always going to have its bumps. But when you fall into the plus-size category in a place like Westchester, every issue you already have is upped to an eleven or more.
It’s important to establish that from the youngest of ages, many Westchester girls (especially those who grew up in my area) are conditioned to follow the trends of their era. And in the 90s/early ‘2000s, this included (but was not limited to) the following: low rise designer blue jeans, getting your hair braided when you went on that annual vacation to Jamaica, wearing a polo from Abercrombie or Hollister, and looking like you could be Paris Hilton’s long lost third sister. It is essential to realize that I, along with my public school buddies, did not associate with any of these desires. Instead, some of us picked out our best Tripp pants, while others went for the more subdued look. Regardless, none of us were setting our sights towards fitting into these location-specific boxes.
Yet sometimes I wondered if these style choices were more a reaction to Westchester’s invisible rule book – aesthetically, economically, and based on the size tag. And if you were a bigger girl in that much smaller local world, Westchester lacked little to any options. If you dreamed of enjoying the local shopping scene, you’d find yourself skimming the Women’s section of Kohl’s, while your straight sized friends experienced the much cooler, colorful, local boutiques.
RIP Boo Girls
One of the stores I used to dream of purchasing from was the now-closed Boo Girls. It existed in Katonah and was the epitome of cool to my young mind. Everything was sparkly, bright, and came in the prettiest of purple shopping bags. It looked like Hillary Duff could step right in, grab your hand, and spin you through a shopping montage. But even at my smallest tween-age size, I never could adequately shop there. I would find myself looking longingly at the colorful products, even though most of the items could barely fit over my 5’5″, D-cup, curvy frame. This unfortunate discovery would lead me to look through the friendship bracelets, as my smaller pals tried on the coolest of clothes.
But as time went on, I found myself going towards defeat. I knew I never was going to be one of those local boutique girls, since my economic status, size, and daily reaction from my classmates, made that point painfully clear. I was the girl that had a video game case stuck down her pants in front of the entire cafeteria. I was the girl that got the bathroom door swung open, followed by a chorus of laughter directed at my naked body. I was the girl that everyone thought was a drug dealer because I covered myself in black. I was the girl that got dared to sit on a plastic chain-link fence and became the laughing stock when I broke it in under a minute. Essentially I was always the girl, but never the Boo Girl.
At this point, I’ve hit the big 3-0. I’ve had over a decade to experiment, go outside of my comfort zone, and realize there is more to life than what my young Westchester-mind thought existed. I’ve gotten to experience a world of inclusion, thanks to my Japanese street style life, events like The CurvyCon, and friends I’ve met along the way. But with the quarantine having me stay in Bedford Hills, I realized Westchester’s lack of size diversity hasn’t improved at all. Especially when I began researching the county’s current status on the subject.
When you look into plus-size retailers in the area, the search often goes to a few Torrid locations, along with a handful of chain stores inside the local malls or the Bronx. Yet when it comes to boutiques, the pickings are slim. For example, there is Love Your Peaches, a customized clothing company that specializes in plus-size garments. Unfortunately, from my research, it doesn’t seem to have an actual in-store location, though the business operates from Brewster. And though a few random companies are also in the mix, the real frustrations come from the stylish boutiques who do have an online presence.
Aesthetic Boutiques I Absolutely Adore
From just a simple glance at the various retailers in Katonah, one can easily tell that it is near impossible to find anything beyond a size L. And if you do find anything for women in an XL, it’s like coming across a unicorn in the distance. Some of these stores are absolutely beautiful and have a lot of offer in terms of stylish choices. There’s no denying that these stores have to indeed pay the rent and make a living, thus they go for the sizes that traditionally move the fastest off the shelves. But the deeper question is – could Westchester retailers ever make the shift towards larger size ranges? It’s hard to say.
In a time in which most local shops are struggling for any sort of success in the midst of a pandemic, maybe not as easily. But businesses need to adapt to this new climate, to drive sales, and perhaps dramatic changes (like size inclusion) are vital to that progress. This could be taken in very gradual steps. Size 14’s and 16’s could be more available, and have everything go up from there. That, along with the advancement in online consumerism, could be a step in the right direction.
Of course, I’m in no way a business person. I know what I’m asking for is the equivalent of looking for the golden ticket inside a Wonka Bar. Because it’s near impossible to assume that any of the tiny boutiques could get the memo and drastically transform their business overnight. Yet, I still have a dream – one where I can walk next to my straight size friend, go inside the cutest of establishments, have us both try on the same items, coming out with smiles on our faces. And if something like that could take place, maybe it would act as a sign towards Westchester changing its grounded ways, and shifting towards breaking the invisible rules it has had for so long.
Simply put, there are beautiful, bold, important plus size women that live in Westchester, and we want to be part of the conversation. We want to spend our hard-earned money, that we use to live in such a stunning residence. We want to not be excluded from the weekend after-brunch walks around town. We want to buy more than just friendship bracelets. We want to help our local economy, the small businesses, the local mom-and-pops – all the while coming out with a shopping bag in hand. We’re more than just an afterthought. We’re more than just a temporary scenario. We’re young entrepreneurs, superheroes, mothers, and everything in between. We come in different shapes, colors, from various backgrounds, but we have one thing in common – we want to look cute.
So maybe 2020 is the year where Westchester’s identity becomes more than just its aesthetic environment focused on old-world charms. And from the shadows of this unprecedented time, perhaps the thoughts of change can occur. Because Westchester shouldn’t be stuck in the past, but rather revel in the future of representation, economic, and size inclusion. And though it may indeed be a bumpy road to get there, I always like to envision a brighter, even more fashionable, tomorrow.