Let me introduce myself, my name is Irene and I am one of the Girls that Scuba Ambassadors. I have been diving for 23 years, I am an avid freediver as well as a PADI Course Director located in Montreal, Canada and I am also a plus size woman. And I am writing today as a plus size woman who has struggled to find size appropriate gear, and I am certain I am not the only one. For reference, I wear a size 26-28 in US sizing, which is an approximate equivalent to size 30 in the UK.
I have cried in changing rooms trying to fit in my first rental suit 23 years ago for my Open Water, and did so again a few years later when I was trying to purchase my first wetsuit.
Currently, there is only one, yes one, wetsuit company that makes wetsuits up to my size off the rack. I've written this article to bring more attention to wetsuit sizing and the struggles plus-size women shouldn't have to go through, as well as to not shy away from this topic and ask scuba diving brands to consider re-thinking their current sizing!
Plus size in 2020
A study published in the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology, and Education revealed, "The average size of an American woman is now between 16 to 18, which is an increase from 10-year-old data that indicated most women in the U.S. were a size 14." And the average size in the UK is a size 16
Where scuba brands are falling short with plus size
Keep in mind that above quote, and go onto the Instagram feed of your favorite diving apparel company, and tell me how many feature women wearing sizes 16 or 18?
Now go visit their web shop and tell me if they offer women's apparel in the above mentioned sizes. Now just for fun, see if they have brand ambassadors or influencers of those sizes who are proudly repping their brand?
Let me guess, most of the diving industry will fall extremely short when it comes to representation of the ‘average’ woman. Yet many will boast that they are ‘size inclusive’ or offer ‘extended sizing’ or for ‘every body’.
If 'an average sized women' is a US 16 - 18, why are some brands not even stocking those sizes?
Let’s go a little further, we spoke of the ‘average’ size. Now, a quick internet search of the word average gives its definition as:
“a number expressing the central or typical value in a set of data, in particular the mode, median, or (most commonly) the mean, which is calculated by dividing the sum of the values in the set by their number.”
Following this logic, if sizes 16-18 is an Average, the conclusion is that a fair amount of women are indeed below said sizes, but it also means a fair amount of women are therefore above these sizes as well! Mind boggling, right?
"We don't stock larger sizes as its not economically feasible"
Now why would the industry completely forget or disregard more than half of their possible customers?
I’ve heard many times how it wouldn’t be economically feasible to offer such extended sizing. And yet, I’ve often seen size zero and XXS remain unsold on shelves and no one bats an eye.
I think it just comes down to their branding, and not wanting to be associated with larger women, but only ultra thin ‘ideals’. As far as I know, no dive company has come out and said it directly or blatantly but actions, as always, speak louder than words.
I'm not just talking about my size though, its even hard to find a wetsuit sized US 16 - unless you want to wear a mans wetsuit
As a plus size diver, one of my first major hurdles as a diver was to have a wetsuit that actually fit me. I find it completely mind boggling that such a basic need is often nearly impossible to have met. When I started diving 23 years ago I was what was then considered average, wearing a size US 14 sometimes 16, and being 5f10in tall. Yet I had to fight to fit into a mens suit which was too tight in hips and chest, and way too long in the arms and legs. More than twenty years later and finding a comfortable fitting wetsuit for a woman’s body above a US size 16 is like looking for the holy grail.
My role as a plus-sized diver role model and now a Girls that Scuba ambassador doesn't mean anything has changed
I’ve had women from all over the globe contacting me asking questions, or thanking me for inspiring them. So many women don’t think they can dive because of their size, or don’t think they can become a dive professional, and nothing makes me happier to tell them they can do it all, as I did.
Recently, I was incredibly honoured to be asked to be a Girls That Scuba Ambassador, meaning I could bring representation to a much wider audience, and the reception received has been incredibly positive.
But even as a GTS Ambassador, doesn’t mean my struggles are over.
Some amazing brands have reached out to work with the Ambassadors, and I was sad and maybe a tad upset, that some of their sizing is so incredibly limited. Or, that they consider a size 16 a XXXL, yes I’m looking at you Fourth Element. I am absolutely and completely in love with Waterlust, and 200% behind the ecological stand but, unfortunately not all products are not available in all sizes, and even if I can squeeze into their leggings, you can tell they were not designed for a plus size body, but just made their regular pattern bigger.
So, where can plus sized divers find wetsuits?
I couldn’t mention wetsuits without at least sharing the two most recommended wetsuit brands by users in the Plus Size Scuba Girls Facebook group (which I founded along side 2 other ladies):
Henderson, which goes up to a size 18, as well as the Truli wetsuits that take into account various body shapes and go up to an equivalent of a size 24. I was ecstatic when this brand - who I respect and admire - started offering extended sizing for every body chose me as an inspiring woman and I won a beautiful wetsuit, but crushed when I received the wetsuit months later, and I was unable to fit into it.
For me to find a wetsuit that fits me I have to purchase custom-made wetsuits which are usually a lot more expensive. I almost never buy new clothes, I rather spend my hard earned money on dive gear and trips, but point me in the direction of some cool dive or marine related swag and boom, please take my money! However there is one place I can find wetsuits that fit and that is Tommys D Sports.
The real issue
Now, we know it's an issue, that we need real extended sizes, we need representation, we need to see real women, from the petite thin diver, the average size diver, as well as the curvy divers. But how do we get this message to the dive manufacturers? The industry in general?
We are an incredible group of strong women, I am sure we can make a difference, let’s brainstorm shall we? Join me over on the Girls that Scuba Facebook group to talk more!
Brands, please get in contact!
Brands, we'd love you to get in contact with us and let us know about your plus size range (but please read this article in full first, and don't come to us celebrating a range up to size 16). We are the world's largest female dive community and have a huge voice and influence, we'd love to help you improve your plus size range, we'd also love to know any 'hurdles' you are coming across that stops you extending your current collections. Email us at email@example.com or you can get in contact directly with Irene at firstname.lastname@example.org