It’s not fun being fat. Southwest airlines made headlines last year when it started charging some obese passengers for two seats instead of one. Passengers on commuter planes now have to stand on a scale or confess their weights. But there are businesses who are starting to reach out to this market, which is, frankly, expanding.
MOST WOMEN DON’T look anything like a Victoria’s Secret model. Nearly two thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese. But overweight America has been an underserved market and businesses are finally realizing there are, well, fat profits to be made.
Now there are kayaks for people with big butts, cars with larger seats, hospitals are investing in larger beds for patients, and mattress companies are super-sizing as well, like the brand new Select Comfort Grand King.
“It’s 30 percent larger than the traditional king, being 6 feet 8 inches across and 8 feet and 2 inches long,” says Joel Sorrels of Select Comfort.
There are dating services like BBWDatefinder.com, where women who are over a size 14 don’t have to compete with “stick chicks.”
But while choices have multiplied, there’s still a reluctance on the part of some retailers to reach out. And the larger you are, the worse it gets.
“I absolutely think a lot of it has to do with prejudice, with the feeling that we don’t deserve to have the nice things that that company makes,” says Lynn McAfee from the Council on Size & Weight Discrimination. “And I also think it has to do with the perception that none of us have any money at all.”
Apparently, that’s not true. NPD FashionWorld says plus-size clothing sales are a $17 billion a year business, outperforming the rest of the industry.
That’s why entrepreneur Dottie Bare opened her Silver Lining store in Atlanta, selling quality undergarments, lingerie and wedding gowns which meet the special needs of larger customers.
Hot Topic has opened up a chain of stores called Torrid aimed at the, up until now, almost completely ignored market of teenage plus-size girls.
But perhaps nothing has expanded this market like the Internet.
“When you are a really heavy person and you need an apparatus that may help in some way in let’s say a hygiene component of your daily life you are not going to walk into a story and ask for that,” says Pierre Sabourin of overweightpeople.com
Sabourin runs overweightpeople.com out of Durham, North Carolina, where in this it’s first year, he projects revenues to be anywhere from $2 million to $5 million. Sabourin sells just about everything — from a seatbelt extenders for use on airlines to extended toenail clipper pistol grips.
“We just signed a deal with a company that is going to provide all terrain vehicles for people who weight up to a thousand pounds,” Sabourin says. The Web site sells shoe horns, back scratchers, extendable back scratchers, and “geometrically designed cushions that allow for large people to have sex.”
The Internet not only provides consumers more choices, but it also makes it easier for people to purchase items without judgmental stares.
That said, it’s all how you market yourself, according to Heather Benjamin. “You know, how you introduce yourself - ‘Hi, I’m Heather Benjamin, I’m a size 8, plus another size 8. Two for one!’” says Benjamin, who runs curvychick.com — that’s chick, not chicks — an online resource for the curvy market.
As for criticism that it’s wrong to cater to overweight people, that it’s encouraging them to be unhealthy, McAfee says that while everyone’s going to go on a diet and get slim, fat is here to stay us. Or as Benjamin says, “we’re the majority, don’t make us sit on you.”