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Jul 12

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A Mother’s Plea to Women’s Activewear Clothing Companies

Please Make Activewear for Women Climbers Like Me

I love those sexy camisole type tank tops that brands like Patagonia, Prana, Stonewear Designs, Athleta, etc.., sell all the time. Beautiful colors and prints. Great way to show off the shoulder and back muscles when climbing. When I look through the catalog, they look fantastic on the lean and strong bodies who wear them. But what about those of us who aren’t so lean anymore? Where can we find athletic and sexy clothing that isn’t skin tight and revealing more than we prefer?

28 year old Cliffmama looking slim in a bathing suit, posing in front of the ocean at a Club Med in Mexico.

Cliffmama at 28 years old

I was blessed with a fast metabolism. I could eat what I wanted, when I wanted, as much as I wanted. I stayed the same slim but athletic build for most of my life. Even after giving birth to 2 children, both times I was back in my old bluejeans within a month. My tummy was never going to be flat again, but I could still wear those sexy athletic camisole-type tank tops.

But then I hit 40 years old. I put on 10 pounds and my metabolism slowed down. It wasn’t that noticeable to most people, but that’s because I started wearing baggy non-clingy clothing and I stopped ever tucking in my shirt so no one would see the folds of belly that appeared when I sat down or put on a climbing harness. As I approach 50 years old, while the rest of my body looks like that of a strong climber, my tummy tone just keeps deteriorating. It may be the dreaded “middle-age spread”.  It’s getting harder and harder to keep those pounds off my tummy. My mother was slim everywhere except around the middle, where she was really round. That’s where my family puts on all their weight.

Yeah, I know, it could be worse. I have friends who have fought to get slim or stay slim all their lives. But it’s all relative. I wouldn’t call myself fat, but compared to my body 10 years ago, yeah, I’ve definitely got more fat around the middle and my pants size keeps going up. It’s been years since I’ve been at my ideal weight and I wonder if I will ever get there again.

Cliffmama wearing a Patagonia Hotline shirt in 2008 when they had a slit in the back so the tummy wouldn't be so snug.

Cliffmama in 2008 in my favorite Patagonia Hotline Top, which had a slit in the back so it wasn’t snug around the tummy.

Ideas for Activewear for Women Who Don’t Look Like Models

It drives me crazy to keep leafing through these activewear catalogs, seeing clothes that I really like, mail ordering them, trying them on, only to have to ship them back, disappointed that they highlight my growing tummy flab. Page after page show strong and slim models, totally flat and ripped abs, and they look great in these clothes. Why oh why can’t these activewear clothing companies make clothes we can climb, hike, bike, do yoga in – that help us look slimmer, support us better, hide the parts that need work, and still look good on us? It doesn’t take much. Perhaps some light removable cups in the bra area when an elastic shelf bra can’t repair what a couple of years of breastfeeding has done. How about busier prints in the tummy area to make it harder to tell the difference between folds of clothing and folds of flab?  I loved the Patagonia Hotline tank tops from around 2008. What was unique was that they had a slit cut in the back of the shirt, so it wasn’t so tight around the tummy. They came in big bold prints and patterns on beefy cotton to make it harder to notice squishy abs. It was still sexy and pretty and easy to exercise in. My only complaint about it is the sizing didn’t fit my smaller chest that well, but that’s usually the case. Then after 2008 they revised the Hotline tank and the notch in the back was gone, replaced with a thinner material and more snug fit – just like the rest of them.

All Athletic Women Have Perfect Flauntable Bodies, Right?

Even super fit, active women don’t have perfect bodies. Some have breasts that need more support. Some have a big waist no matter how hard they try, especially if they’ve had children. Some will always have cellulite on their thighs. Some butts are bigger than others. The majority of us are NOT perfect. And all those slim active women buying those athletic clothes will get older and have less perfect bodies. Wouldn’t it be nice if the clothing companies would make activewear that didn’t assume we were forever young and slim? C’mon folks, give us a break. Be creative. Make a line of clothing for women who want freedom of movement for their legs without a skin-hugging pant that shows off how imperfect their asses are. How about a tank top that doesn’t put the boobs on display when you bend over? Or more than a shelf bra when the girls aren’t so perky anymore? Make the shirts less skin tight and help us hide the bulges when we sit down and it’s muffin-top time. I bet they would sell like crazy! There’s a huge market of women who don’t have model bodies who are waiting to buy clothes that make them look their best. Build brand loyalty while we’re young and slim, then keep us buying as our bodies age or when our fitness level goes down and the weight goes up.

Now, some of you might think I’m too vain, and I admit that I’m self-conscious as I see my body aging. Perfect is in the eye of the beholder, so any thought of defining “perfect” is a myth. Many women really don’t care how they look or what they wear, and I admire that. I wish I could just let go and accept my aging figure and not strive to work hard to go back to what I used to look like. But it bugs me. I am a climber. I want to be fit and strong, I want to feel fit and strong and yes, I want to look fit and strong. I wish it were easier to find clothes that help me feel and look fit and strong.

So what about it Patagonia? Bring back the slit-back Hotline tank! Can you help us out Stonewear Designs? Hey Prana, I may be too old for your demographic, but I love many of your fashions and would love clothes that aren’t 2 sizes smaller than they say they are. How about some clothes for the rest of us Athleta?  I’ll be happy to model your clothes when they don’t show off my not-so-firm tummy. In the meantime, I will be buying from other clothing manufacturers who make baggier clothes.

Stay with me over the next 20 years, and you can watch me transform from Cliffmama to Cliffgranny climbing in a muumuu over my polyester stretch pants.

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  1. Jill, Head Geargal

    I’m with you on the cleavage-baring stuff; I like mobility and I get tired of having people stare down my shirt. I’d also like clothes made out of fabric that provides some coverage. Why is everything see-through these days? I like the idea of more coverage in front, not because I’ve got droopy breasts but because I don’t like clingy fabric to reveal EVERY nook and cranny if you know what I mean.

    But there’s something about my bod that looks terrible in a baggy shirt. I prefer a more body conscious shape! Anything else makes me look pregnant or just kinda big and shapeless. I also don’t like showing that bulge between bra and armpit. That bulge sucks. But probably no one else notices it.

    Don’t forget that the models who look great in those clothes are pinned, taped, and otherwise temporarily fitted to the clothes just so that they look perfect. And then they’re photoshopped.

    1. cliffmama.com

      Thanks for the comment Jill. I agree I look shapeless in a baggy shirt, but it’s a matter of choosing shapeless but unknown versus displaying evidence that my tummy has gone flabby (and with this blog post, I guess I’ve just told the world). So true about the photoshopped models, but I do know plenty of fit climbing women (most of them are much younger than me) who can really rock those tight fitting clothes. Yet there’s a good chance that they won’t be rocking those clothes when they’re my age.

      1. Jill, Head Geargal

        I think one of the issues at play is that people subscribe to the “look” of a particular sport. If you climb you are supposed to wear capris or tiny spandex shorts and strappy tops. If you bike you’re supposed to wear spandex with logos. If you run…you get the picture.

        People forget that you can climb in whatever you want. Wear jeans, Carhartts, whatever! You don’t have to wear climbing fashion to climb. Believe it or not, there’s no inherent advantage in a strappy, fancy-criss-cross-back-straps top that a plain old T shirt doesn’t offer. You don’t have to wear what ads tell you to wear.

        I sure as hell don’t; I hate those clothes. Manufacturers might not appreciate this sentiment, but there’s more to gear than just trend and “the look”. The ones that “get” this fact are the ones that make really good gear. The ones that don’t are stuck scrambling for new styles every season and never find a “staple” or “classic” that people keep coming back to, year after year.

        Let’s face it, climbing fashion is made for gyms where there are no bugs, no elements, no weather, and no dangers, really. That stuff is made just for looks.

  2. ClimbingBetty

    Personally I hated the slit-in-the-back Hotline tops because I thought they made me look bigger around the middle. I still have a few in my draw that I no longer wear- they are yours if you want them! I much prefer the current version of the Hotline. The version just after the slit-in-the-back had shoulder straps that were too long and thin to support The Girls. But isn’t that the point? We’re all different- we are not one size fits all.

    MY gripe is finding pants/shorts that fit right. I don’t even bother with Prana stuff because it’s only designed to be worn by waifs. I’ve been a big fan of Patagonia’s stuff because I generally like the way it fits, but now they are starting to go a little too hipster-fashion oriented with their stuff. I’m built more like a T-rex with a big booty & thighs, with short little arms. No seriously, I’ve got to buy a size or two larger pants then shirts. Depending on the company, I wear a size small top, but always a medium bottom and sometimes I’ve to get a large bottom not to have my ass hanging out or the bigger problem is that there’s not enough room for my quad muscles. So what’s up with that? Wearing a small top with a large bottom? Trust me, I am not that disproportionate, so that is all about the way these folks design and cut clothes.

    We run, we climb, swim, bike, hike, etc. We have real bodies with real muscles. There are plenty of companies designing stuff for anorexic coat hanger models. You would think that companies selling stuff to outdoor-oriented people would remember to make allowances for things like quad & glut muscles!

  3. Jillian

    I have two gripes (and I’m still in the super fast metabolism phase of life).

    First off, clothing companies need to actually measure and cut their clothing to active women. The real ones. Not the models who eat celery and occasionally look at something in the gym.

    I swear all the shirts are built for women with D’s and itty bitty waists. They seem to have forgotten about the chicks with shoulders, abs, and uh… A’s. I’m still on the hunt for a shirt that fits and lets me breathe (have to buy them extra small so they fit up top). It seems so foolish to be healthy and proud of my figure, yet I can’t find a top that doesn’t end up folding up, drooping, or doing something absolutely stupid around the chest area. T-shirts are currently my favorite at the moment (especially my semi-rad one).

    And pants! Gahh! Dear active clothing designers – we’re not all 5’6 to 5’10. I’m 5’2 and I’m dragging every pair of workout pants and hiking behind me, which is just plain unsuitable for climbing. And we’re not talking a little bit of dragging, we’re talking 3-4″. Why? Who the heck was this stuff cut for?

  4. RocClimber

    Jannette you have the same problem as me, Menopause!
    As our ovaries start producing less estrogen our bodies begin to transform the majorprity or our caloric intake into fat instead of muscle. This is the boides way of obtaining estrogen which is also produced by fat cells. Decreases in progesterone results in water retention which causes the stomach/waist bloat.

    The good news is it gets better as our bodies adjust.

    And to comment on the current womens activewear maket; they just don’t seem to cater to the mature athletic women. Not sure why, prehaps the market isn’t there if you rule out the runners.

    Cheers

  5. jean

    i would also like to see some athletic apparel cut for something besides a stick figure. biggest peeve? not having enough support for “the girls”. not all athletes are flat chested, and what passes for a “shelf bra” in tank tops large enough to accommodate my broad frame is a joke. i’d love to wear some of these cute little tops w/ their spaghetti straps and fun designs. but, the only way to get one that will keep gravity at bay would be to get it small enough to be a second skin, exposing and highlighting what lots of good beer has done to my midsection. my only other option is wearing an expensive and/or bulky sports bra underneath. either way, it isn’t pretty. how about a top w/ a built-in bra that actually holds you in but skims away from the body at the midsection so your abs don’t look like sausage links?

    and pants! i’ll second the comment about making allowances for quads and glutes. muscles take up space, people!

    is there some reason why we don’t have the same pants sizing system as men? i mean, really–guys just need to know their waist and their inseam. how easy is that? 34 inches is 34 inches everywhere. but ask any woman, and they’ll tell you: sizes are not consistent across the board. a north face 6 is not a patagonia 6 is not an REI brand 6, and so on. why not throw out the whole confusing system? let me get a pair of pants according to waist size/hip size/inseam. those numbers make sense to me. what the hell does size 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, etc even mean??

  6. Kate C

    Ha! Awesome post, I love it! I have always complained about the lack of pockets in women’s pants (particularly those for climbing), but lately Athleta has been making me happy. And I feel that there is a recent trend towards baggier yoga tops – which was a wonderful thing after the birth of my son.

    One thing I’ve been happy to see lately is the look of CrossFit women. These ladies are super-strong, fittest on earth. And they are THICK about the middle – because those are your CORE muscles. If you want USABLE strength, you’re not going to look like a model! (At least, this is what I keep telling myself) Fittest women on earth and only one sucked in her belly: https://twitter.com/CrossFitGames/status/222862717097218049/photo/1/large

    Anyway, lady, you are still hot. You’ve got nothing to worry about as far as I can tell!

  7. Betsy Gelvin

    It’s coming, Jannette. Did you see the press about the 60 year old model hired off the street by American Apparel? She’s tall and skinny, of course, but it’s a step in the right direction!

  8. Alice

    Tell it Cliff Mama! just wait til 60, when the force of gravity really has its evil way with us… *sigh* Maybe in the distant hazy future clothing manufacturers will figure out that women’s bodies are NOT all the same… curvy, flat-hipped, short-or-long-legged, don’t get me started on sleeves and cuffs with 6″ of excess fabric, pants that gape at the waist but flatten my butt, tops that make me look like the People of Walmart. And oh yeah side boobs. grrr.

  9. sherrykay50

    I happened on this site while looking for “fitness clothing for older women.” I heartily agree w/ all of the above comments. I am so irritated! I live in a large Midwestern campus comunity and go to the university rec center. And…I don’t see ANYONE wearing the outfits that are promoted to women! Why? 1.) Who pays over 100$ for workout pants? 2.) NO ONE wants to look ‘sexy’ in the weight room, running, Crossfit, etc. Decent, yes, but even the undergrad females here are practical in their dress. It’s usually t-shirts, pants or shorts. If the tops are fitted longer, they have to include ridiculous ‘cutouts’ in places to emphasize cleavage, halter tops w/mini shorts, midriff tops with super low waisted pants, etc.. Oh, and 3.) Women who workout often have muscles, and are not teeny tinies-except maybe in L.A. or Park Slope who stick to yoga and Pilates. That’s why we need women to start their own companies, make their own standards for measurements that reflect today’s athletic bodies, and grow rich in the process. Because there is a substantially underserved market here. I want athletic and active wear that is comfortable and fitted, but not form fitting.

  1. And So This Is Fifty » cliffmama.com

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