Fashion designer helps weightlifter change the image of plus-size women

BY WALLACE BAINE
Santa Cruz Sentinel
Modified: August 17, 2012 at 4:18 pm •  Published: August 17, 2012
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photo - Santa Cruz, California, designer Jill Alexander has made a name for herself designing stylish plus-sized clothes for women. Since launching her first line specifically designed for plus-size women in 2009, Alexander has made great strides in visibility in the plus-size arena. (Shmuel Thaler/Santa Cruz Sentinel/MCT)
Santa Cruz, California, designer Jill Alexander has made a name for herself designing stylish plus-sized clothes for women. Since launching her first line specifically designed for plus-size women in 2009, Alexander has made great strides in visibility in the plus-size arena. (Shmuel Thaler/Santa Cruz Sentinel/MCT)

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — It might be an Olympic first.

Has it ever happened before now that an Olympic weightlifter was called “girly”? Maybe as a crude slur during the bad old days of Soviet domination of the sport, but not quite like this.

The weightlifter in question is Sarah Robles, the Southern California Olympian who is widely considered the best female weightlifter in the United States. And the description comes from Santa Cruz clothing designer Jill Alexander.

Last month, Alexander flew down to Arizona, where Robles was training, on a mission to give the 5-foot-10, 270-pound weightlifter a fashion makeover.

“I was really surprised to find that she was so girly and excited to have this kind of makeover,” said Alexander from her office in Santa Cruz. Robles had told Alexander that she spends most of her time in workout clothes, but that “no one every sees my girly side.”

Since launching her first line specifically designed for plus-size women in 2009, Alexander has made great strides in visibility in the plus-size arena. Robles has, in the past, been vocal about her inability to find clothes that fit. Problem, meet solution.

Robles — who finished seventh overall in the “+75kg” competition in London — has used her prominence to promote a positive, body-acceptance message of plus-sized and athletic women. On her blog — prettystrongblog.blogspot.com — she would often comment on how difficult it was to find nice clothes in her size. She related one experience in which she was to be included with other female athletes in a photo session in which the matching clothes would be provided. There were no women’s clothes that fit her. She had to wear a man’s jacket.

“Am I going to sit here and cry about it? No,” said Robles on her blog. “What am I doing to make change? Every time I get to talk about body image or my blog, I jump on it even in interviews. I spoke with Nike and Polo representatives and mentioned the issues. If no one speaks up or just accepts what’s been handed to them, positive change will not happen. I want future athletes to be happy, comfortable and included. I want the fashion industry to rethink their ideas of what a female athlete can look like.”

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