Tips for Surviving
by Nancy Summer
From Radiance Summer 1999
high school graduation in 1966, I asked my father for a summer job
recommendation at the large corporation where he was employed as the
chief engineer. Despite the fact that hundreds of people in a wide range
of jobs worked in his division, he turned me down, saying that he and my
mother didn’t think I had the right image to work for his firm. Not
having the "right image," of course, meant that I weighed 250
pounds, and I was an embarrassment to them.
my girlfriend’s father gave me a break and set up an interview for me
at his firm. I had a lot of motivation to be an exemplary employee that
summer, not just to reward my friend’s father’s faith in me, but to
also make a point with my own father. I was so mad at my dad, I would
have dug ditches on a chain gang to make my point.
In fact, the job I got was only slightly easier than
ditch digging. I commuted three hours a day from the suburbs to a
minimum wage position in Manhattan. In those days, the trains and buses
did not have adequate air conditioning. I also had to walk several city
blocks to reach my destination. Once I arrived at work, my job involved
walking all day through office buildings from floor to floor, selling
coffee and snacks. I would walk a city block to the first building for a
morning coffee run, and then walk three city blocks to a second building
to do a lunch run, and then make the long hike back to the
un-air-conditioned home base for an hour of bookkeeping.
During my first two weeks on the job, New York
experienced a record-breaking heat wave, with most days hotter than 100
degrees. One day, it hit 107 degrees. And I had to wear an ill-fitting
white cotton uniform: a dress! From the very first day, my thighs chafed
so badly, they were covered with big red welts. The worst part was the
train ride home, when I was cramped in a seat with two or three other
people. My sore thighs were so tightly pressed together that when I got
off the train, I could barely walk. When I finally got home, twelve
hours after my day began, I would throw myself into a cold tub of water
and cry. But I was so mad at my father that I wouldn’t quit.
Then I got a vaginal yeast infection: the heat,
humidity, and sweat created perfect conditions for yeast to grow. And it
didn’t help that I wore those nylon panties with the
"comfort-cotton crotch." That laughably thin panel of cotton
did absolutely nothing to absorb moisture. It wasn’t long before I
didn’t know what was worse: the vaginal itching or the burning pain on
my inner thighs.
Twice a day, I passed a pharmacy with a big sign in
the window promoting a product designed to help with "feminine
burning and itching." I stared at that sign longingly, but no
matter how bad I felt, I could not bring myself to walk in and buy that
product. I was sure that the druggist would know exactly the condition
of my inner thighs and that this problem was all due to my weight. I was
fat and I was too embarrassed to ask for help.
I learned a lot that summer. I learned to really
respect people in the food service industry, and I became a good tipper.
I learned that I wanted to work in an air-conditioned office. I never
missed a day’s work. I learned that I was tough enough to live up to
my commitments, no matter how unpleasant.
And my parents learned a few things about me. They
never thought I’d survive a week. I earned some respect from them. My
mo-ther even began picking me up at the train station to save me that
last quarter-mile walk to my house.
But I think one of the most important lessons I
learned had to do with taking care of myself. I learned about the
importance of cotton panties, chafe-guards, medicated powders, and
seeing the doctor for treatment of a chronic condition. I decided that I
would never again be too embarrassed to get the things I needed to make
my life easier.
A lot has changed since the summer of 1966. In the
past few decades, we’ve seen hundreds of ads for all sorts of hygiene
products, from deodorant to douches, from jock itch creams to
antichafing powders. There isn’t a personal health or hygiene problem
that people in North America haven’t heard about in print or on
television. That’s why I am always amazed at some of the customer
calls that we receive at Amplestuff (our mail-order catalog with a
special hygiene department for large people).
One woman told me that she’d had a serious skin
irritation under her breasts for five years! She had never seen a doctor
and didn’t know what to do. Another woman called and described a
personal hygiene problem (she was unable to adequately clean herself
after using the toilet), but when I recommended several products and
solutions, she said, "Oh, I can’t do that. My husband is always
after me to lose weight, and if I buy that, he’ll know I gave
So maybe times haven’t changed all that much for
some people. Perhaps the most important tool we have for improved health
and hygiene is a good attitude.
Woes: Chafing and Skin-Fold Irritations
|Did you know that the skin is
the body’s biggest organ (even on thin people)? It has many functions,
one of which is to keep us cool. When we reach a certain level of heat,
the skin begins to give off moisture. Whether you want to call it
perspiration or plain old sweat, it’s our natural cooling system. As
air circulates aroundour slightly dampened skin, the sweat evaporates
and our temperature drops. On dry days, the system works very well. On
humid days, we are much more aware of the wetness, because moisture does
not evaporate as quickly.
The larger you are, the more skin surface you have,
and the more water you need to perspire to stay cool (a good reason to
drink lots of fluids on warm days). But large people also have more
areas where skin touches skin most of the time, where air doesn’t
circulate and moisture builds up. These skin folds offer the perfect
conditions for bacteria and yeast (intertriginous candida) to grow.
Simply put, it’s a red irritation or infection where skin rubs against
Thigh chafing is caused by a combination of moisture
buildup (lack of air circulation) and friction. The same steps you can
take to avoid moisture in other areas will also help with the inner
|Start your day cool and clean.
Showering in the evening is fine, but it is even more important to wash
well in the morning and start your day with a clean slate (bacteria- and
yeast-free). End your bath or shower with cool or cold water to lower
your skin temperature.
Any soap is fine, as long as you use it and rinse it
off well. If you have a problem with skin-fold irritations that hurt
rather than itch, use an antibacterial soap. If an irritation itches
more than it hurts, chances are you have a yeast (fungal) infection. In
that case, avoid the antibacterial soaps and use regular soap instead.
Rinse very well. A great tool for the size-friendly
bathroom is a hand-held shower spray. It will allow you to direct a
spray of water into skin folds and hard-to-reach places.
|Use a clean towel to dry off.
But where skin touches skin, extra care is needed. Use a fan or a hair
dryer (set on the cool setting) to completely dry your skin.
|Talc and cornstarch powders
help absorb moisture and cut down on friction. Dry your skin very well
before applying powder, or it will cake and become less absorbent.
Talcum powders work great, but some talc samples have
been shown to have small traces of asbestos and lead in them. Choose the
better-known brands of talcum powder, or baby talcum powder, which we
hope are of the highest quality talc.
Always use talc in a well-ventilated area that is
regularly cleaned and dusted, so the powder doesn’t build up in the
air you breathe.
Women should be very careful never to apply talc
directly to their vaginal area. If you want to use it on your inner
thighs, apply the powder after you put on your panties. (Some people
claim that even small traces of talc may be a factor in cervical
Many people like medicated powders that include talc
and other elements that cool the skin. Gold Bond Medicated and Mexsana
are two common brands. Get a powder that contains clotrimazole or
Some people prefer cornstarch. It’s good for
absorbing moisture and cutting down on friction, without the small risks
associated with talc. However, if you suffer from yeast infections,
avoid cornstarch. It just feeds the yeast. If you have chronic yeast
problems or are diabetic (which makes you more prone to yeast
infections), avoid cornstarch even when you are asymptomatic.
Some people use creams to protect from chafing: thick
moisturizing cream, petroleum jelly, zinc oxide ointment, and diaper
rash ointment that contains zinc oxide. Someone I spoke with recommended
using solid antiperspirant to lubricate the skin and control
perspiration. (Ed. note: I have recently
heard that Baza cream works well, as do Nizoral Cream, Lotrimin AF, and
|It’s a good idea to get some
air circulating in skin folds whenever possible. Use a bathroom break to
lift your breasts or belly to expose the area to air. Gently dab the
area with tissue.
If you sit at a desk all day at work, consider
bringing a small fan to keep under your desk. My mother would say that
sitting like this isn’t "ladylike," but a cool stream of air
on the inner thighs keeps the moisture from building up and helps
|Besides controlling moisture
with powders, creams, and air ventilation, there are a wide range of
garments available that help fight thigh chafing. Pettipants, bloomers,
split slips, whatever you want to call them, can protect your legs from
friction. Cotton tricot drawers (underwear with long legs) do the same
thing. So do cotton bike shorts. There are also several styles of anti
chafe shields or chafe guards designed to be worn with or without
stockings. (You can wear them under or over your pantyhose.)
Wear natural fibers, such as cotton or rayon. They
breathe, pulling moisture away from your body and allowing it to
evaporate. Polyester and nylon do not breathe: they trap moisture on
your skin. There are wonderful sources for plus-size and supersize
natural fiber clothes: many advertise here in Radiance.
Choose cotton panties, and wear a cotton panty liner
or use a sanitary napkin to absorb moisture. On a really hot day, you
might want to change it once or twice.
Skip the nylon pantyhose on hot days. Wear cotton
pants or shorts. If you want to wear a skirt but hate the look of bare
legs, use a cosmetic nondyeing skin bronzer which, if applied correctly,
can mimic the look of pantyhose. If you work in a field that forces you
to wear a dress and pantyhose, try wearing cotton chafe guards under the
If you have irritation problems under your breasts,
wear a cotton bra liner under the elastic of your bra. This will control
moisture and has the added bonus of being washable in hot water and
bleach. (You can wash the bra in cooler water, which will extend the
life of the elastic.) Or choose cotton bras, especially the type with
cotton bands or cotton-covered elastic.
|Some conditions are resistant
to cures. It’s important to try various products. If, after a week,
you don’t see an improvement, try something else. If something makes
you feel worse, stop using it right away. Keep experimenting.
For chronic irritations or infections, see your doctor
or dermatologist. Prescription medications may help you. For example,
there are now oral (often single-dose) antifungals for vaginal and
vulvar yeast infections, which some women even take monthly to keep
chronic problems at bay. Some people get skin-fold infections that are
both bacterial and fungal. There are special creams that work on both
problems. Consult your physician before starting any treatment,
including over-the-counter medications. If your doctor prescribes only
weight loss, it’s time to look for a new doctor.
Investigate other sources of the problem. For
instance, the elastic in bras can hold bacteria or yeast even after
being washed in warm water and laundry soap. When you put on a seemingly
clean garment, you might be reinfecting yourself. Wash those underthings
in hot water and bleach. Another suggestion is to treat the elastic with
isopropyl alcohol (not denatured alcohol), let dry, and repeat. (This
will not harm elastic.) Or buy some new bras.
A friend once told me that for her, there were only
two seasons: the chafing season and the nonchafing season. Finding the
correct hygiene regimen for you and sticking to it will make the warmer
months much more enjoyable. ©
NANCY SUMMER is the author of Ample Hygiene
for Ample People, and the co-owner of Amplestuff, a mail-order
catalog of products for large people. She lives in Woodstock, New York.
Products available through your local pharmacy or home
health care supplier:
- Gold Bond medicated powder
- Mexsana powder
- Talcum and cornstarch powders
- Skin bronzers
- Zinc oxide ointment
- Baza cream, Nizoral cream, Lotrimin AF cream, or
For specific conditions, ask your doctor about
prescription and over-the-counter treatments.
P.O. Box 116
Bearsville, NY 12409
Pambra’s cotton bra liners, Mini-max personal fan,
Cliniscrub and Betadine antibacterial cleansers, and hand-held shower
spray and other bath items for large people.
P.O. Box 27206
Seattle, WA 98125-1606
800-524-4949 or 206-364-4540
Cotton and Lycra bras, leggings, shorts, and
800 Transfer Rd., Ste. 8
St. Paul, MN 55114
800-671-0175 or 651-647-9234
Activewear (some natural fibers).
Large Size Lingerie, Inc.
31 E. 32nd St., 9th Fl.
New York, NY 10016
800-527-0065 or 212-685-4062
Split slips and other lingerie.
One Hanes Place (formerly Just My Size)
P.O. Box 748
Rural Hall, NC 27098
Plus-size cotton panties, bras, hosiery, and so on.
85 Laurel Haven
Fairview, NC 28730
Clothing in natural fibers.
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