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Size Matters (But not in the way you’d think…)

The skeleton in every girl’s closet. The part of clothing that I detest the most. The ONE part of shopping that can potentially ruin the entire experience for a shopaholic like me: the size tag. A young girl’s war with the infamous size tag begins at an uncomfortably early age, AND IT NEVER ENDS. Never.

This is a monster that will follow me until the day that I die. In fact, I am pretty sure that when I die the clothing I am buried in will still have that disdainful little number sewn into the lining.

My mom loves to tell me the advice that her Aunt Grace (my great aunt) used to give about clothing. “You are going to have to fight your whole life, you never fight with your clothes.” What a beautiful sentiment, but this is coming from a woman who was born in 1892. In her prime clothing was custom, usually expensive and ALWAYS tailored to your body. Standardize sizing was not implemented until the 1940’s and if you are interested in educating yourself further I highly recommend Time magazine’s article: “The Bizarre History of Women’s Clothing Sizes.” I think it is appropriately named.

The sentiment is appealing but seems completely unrealistic! I don’t want to fight with my clothing and I am willing to bet that you don’t either.

Here is the cold, hard truth. Sizing is arbitrary.

You may know this, you may believe this, but I want you to read that statement over and over until you REVEL in this.

SIZING IS ARBITRARY!

And if that doesn’t quite work, just keep reading.

When we go into a dressing room we automatically assume that the garment is perfect and that we are flawed.

We use the sizing label as a yardstick to measure our imperfections. In a way the size tag has become the deciding factor in how we feel about our body. If I try on “my size” and it is a little too big I am elated and super confident for the next week because I must have lost weight. If it is a little too small I am miserable and wracked with this seemingly concrete proof that I have gained weight. I would buy every billboard in the country if it meant getting women to stop believing this sensationalized myth.

Now that I have you all fired up, let’s turn pointing fingers to the fashion industry. They are clearly responsible for this war with the size tag that we have been fighting. They are the ones making the clothes and including the offensive size tags! This is clearly all their fault.

Except it really isn’t.

I wish I could get behind this idea, I really do. I wish the enemy was as obvious and the solutions so easily identified. But I can’t, because it just isn’t true. The fashion industry is a business, like any other, that is trying to make money. They design clothing, they make clothing, they sell clothing. Point blank. They never signed up to have the self-esteem of every woman in the world wrapped up in their garment development. That was never part of their business model.

The fashion industry doesn’t know about that extra fifteen pounds that you have put on post-college or your luscious wide hips that have been passed down through the generations of your family. They are trying to make clothes to sell in the competitive retail market. If you are only going to pay $15 for a top, then they are going to find a way to make one for you because they want your money.

The worst part of the size tag conspiracy theory is that it is not doing ANYONE any good.

It doesn’t help you and it certainly doesn’t help the clothing companies. They want to make you happy by making clothes that you love so that you give them all of your money. But it is scientifically impossible to make clothing that is going to fit and look good on everyone for a competitive price.

So how do these companies pinch pennies tight enough to hit the competitive price point? Let me count the ways!

  1. Let’s say that you pay $14.99 for a blouse from one of your favorite retail stores. Retailers buy from the company/brand who designed and manufactured it for $6.25 per unit. The brand/design company pays a factory to make the garments for about $3.50 per unit. Hitting this price point means doing well in business but does not account for a lot of “wiggle room.” See what I did there?
  1. Many factories have restrictions and limitations that are not ideal for you as the consumer. Sometimes a measurement is supposed to be 2 inches bigger but the factory is going to charge 30 cents more for those extra two inches. In some cases the factory machines simply cannot make the garment 2 inches bigger. C’est la vie! So it is tagged and shipped with the same tag but without those two inches. Cue the sobbing girl in the dressing room the day before prom.
  1. The consumer assumes that a Size 14 is dictated by universal measurements that everyone uses and follows across the board. This is a false and completely made up idea. Companies base their sizing measurements off of OTHER COMPANIES that have great sales.
  1. Factories make mistakes and companies have deadlines. Sometimes in order to make those deadlines the product is shipped with some very obvious flaws.
  1. If you want a blouse for $14.99 then you will not be receiving quality fabric. AKA it is going to shrink in the wash. This is the world of FAST fashion and not LASTING fashion. When it does inevitably shrink you won’t think about this fact. You will convince yourself that it is because you have gotten larger not that the garment has gotten smaller.
  1. Clothing companies employ a FIT model to help develop their sizes. However, most companies only fit on one or maybe two sizes and then adjust the measurements up or down on a grading scale to create the other sizes. Additionally, companies often have to change fit models and while they try to keep their fits consistent, there is a large grey area. On the other hand, some models have been working for companies for so long that they had changed shape and size, but their size tag has stayed the same. This is why your favorite pair of jeans that you have been buying for five years could suddenly fit differently.

I could go on and on but I think you get the picture. There are a million and twelve things that can be wrong with the clothing you are trying on, and it can have very little to do with you or your body. The size tag is not an accurate form of measure to judge how your body has changed. It is only an accurate way to measure that blouse in comparison to the other blouses of that style and color. Yes, even color can make a difference! (Dark colors are always smaller than light colors based on the dye!)

There are also a million healthy and reliable ways to tell if you are gaining, losing or maintaining your weight. The size tag in your clothing just simply is not one of them. Employ the use of your scale, a camera or a trusty tape measure. Knowing the measurements of your body can also help you with the wonderful world of online shopping and make your life a lot easier! Even measuring and marking your progress with a shoelace or an old pair of pants that you are trying to fit back into would be a more productive use of your time! I am not telling you to stop caring about what is happening to your body. Keep your goals, but forget about thinking that the size tag is the authority. If you are only paying attention to the arbitrary number on a store tag you will miss out on a lot of fun and a LOT of incredible clothes.

There is one area in which size really does matter, and that is our need for advertisements with aesthetic diversity.

If we are going to pinpoint an area where the fashion industry could work on their sizing, it would DEFINITELY be in their media and advertisements! Diversity has become one of the hot new issues in the advertising world and we couldn’t be happier to see this trend stick! Traditional marketing trends towards the mentality that “skinny sells” and everything else doesn’t exist. But recently, cutting edge companies have been incorporating models of all genders, races, body types and ages into their marketing to see if they can attract a broader range of customer.

And guess what? It’s working!

You don’t have to take my word for it. A recent study at Baylor University conducted a comparison of marketing featuring diverse models of a realistic body type to the traditional Caucasian models and “skinny sells” marketing. What did they find? The traditional media that we are typically exposed to every day alienates 70% of the female customer base. This study takes into account body type, race, gender and the use of Photoshop. The bottom line? Real women want to see real women looking fabulous. If you are interested in reading more about this study check it out here:

When you see someone who looks like you, you are automatically drawn to them, the ad campaign and the company.

When I was 8 years old my parents rented the movie “Bringing Down the House” starring Queen Latifah. That was the first time I had ever seen a buxom, curvy woman as the lead in a movie and l refused to return the DVD to the store. I worshipped that woman and I still do because seeing her on the TV screen made me feel better, more beautiful and more worthy of love. She represented a realistic and attainable beauty standard for me, a girl who had always felt so much bigger than all the women in the media.

This is the time to use your status as the consumer to make a real difference! Don’t get so caught up in the size tag and the advertisements that you lose sight of the fact that shopping can be a totally body positive experience. You just have to realize that you have all the power! Find brands that are serving you, appealing to you and providing the world with aesthetic diversity and be loyal to them. If a store doesn’t have a size that works for you, whether it is a 00 or an 18, don’t encourage that bias with your money! Find clothing that makes you look fabulous and don’t even bother to look twice at the sizing tag. Divorce yourself from the number and instead use reliable and healthy tools to help you maintain your body and to measure weight loss and gain. You deserve to feel fabulous and look fabulous in each and every season of your life. There are a lot of factors to consider before buying a new outfit but one is NOT what’s written on that teeny insignificant tag.

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Katie Finan- a mid twenties character actress, body positive advocate, and plus sized model who is currently living, working, and running her mouth in NYC. Hustling in the fashion and theatre industry by day, and passionately writing and coaching by night, she is dedicated to breaking down the body standard status quo and jumpstarting women everywhere to rediscover and fall head over heels in love with their body.  As her love affair with her curves, and her search for the body shaming cure continues, you will always find her being Big, Blonde, and Body Positive.

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