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Sizing Ourselves Up

Feb 25 2014
For women, arbitrary clothing sizes further distort our body image.

The dress was too small, so I wouldn't buy it. It came in a larger size, but I wasn't about to wear that size—in my mind, it was "too big."

We've all been there, inordinately focused on the size number on the label. Women have fretted about their sizes—and how sizes differ from brand to brand and garment to garment—since standardized sizing was created. One reason the current sizing system exists is to prevent women from having to admit their objective measurements and weight to salespeople.

Recently, the tabloids reported that reality star Kim Kardashian, who gave birth last June and has since lost 70 pounds—is losing yet more weight. She works out for three hours a day and subsists on grilled fish and steamed vegetables because, says a friend, "She's desperate to be a size-0 bride" for her upcoming wedding to rapper Kanye West. The couple hopes that the wedding will be featured in Vogue.

A relatively recent invention, size zero has become a topic of controversy with some people, including British model Katie Green, who's calling for its abolishment. A contemporary size zero, "depending on brand and style, fits measurements of chest-stomach-hips from 30-22-32 inches to 33-25-35 inches." In 1995, a person with those measurements would've worn a size 2. Remarkably, in 1958, similar measurements corresponded to a size 8—the smallest size then available. Today, sizes such as double zero exist. Perplexingly, some labels (such as former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham's) even offer negative sizes.

When I was a teen with an eating disorder, size zero was just starting to appear and gave uncanny expression to my twisted desire to disappear all but completely. Some women legitimately need these small sizes, but the pressure for runway models to wear size zero exclusively is alarming, considering that many are routinely hospitalized because of the extreme and unnatural thinness demanded by the industry.

"Vanity sizing"—reducing the size number on the label in order to boost consumer's egos—has a dramatic effect on shoppers desperate for that smaller size. Last year, Forbes noted an industry study from the Journal of Consumer Psychology, which found that

smaller size labels increased the self esteem of their customers. Conversely, larger size labels (for the same actual size clothing) reduced the self-esteem of the customer and, more importantly for brands, that negativity also transferred to the product itself!

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