It’s not about the number. Or is it? #NumbersThatMatter

I needed a dress. I needed a dress that is appropriate for family member’s wedding (as a guest, not a bridesmaid). So I went to a Kohl’s store to see what I might find. I should say… I do not shop for clothing often, and usually when I shop, I am seeking something specific with laser-like focus. I walked in, and not being much of a shopper, and not seeing any area that had an obvious cluster of wedding-appropriate dresses, I took a brief stroll through the nearest clearance racks to see if there was anything I felt I needed.

I have struggled with ill-fitting jeans since I stopped nursing and started gaining weight – back to my body’s homeostatic size. I looked through the clearance jeans (apparently people are only buying shorts and capris at this time), and came across a pair that I liked. Not too flared, not too straight. As I pulled them off the rack, I looked at the size tag. 17. SEVENTEEN?!? Wha? I held them up to my body, and they appeared to be a little too big, not worth trying on… But certainly not double-plus-one the size I know myself to wear! I was confused. Perhaps they were marked down because they were sized wrong. That’s probably it. And then someone asked if I had any questions.

“Yes, do you have dresses that are formal enough for my brother’s wedding, but not prom-wear?”

“Yes, they are over in the center of the store, around that corner. In the women’s section.”

(I missed her hint.) “Also – I’m really confused. These jeans say they are a size 17. There’s no way! They’re a little bigger than I need, but certainly not a size 17!”

“Yes, well, these are juniors’ sizes. And they usually run a little more… (moves open hands to her hips and squeezes them, as if holding an invisible ball – one that is half her width, mind you).”

“Ahh… okay. Thanks.”  (Letting that sink in. Okay I’m too old now to shop in juniors’. Umm. I’m pretty sure that happened a while ago, but if I find something I like… who cares?) “Wait! So adolescent’s clothing runs smaller, but is called by a larger size?”

She shrugged her shoulders and walks away.

Let me say this: I am not overweight. I am solidly (whatever that means!) a size 8. And apparently I am now firmly in that phase-of-life that makes it appear awkward if I shop in the juniors’ department. Again, I am not a shopper. So much so, that I had completely forgotten than juniors’ sizes ran in odd numbers and ladies’ sizes ran in evens.  These things don’t matter to me. It’s not about the number for me. It’s about the look and feel of the item. So I got curious. I picked up a SZ 15 jean that looked like it might fit me but a little big, a size 11 that looked just right, a size 9, and 7. Then I went to the ladies’ department. I picked up a size 8, and a 10, in either shorts or jeans.

When I was younger (and more appropriately shopping in the juniors’ section), generally juniors’ size 7 was equivalent to ladies’ size 8. Juniors’ 9 was roughly equivalent to ladies’ size 10, etc. When did this change? I still see pants labelled as 7/8, and 9/10, and 11/12… so apparently in some parallel universe that is still the case. But not at Kohl’s.

So I did a photo journal of the experience. These pictures are unedited. As it turns out, it is hard to take in-focus selfies in a mirror.
Please forgive the pale skin (I work indoors), and the insulin pump-parts you may see in the pics (I have diabetes).

These are the “sweet and straight” jeans. They are relaxed, but sometimes make me feel frumpy. These are definitely my “comfortable” jeans.

These are the “sweet and straight” jeans. They are relaxed, but sometimes make me feel frumpy. These are definitely my “comfortable” jeans.

Here are juniors'  Hydraulic size 15 jeans. They are too big for me, and would look funny if cinched with a belt, but not 6 sizes too big! They are made with some lycra, so they stretch some.

Here are juniors’ Hydraulic size 15 jeans.
They are too big for me, and would look funny if cinched with a belt, but not 6 sizes too big! They are made with some lycra, so they stretch some.

These are Angel jeans size 11. These fit just right. Comfortable, with no bulge over the top.

These are Angel jeans size 11.
These fit just right.
Comfortable, with no bulge over the top.

These are a size 8 at Maurice’s. Note the gapping in the back.

These are a size 8 at Maurice’s. Note the gapping in the back.

Now for Maurice's size 9: Close, but too tight in the waist.

Now for Maurice’s size 9: Close, but too tight in the waist.

I did, in fact try on some dresses. For some reason in dresses I needed either a 6 or a small.

I did, in fact try on some dresses. For some reason, in dresses I needed either a 6 or a small.

The fact is that there is NO consistency in sizing for junior’s or womens’ clothing! No wonder it takes women so much longer to shop than a man! I can go into a store and KNOW that any pair of pants I pick up that are sized 34×30 will fit my husband. I know he needs a size large shirt. That’s it. It is not the same for girls/women.

Now, I am a counselor. I have seen clients who have what I consider to be significant body dysmorphia (meaning, they don’t have a realistic image of their body shape/size). I have worked with people with have eating disorders. Too many young people have unrealistic standards that they are trying to live up to. The inconsistency in sizing for our clothing cannot be helping this situation! A teenager who is my size may consider herself “plus sized” because the number on her pants is 1.5 x the number on mine!

According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), “By age 6, girls especially start to express concerns about their own weight or shape. 40-60% of elementary school girls (ages 6-12) are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat. This concern endures through life (Smolak, 2011).” Age 6!!!

According to The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD):
• 91% of women surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting. 22% dieted “often” or “always.”
• 86% report onset of eating disorder by age 20; 43% report onset between ages of 16 and 20.6
• Anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents.
• 95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25.
• 25% of college-aged women engage in bingeing and purging as a weight-management technique.3
• The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate associated with all causes of death for females 15-24 years old.
• Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives.
• In a survey of 185 female students on a college campus, 58% felt pressure to be a certain weight, and of the 83% that dieted for weight loss, 44% were of normal weight. • 47% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported wanting to lose weight because of magazine pictures.
• 69% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported that magazine pictures influenced their idea of a perfect body shape.
• 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner.
• 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat.

These numbers matter! These are lives we are talking about!

Somehow, I grew up to be at home in my skin. In part, it was related to my parenting, and genetic make-up, sure. And I am fortunate in that. But do not read that to say that I have not shared in these struggles. I tried, at one point, to be anorexic. It turns out I do not have the necessary gag reflex. I binged, I compulsively exercised. I gained and lost weight and gained again. I eat my feelings. These are real battles for too many women! But basing your perception and value of yourself on something as arbitrary (see above documented examples) as the size noted on your clothing is not helpful or fair to you, or any other woman you meet.

Ladies, that number on your clothing tag does not matter. You do.

I hope to raise my daughter with the light of knowledge that this variability exists and is real. I hope to raise awareness that the clothing makers seek to manipulate behavior by sizing things inconsistently. The way juniors’ clothing is sized effectively reinforces the lies that our girls hear day in and day out: You’re fat. You don’t measure up. You need to lose weight to be loved or acceptable.

Ladies, can we demand that clothing makers develop a consistent sizing regimen, so that the Sevens and Lucky’s and MissMe’s can’t make wealthier buyers feel better about themselves by being able to squeeze into a size___? Can we simply start labelling our clothes with actual, meaningful sizes? (Lucky already does this – their ladies’ jeans are labeled by both traditional American sizes and actual inches. My label says “8 / 29.”) Can we stop deceiving ourselves about our own body shape/size, because it’s my totally unfounded suspicion that’s how we got to this arbitrary sizing scale anyway.

Tweet this, share it, and tell your stories, using the #NumbersThatMatter hashtag.

As always, feel free to join the conversation by commenting below.

Advertisements