By Jeanene Tracy

Yay! Size 2! I just bought a size 2 dress! Wait a minute, wasn’t I a size 6 yesterday? Did resisting that extra piece of chocolate cake pay off? Come on! That doesn’t make sense. Surely trusty retailers would not manipulate clothing sizes? There is no way they would deceive me; they would never mess with my erratic thoughts about my body size. Wrong. 

It happens every day, retailers around the world are lying to us, to win us over, to make us feel good about ourselves so that we buy from them. Forget the truth; it’s all about the sale. When it comes to dollars, fables are far more effective.

Retailers are renowned for adjusting the numbers on labels to score your loyalty. Are you getting your wallet out to appease your identity crisis, or do you really want the item of clothing that just effortlessly fitted?

What Size Am I Really?

Back in the forties, the New Deal-born Works Project determined that more accurate sizing was necessary, so they funded a study which included 15,000 women to help identify the ideal measurement system. What they discovered was that women were sensitive to sharing their sizes with the clerks in the stores. Sound familiar? Not surprisingly, sharing our size still remains a sensitive topic.

Are stores just responding to our insane obsession with sizes? Do we yearn so intensely to be smaller than our actual size, that to satisfy us retailers supply us with the ego-feed their sizes can give us? Or are they feeding us more disappointment, and fuelling the fire, helping us to believe that size matters? 

The truth is retailers play at both ends of the spectrum. Some are overly generous in their sizing, and others downplay the skinny love, making it downright confusing.

As women have grown in weight over the past 60 years, reference sizes have adapted to include this expansion of bodies, but minimise the impact of the actual number attached to clothing. For example, a size 8 dress today, would have been a size 16 in 1958. That’s absurd. Are we that naive?  

Why Is This A Problem?

Let’s start with the endless confusion. Have you ever felt forced to go shopping—you’re not really in the mood, but had to get that special dress for your best friend’s wedding, or for Aunty Meryl’s 70th birthday? You peel yourself off the sofa, head to the mall reluctant to try on clothes because at the moment you feel a bit down in the dumps about what you are shoving in your mouth. 

You grab a size 8 off the rack, after all, you’ve already got a loose 8 in your ageing closet. Then it hits you like a slap in the face—it’s too tight. How is an 8 too tight? “Is my eating really that bad?” you ask yourself and spiral into a vicious cycle of self-doubt. 

You storm out of the store vowing to never buy clothes again. Your friend convinces you to step into the store next door, and so you hesitantly start the process again yet when you try the 8 here it looks like a baggy sack! What the heck? In five minutes, you lost your loaded weight? It’s a miracle! Or perhaps it’s retailer manipulation in full force. 

What about the image-issues it instils in girls? In a ridiculously image-conscious world, one of the most influential confirmations of a woman’s “acceptance” in society is her clothing size. Retailers are more persuasive than they realise when it comes to instigating weight-related struggles. In a climate of increased low self-esteem and more than 70 million sufferers of eating disorders worldwide, it is time for retailers to wake up and understand the impact they have on the bodies and minds of women.

Who Is Helping To Rid Us Of This False Truth?

We are slowly progressing past the size dilemma, but we’ve got a long way to go. The famous Barbie doll, launched in the late fifties, is undergoing a transformation aimed to encourage more size inclusivity. In 2016, Mattel introduced three new body types to the Barbie range, including curvy, petite and tall. Thankfully, they are helping to normalise various body types to young impressionable minds, through one of the best learning mechanisms—play. 

The Garment Project, established in 2017, aims to aid those recovering from eating disorders to build a positive relationship with clothing by removing all references to sizing from donated garments. Imagine if we all lived by this philosophy and were satisfied with clothing that fits well, rather than obsessing over a label loaded with expectations?

Many retailers, including Nike, JC Penney, Charlotte Russe, Kohls and H&M are increasing their range to include ‘plus sizes’, which (aside from the naming of it) helps to make larger sizing normal and not a shameful notion. 

So, forget the vanity sizing manipulation when trying on clothes, and buy what feels comfortable, without regard to any misleading number on the tag—other than the price of course—and that’s a whole new debate.