If you are like most women, or even some men, then you might already know how designer sizing makes healthy individuals feel inadequate. You know because you’ve been there. You’ve arrived at the local mall or boutique and started browsing—only to discover that nothing is available in your ideal size. Or worse, you choose a few things and bring them into the dressing room where you quickly find yourself feeling too much and too heavy, unable to squeeze into an unrealistic shape. Before you start to panic, remind yourself that it is not your job to shrink in order to fit. Designers make us fit into their clothes when they should be making clothes to fit us.
It’s almost as if the fashion industry is trying to make us feel inadequate on purpose. The average American woman is a size 14. Actually, some studies suggest that this statistic should be increased to a size 16 or 18. Ignoring all of the available data, most fashion is designed to fit a size two. While many lines range from a 00 to a size 10 or 12, this still excludes the majority of women, who are then forced to visit the “plus size” section where the designs are often as unflattering as the connotation of the label.
Giles Deacon, creative director of the Parisian fashion house Emanuel Ungaro, admits that women are being pressured to maintain an unrealistic standard. "I've seen it in certain studios I've worked in and I've never liked it as a way of working or being with people. At a certain period in time, the fashion industry was portraying this image of a totally unrealistic woman, women who are not allowed to be themselves. It's just all a bit wrong" (Finnigan, 2011).
Designer sizing has become such a disempowering force at a time when it has the greatest influence. The real problem isn’t just that shopping becomes impossible and unpleasant. The bigger issue is what designer sizing says to healthy women about their size, shape, and appearance. Despite knowing intellectually that we are healthy and beautiful, our self-esteem still tends to falter. We start to plan what we can do to make ourselves fit—maybe we can exercise more, restrict calories, cut carbs, corset train, or skip meals. While you might lose weight initially, some of these habits can actually be dangerous to your health.
A study from the Journal of Eating Disorders suggests that it’s not just the clothing that is a problem. The mannequins used to display designer clothing promote absurd ideals. The majority of fashion mannequins would be severely underweight in human form. An average healthy woman has 21% body fat. Yet the ideals created by designer sizing would require about 15-17%. For most of us, this is too little to support strong bones, proper nutrition, or an effective immune system. Such a figure might be ideal for showing off high fashion designs, but it is entirely unrealistic in the real world.
Sadly, another study found that trying on clothes isn’t even necessary for modern fashion ideals to foster dissatisfaction with one’s body. Just looking at fashion images featuring unrealistically sized clothing led grown women and young girls to feel body dissatisfaction, so much so that the study also found a related increase in bulimic tendencies (Ba, 1995). Others have found correlations with depression. All those unrealistic images create a poor self-image. It’s time we take back control of our self-confidence and self-esteem.
It has become all too easy to forget our own inner sense of what our bodies should look like. Instead of feeling free in ourselves, we allow designer sizing to make us feel self-consciously inadequate. In a world where food is more available than ever, where we are largely insulated from starvation or famine, it is unrealistic to expect the average woman to maintain a size two. Though this is not meant in any way to shame those on the other side of the spectrum who are too slim to fit the designer sizing standard. People come in all shapes and sizes, and we are perfect pieces of the same universe.
Your body is not the problem. Women should not be made to feel as though we have to make ourselves smaller, physically or emotionally. It is not your job to fit the clothes. The clothes should be made to fit you. Next time you are in the dressing room and nothing fits, don’t fault yourself. Fault the industry and its lack of inclusiveness and body positivity.
Free yourself from the confines of designer fashion by seeking clothes that allow you to breathe deeply and feel good about yourself. Remember that practicing self-acceptance is one of the most rewarding things you can do to improve your experience of everyday life, love, and wellness. When you are confident in your natural body, you’ll feel lighter and brighter.
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What To Remember
Your body is not the problem when it comes to unrealistic designer sizing.
We must develop such self-confidence that the fitting room does not make us feel smaller, physically or emotionally.
It is time to encourage designers to make clothes to fit us, instead of making ourselves fit into their clothes.
Finnigan, Kate and Sawer, Patrick. (February, 2011). Fashion industry has forced unrealistic image on women, says leading designer. Retrieved from Telegraph.co.uk.
Hawley, Rachel. (October, 2019). I don’t feel positive about my body, And I shouldn’t have to. Retrieved from TheOutline.com.
Xandra, J. (February, 2019). What’s Wrong with Body Positivity? Retrieved from Medium.com.
Olson, Samantha.(July, 2014). Positive Movement Inspires Customizable Clothing Line In NYC: How Clothing Size Impacts Self-Esteem. Retrieved from MedicalDaily.com.
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