Oh dear, Retro Chick is getting ranty about dress sizes again.
I’ve written a lot on the topic of vanity sizing and our relationships with our body size, but this morning I read an article entitled “Would you rather be a ‘Marilyn’ than a size 14″ on the Guardian website and I felt the urge to get ranty again.
I’m not even going to start with the whole “Marilyn was a size 14″ thing, she wasn’t a modern 14, lets leave her and her 23″ waist to one side for a moment. My rant button was pressed more by the content of the article. The general gist of it is that clothing size labels make us aware of our “figure flaws” and make us compare ourselves to other women in a negative light. It suggests that a solution to vanity sizing frustrations would be to scrap numerical labelling and start afresh labelling clothes as “burlesque” or “Marilyn”, or other words with positive connotations. Whilst I might agree that the labels “stout”, “average” and “slender” could carry some negative connotations and make you feel a bit rubbish, the fact is we don’t use these any more, and basing your self esteem on the arbitrary number someone printed on a piece of fabric and sewed into your dress is a pretty sad state of affairs.
The whole concept of a “flawed” figure is worrying to me. I’ve spent plenty of time in my life feeling like a freak because I just didn’t understand why I couldn’t wear a pencil dress from a High Street shop. I just didn’t get it. It might sound stupid but the concept that bodies could be different SHAPES as well as sizes never occurred to me and it wasn’t something that anyone ever mentioned in all those pointless PSHE classes about our changing bodies. When that piece of information finally clicked into place in my late 20s the world of shopping made a lot more sense. My wide hips and narrow waist aren’t a “figure flaw” because they vary from the pattern a shop cuts to, they’re simply part of me, regardless of my size I will never be able to buy that style of dress from certain shops and have them fit as they should.
It also bothers me the idea that we should shy away from damaging Women’s self esteem by suggesting that they are over weight when they shop for clothes. Frankly this whole concept irks me. If you’re overweight and unhealthy then you are overweight and unhealthy, if having to buy a size 18 makes you do something about it then I say yay! If you are perfectly happy being a size 18 then I also say yay! Good for you. Body confidence is something you can have whatever your size, but the problem isn’t with our poor delicate psyches being damaged by having to buy bigger size clothes, it’s with our whole attitude to Women’s bodies and their respective sizes. I have as many issues with the fat positive movement as I do with our obsession with thinness as both focus on appearance rather than the health and abilities of our bodies or even our minds.
Clothing sizes aren’t judgemental, it’s just a number on a scale, people are judgemental. The issue is the value society puts on Women’s bodies as a decorative object and the resulting pressure we put on ourselves to fit into an ideal. It doesn’t matter if your dress size is “Burlesque” or a “14″, if you’re trained to think the ideal size is “Twiggy” then not buying “Twiggy” will make you feel bad. We still think it’s fine to feel smug when we hear that the skinny girl we hated from school is now 15stone (she’s also a succesful lawyer, but she’s FAT!), maybe if we didn’t put so much value on our bodies appearance and more on its health and what it can do then we wouldn’t need to vanity size things or give dress sizes names in order to avoid upsetting people.
Next time you catch yourself wishing you were buying a smaller size, or comparing your clothes size to other Women, stop, think about why you place so much value on that arbitrary number, think about what it says about the value of you as a Woman and what you’d rather be valued for. Don’t let your defining characteristic be the number on your clothes label.
I’ve written about my changing relationship with my body over on Lipstick, Lettuce & Lycra today.