A Frank Conversation About Clothing Size and Body-Image
Jan 8, 2010
Since the New Year, everyone has been talking about losing weight. It seems like everyone I know is on a diet.
This week, I went to dinner with five gorgeous, successful, intelligent, fascinating women and all they did was talk about diets, detox cleanses and the merits of low-carb versus the Zone. It was almost enough to make me skip the bacon wrapped dates. Almost.
Even more illuminating than the conversation about dieting, was that every woman, without exception, mentioned clothes when talking about weight. The conversation sounded something like this:
“When I’m down a to my goal weight, I’ll be able to buy this LaRok dress that I’ve been eyeing.” (Goal weight has to be my most hated phrase of the moment.)
“Right after I finished law school, I bought a Milly dress that I love but I haven’t worn it since I gained the weight.” (Please keep in mind that this lady is a size 4/6 and graduated from law school six years ago. I also love how she refers to it as “the weight,” speaking in a low tone and emphasizing the “the.” It’s the same voice you might use to talk about Lord Voldemort or Jon Gosselin were he in the room.)
“I’m trying on wedding gowns next month and if I have to buy my dress in a size 10, I will cry in Neiman’s.” (I asked her to keep in mind that wedding dresses run notoriously small and that the samples are almost always size 10. She glared at me with laser red retinas. Proving once again, that weddings are definitely the third rail.)
It was after this dinner party at which everyone ordered things on the side, ate very little, and made me leave without dessert, that I realized it was time for a serious discussion about clothing size and body image. So take a deep cleansing breath, and listen closely while I tell you a little story ’bout a girl named Belle, poor beauty queen, obsessed with the scale…(sung to the tune of The Beverly Hillbillies theme.).
From age 15 to age 25, I wore a size two pant. Then one day, I got a real job and all the diet, stress and inactivity issues that come with it. Before long, my time at the gym grew slim and my pants grew tight. But instead of buying a bigger size, I wedged myself into two pairs of Spanx every day to make those trousers button.
I did this for almost two years. And every day by six o’clock, I was miserable, counting the moments until I would be free of my spandex cocoon.
Like most women, I learned how to hate my body from my Mom. Who, incidentally, will cut me out of the will when she reads this. So, here’s hoping she stops now.
My Mother is a lovely woman. I adore her with every fiber of my being. But for as long as I have been alive, she has been on a diet.
For almost three decades (and probably before that), she has been forcing herself into the size four pants that are just a little too tight all the while saying, “Well, when I lose five/ten pounds and I can wear my clothes…” Her entire life has been spent in search of “…” and whatever magical door she thinks will open when those size four pants fit. It is her obsession.
Thus, for most of my life, my sense of self-worth was deeply entrenched in being a size two and 123lbs. Then last year, I decided that I wasn’t going to spend my life staring into my closet thinking about how none of these beautiful clothes fit me, hoping that I could squeeze myself into something presentable. On that day, I decided to take back my body and ordered a bigger size.
As Stacy London says, “You should dress the body you have, not the body you want,” and she’s right. Wearing clothes that fit will change your life. I swear it. Because when you wear clothes that are too tight you never feel comfortable or pretty. You’re constantly being pinched and poked; it’s awful.
Wearing the wrong size is a form of self-torture, a constant reminder of your body image issues and the things that you don’t love about yourself. But if you buy the right size, clothes can accentuate the positives and camouflage the negatives.
When I go into a store, I don’t see the number on the tag as my nemesis. I grab the two and the four when I head to the dressing room. Sometimes, I have to ask for a six. And every now and again, an eight. But the number doesn’t mean anything to me. Because I’m not concerned with the number, I’m concerned with the fit.
The key to finding clothes that flatter your figure is to focus on fitting the biggest part of your body. For example, I have a 25″ waist and 38″ hips (It’s all in the saddle bags, baby!). So when I buy pants, I have to make sure that the booty and the thighs look good–slender, lifted, and just a little curvy. I also have to make sure that the pants don’t bubble, bunch or get those whisker wrinkles when I sit, kneel or bend over. And even after I find a pair that fit properly, I still have to take them to the tailor and let my seamstress take somewhere between three and eight inches out of the waist band. It’s awesome. But when they’re done, I have pants that look like they were made just for me.
I am passionate about helping women dress their figures properly, because no matter how hard I try, I cannot save my Mother. I’ve been working for seven years to get her into a pair of pants that fit, but unless the tag says size four she’s not interested. Her stubbornness and her body image issues run too deep to see past that magic number.
She has so much of her self-image wrapped up in that single digit that buying a bigger size feels like a momentous failure from which she will never recover. That’s why she has a closet full of pants that she never wears, reminding her every day that she isn’t the size that she thinks she should be. And the whole situation is pretty silly considering that women’s clothing sizes are completely subjective.
It took most of my twenties to figure out that the number on the tag is completely meaningless. Sizes vary from brand to brand and country to country, and as Americans gets heavier, designers keep altering the sizes to make us feel better about ourselves. That’s why I’m a couture six, a designer four, and a retail size 0/2/4/6/maybe 8. Not exactly scientific accuracy, but for some women, it’s all that matters.
The number on the tag shouldn’t determine our self-worth a) because the number is completely subjective and b) because defining a person using a number is something we only do in the prison system. Which is a fitting description of what it feels like to wear two pairs of Spanx through a twelve-hour work day.
I am no longer the tiny, taught twenty-something beauty queen of yesteryear, and I’m okay with that. I eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. I can run without getting winded, and my doctor says I’m healthy. My mood and my life are no longer dictated by whether my pants fit or the number on the tag of the pants that do. I look good in my clothes and I feel better about my body than I ever have, even though my six-pack abs went the way of the dinosaurs.
I don’t want to preach some path to salvation. I just want the ladies out there to know, that buying the bigger size will not cause you physical pain. The number on the inside tag is not a scarlet letter broadcasting your sin to the world; it is invisible to everyone but you. And when the booty looks good, no one cares about the number on the tag.