Saturday, August 5, 2017

A Modest Proposal for Body-Positive Sizing

It's amazing (in a horrifying way) how much that tiny number or letter on the tag of your clothing can affect your entire sense of self. In the past week or so, I've seen some folks really struggling with body image, and it seems like whenever the matter of body acceptance comes up, the issue of clothing size isn't far behind.

hearts and found Lana dress

I get it. It's really, really hard not to dwell on that number/letter, especially when it changes. And it's incredibly frustrating that clothing sizes vary so wildly from shop to shop, and often from item to item within the same shop.

We've all been inundated with the message that women should strive to take up as little space in the world as possible: that you can never be too thin, but that being fat is the enemy of style. We're told this in so many different ways: by the uniform body type that most mainstream actors and models have, by stores that don't stock 'plus' sizes, and by the very notion of plus sizing itself. (Plus is equal, people. It's not a separate category!)

It's super hard to deprogram yourself and escape a lifetime's worth of these body-shaming messages. We're taught that descriptive words -- small, medium, large, and so forth -- aren't just innocuous words that identify the range of sizes people might need, but words that contain value judgments in and of themselves. As I would've said in my political theorist days, these descriptors carry normative freight. Some sizes are better than others, we learn, and so we come to believe that the size you wear makes you better or worse: more or less worthy of love and acceptance.

This is terrible, right? New clothes should make you feel happy and excited, not ashamed, because expressing something about yourself through clothing is super fun!

women's rainbow dress
Case in point!

In truth, sizing is arbitrary and irrelevant. That label in your clothes is just a way to quickly figure out which version of a dress/skirt/top is the one you need. The size you wear has less than nothing to do with your worth as a person, or what you deserve from the universe! I'll say it again: all bodies are good bodies, and what really matters is your character, actions, and conduct.

And yet, it's so hard to quiet that critical devil on your shoulder when you think about your clothing size, isn't it? It's hard not to feel bad when someone who wears a smaller size than you expresses body-negative feelings, because it makes you wonder: if they feel bad about themselves, shouldn't I feel worse?

Spoiler alert: nope! Negative body image has nothing to do with whether your body aligns with societal standards for thinness or beauty. It can affect anyone, regardless of what they look like. Coincidentally, that's how I know that those insidious feelings of not-pretty-enough are a trick my mind is playing on me. The feeling of never-enough-ness isn't rooted in any sort of objective truth about your body. To borrow a phrase: it's a trap: a useful trap that keeps women docile, self-doubting, dependent on validation from others, and willing to continuously shell out money just to chase that feeling away for a little while. But I digress!

Back to the point: I have an idea for taking some of the implied judgment out of those little labels that tell us which things will fit our bodies. Instead of using numbers or small-medium-large-etc to label our clothing, why not use colors?

I'm (obviously) a huge fan of colors. I find myself in love with just about every color combination I see, and while my heart will always belong to green and red, my closet is full of dresses in every color of the rainbow. So to me, using colors to label clothes is a no-brainer. After all, does anyone see purple (or yellow, or pink) as an inherently bad color to be? You might have a favorite, of course, but will you really feel the same sting if you go into a shop and need to get a size indigo instead of a size green? Will you feel bad when your size-orange friend vents about her body-acceptance struggles?

Heck, you wouldn't even need to label sizes in rainbow order! Alternately, why not use words for the various shades of a given color (e.g. chartreuse, lime, hunter, kelly, mint)?

hearts and found rainbow Lana dress
Dress: Hearts and Found Lana in "On a different wavelength"
Shoes: Sam Edelman (similar)
Belt: Doll Me Up
Earrings: Atomic Lucite

So that's my idea for decoupling size labels from the value judgments we associate with them. And if any clothing companies out there are reading this, you can make this happen. In the meantime, if you've been struggling with what's on the tag of your clothing, take a moment to think about this idea. Is being a size [fill in the blank] really that different than being a size burnt sienna?

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  1. Another great post, and, oh, what a stunning dress - even if the 'twirling' photo makes my eyes go funny!! Kx

  2. Ugh, sizing. I hate clothes and shopping for years because I hated the sizes I had to buy. I actually love fashion, but it wasn't until I improved my self-esteem that I was able to realize that. I feel like the current system is no good. Something like colors or empowering adjectives would be much better indeed! Great post, Em.

    Breanna Catharina

  3. I love this idea - when you put your size down to numbers it really does have an impact on the way you feel about yourself.

    Carla x

  4. This is such an interesting post and amazing that you've come up with solutions to this too! The colour idea is fab x


  5. Another great post Emily! As always šŸ’– Also you look amazing - that dress is so so cute šŸ’–

  6. This is definetely a really interesting read - I think a colour system would stop comparison of body types because it's not numeric, thanks for sharing x

    Kayleigh Zara šŸŒæ

  7. Loving the positivity in this post, plus I really like your writing style! So lovely and easy to read :)

    Anika xo |

  8. Oh my goodness, this is such a good idea! But then don't you think people would look negatively on some colours? Like someone could say 'oh I'm a green' and the other person would go 'oh really? Honey you should try and be a white' and stuff like that. It doesn't sound as bad as numbers though. I'm a big fan of the idea!

    Julia xx

  9. I like this post a lot, I recently found myself feeling upset after I couldn't fit into a pair of shorts 3 sizes above mine (so I'm avoiding H&M bc their sizing is ughhh) šŸ’–

    1. Girl SAME. I'm a 10 and couldn't even fit in a H&M 16, their sizes are ridiculous!

  10. I love any post that encourages positivity :) This is really great!

    Chloe Lauren

  11. love your piece; I still struggle at 36 years old with body positive issues; all of them I have to admit put on me not by society, or anyone else, but by little ol' me - i'm my worst culprit! :( But this made me feel a little better and love your positive attitude ,as well as your colorful skirt and your joyous swirl!! :) xx Bee thanks for making me smile on a rainy nyc day

  12. That is actually a nice idea. I hope someone will actually do that :) And btw, that is a very cute dress. You look lovely!

    xx Alyssa // STYLE VANITY

  13. That photo of you twirling is so cool, it's almost like an optical illusion in that dress xx

    Beauty & Colour | Vegan Lifestyle Blog

  14. I touch upon this as well in an upcoming blog post. I love reminding myself that so what you had to size up, no one can see the size on the tag inside your dress but you. I always hated how men's clothes were so much simpler - jeans go by waist measurement and pant length measurement. OK SO WHY CAN'T WOMENS?????

  15. I LOVE THIS IDEA! Imagine going to a shop assistant and asking "do you have this in mint?" I love it so much!

    I'm usually a UK size 10 and I was so upset when I had to buy a 16 from H&M! I will remember this post the next time I'm stressing over the numbers.

    Also, you look awesome in that dress xx

    Alice | Dainty Alice