Sizing and the body image issues it creates haven't become any better over lockdown. With the crazy increase in time we’ve spent on social media (the average 18-24-year-old spending over five hours on social media each day!) and the toxic nature of some of the apps, it’s no surprise that body image issues are on the rise. Instagram is arguably the biggest offender; with celebs and influencers posting highly edited photos of their bodies that don't reflect the way real, healthy bodies look. Brands like Fashion Nova then exploit the body image issues this creates to sell more clothes.
However, even now, with lockdown restrictions slowly lifting and us returning to world, it seems the supernatural measurements of these IG models have followed us out of lockdown and into stores. As we’re returning to the high street, we’re becoming reacquainted with the problem of yo-yo sizing between different stores. These scattered measurements create confusing and unrealistic standards: something that subtly and insidiously alienates us from our own bodies.
Also, it’s just plain annoying!
Sizing in the past
The sizing we have now hasn’t always existed. The measurements and sizing in the past were very different. Originally, manufacturers (the companies that make the clothes) decided on sizing; or, more specifically, the pattern makers. They used a system called the divisional scale, where sizes ran from 12-24. This was a mathematical system where each size had a defined, static value based around the height and the weight of the wearer.
After World War II, the relationship between manufacturers and retailers (the companies that sell the clothes) changed as retail become far more powerful; and this only became worse with the introduction of mass production. This change shifted focus toward the consistency and marketability of the clothes.
From this point, retail started to take over the sizing: introducing our current system. In this system, the measurements of each size are always in flux, changing to match the sizes of competitors or to keep up with the way our bodies change in size over time. Part of this practice is vanity sizing. This is where clothes are sized smaller than their actual measurements to give the impression the wearer has dropped a few dress sizes.
In The Absurdity of Women’s Clothing Sizes, In One Chart, you can see the shift of standardised sizes over time. It charts the progression of the different sizes and what measurements they reflected through the 20th century to now, showing how much it has changed.
Today's crazy sizing
From this brief history lesson, we can see sizing isn't used to help us find clothes that fit. Instead, it is a way to market clothes to us. This also leads to insane differences in measurements between the same ‘size’ of clothes at different stores.
This has become such a problem it has created the need for What Size Am I? The website is solely for calculating what size you are at a number of high street retailers; the likes of which include Zara and Next. The website’s creator Anna Powell-Smith said when speaking to The Daily Mail that ‘a four inch difference’ in the same size between different shops is ‘not unusual’. She used the difference between size 16 at Jaeger and Banana Republic as an example.
"In the UK, a size 16 at Jaeger has a bust of 42.3 inch, waist of 34.6 inch and hips of 44.9 inch. A size 16 at Banana Republic has a bust of 38.5 inch, waist of 30.3 inch and hips of 40.5 inch."
This is just the tip of the iceberg; Twitter user @broccolibooks71 writes that they have ‘found up to a two inch difference’ in jeans and suggesting "If one size doesn’t fit, try a different piece of the same size", whilst @RosesBrain begs "Can we please just have the same sizing as men’s jeans?"
Mental health implications
These kinds of discrepancies between sizes can seriously harm the body image of shoppers. Teenagers are especially at risk of Body Dysmorphic Disorder. A writer for Metro describes how this process occurs saying the different sizing can lead to:
"Questioning whether they are actually seeing themselves as smaller than they are - setting off another vicious cycle of insecurity and dangerous eating habits and self-perception." Hattie Gladwell
This quote references the issues created when the size of the item is exaggerated from its actual measurements. However, the issue of sizing in general has been reported to leave shoppers ‘frustrated sweaty teary-eyed’ and 'cause you to have a meltdown in a dressing room’. This article has a personal testimony about its effects, as the author has been diagnosed with Body Dysmorphic Disorder; he lists sizing specifically as problematic, describing how it can ‘cause anxiety’, and advises you to go as far as ‘invest[ing] in your accessories, because they don’t have sizes that change’.
The more troubling thing is this is a problem that won’t go away. Even with campaigns to help curb some of the worst offenders, for example H&M, it won't stop. Issues with sizing are foundational to the way we shop and therefore a difficult problem to solve. Unfortunately, it looks like Carnival Mirror sizing is here to stay.