A Call to Designers of Women's Fashion
Body image is simply the way one views his or her own body. Typically when it is referenced, the story is about a person who has distorted (ie: doesn't see what is true) or negative (ie: dislike of what is seen or felt) body image; rarely are stories shared by or about people with a positive body image. Yet, a positive body image can be experienced by any body, regardless of shape or size or any other characteristic, so why does it seem that so many struggle with holding a positive body image?
Note: I am a woman and therefore will only speak from my own experiences and from those experiences related to me by clients who are/identify as female. I am certain men experience something, but I cannot speak to the male experience in this arena, so I'm not going to. Now that that's clear...
Part of the approval process to have bariatric surgery (read about my journey here, here, here, here, here, and here) includes an assessment of mental health, of which body image is a part. As a therapist, I went into that process anticipating the questions that would likely be asked and viewing it as no more than box to check in the process. After all, with my experience with Ed I figured I knew whatever I needed to know to be ready for life after surgery. For the most part, I was right. Except for one main question: are you proud of your body?
There I sat, alone in room in front of a computer screen, wondering, well, am I proud of my body? The nuance was evident as I'd already answered if I liked my body (yes) and if I was disappointed with what I saw in the mirror (also yes). But proud? No, no I was not proud. If you go back and read the previous posts, you'll see I actually felt betrayed by my body. But that's a story for another day.
Let me focus us in. Body image, body positivity, pride in one's body; they're all connected. How one feels towards one's body is influenced by many, many factors. Today, I want to focus on just one. Look at the picture below. Without reading further, see if you can guess what factor I'm taking issue with here.
Between the title and the picture, can you guess it?
In both pictures above the top I am wearing is a 2X. Yup! Both of them. Same size. I don't know exactly how much I weighed in the picture on the right, but to say I'm, at minimum, 90 pounds lighter on the left is not out of the question. Still, I needed a 2X in both. Throughout my life, I've had times when I could wear a size 18, 20, and 22 pant from one day to the next.
This is not okay! Does clothing size actually matter? Nope. But the impact seeing those differing sizes has on the brain, especially a brain bent towards eating disorders, is significant. Imagine being a size 18 one day and a 22 the next. It's infuriating, confusing, and disheartening.
Let me be clear. There were times in my life that I had positive body image and was proud of my body when I was in those sizes. Again, clothing size doesn't matter. Body positivity is about acceptance and love as you are, not only when you meet certain criteria. In the picture above, in fact, I was proud of my body in both pictures. I am more proud now of how my body is functioning than every before, but the day the picture on the left was taken I had to do a lot of self-talk to push past what seeing that 2X on the label did to me.
It's such a small thing. It's the reason some companies have changed to a different system (0-4) for plus-sized clothing. Though, in the end, that system does the same thing. I get that sizes are needed to communicate which each person needs, but does it need to so complicated? Is there a reason a 14 can't be a 14 no matter the designer or store? If you consider the typical sizing system of odd numbers from 0-24, that's thirteen sizes; if you factor in variations of those sizes among brands, cuts, designers, etc? The number is at least triple.
Am I proud of my body today? Yes! Because of the size? Not exactly. I'm proud of it because it is finally functioning the way it should. This includes a smaller size, yes; it also includes an outer reflection that matches (finally) how I feel inside, it includes seeing signs of health and strength. Even with the progress since surgery, the size of a shirt can throw me. If I laid that blue tank (2X) atop another in my closet, I'd need to grab an L or XL to find something the same size. That's a problem.
Designers, advocate for a universal sizing structure! Make it accessible to all body types and make it consistent. People should not needed the added stress of tracking what size they wear at what store and what places they cannot shop because those store's version of their size is too small. One small thing resulting in a substantial impact on body image and overall mental health. Why can't it be done?
For my next soap box blog, I'm considering something like 'death to the BMI'.
Until then, be kind to yourself as you shop. Remember your clothing size is not a reflection of you. Ask yourself if you are proud of your body and if you like your body. If the answer is no, create your plan to change directions. If the answer is yes, own it! Don't let the numbers on the tags diminish or derail you.