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size 10 is the new 12I’m not trying those on, they’re size 10!”

“I refuse to wear a size 12.”

“Wow, I fit into a size 6!”

“Let’s go in this store; in here, I’m a size 4!”

On any given shopping trip, put me and perhaps a daughter or sister or two into the dressing room together, and the chatter pretty much flows just like that. Then there’s the “I’m smokin’– look at me!” dance when a size 6 zips up neatly.

The feminist ref in my head may as well throw down the penalty flag since I’m guilty of having spiked the “size equals value as a woman” football into the end zone in order to get that little victory.

Who says a six (or a four or a ten) is a badge of honor–let alone a badge of shame? Then there’s that ridiculous size 0 or 00!! Does that make me a size nothing, or double nothing? Sounds like I’m invisible–or the incredible shrinking woman.

I’ve been every size from a 16 to a 4, and I definitely like myself better when I’m wearing the “right size.” However, too many women fixate on an arbitrary number as to what is the right size. The numbers are arbitrary, as I found out while learning to sew back in 1967.

The history of standardized sizing began with home sewing patterns back in the 1930s. Prior to that time, most clothing was individually sewn and tailored to fit the wearer. Then in an effort to standardize sizing for mass produced clothing,  the first large-scale scientific study of women’s body measurements was done.  About 15,000 American women were measured, 59 body points in all, as part of a USDA survey. Marilyn Monroe-esque curvy was the shape of most women at that initial assessment, with pronounced bust and hips and thinner waist. A size 12 then measured as a 30-inch bust.

In 1956, however, a new role model came on the scene–the Barbie doll–and sizing changed again. Now a size 12 was a 32-inch bust. (And beautiful bombshell Marilyn would’ve worn size 16!) In mid-1967, the standard changed once again and size 12 became a 34-inch bust.

Fast forward to today: sizes are firmly anchored in the realm of “vanity sizing.” Store to store, designer to designer, manufacturers lure you in by labeling ever larger sizes with smaller numbers. In fact, the fashion industry resists any effort to standardize sizes, as was done in 1940, fearing loss of a customer if the size she wear gets upsized.

Upsized like a value meal? Who would stand for that? I try to forget this crazy numbers game! Do I like how I look? Do I feel good? Does this outfit feel like me? I’ve tried to define my style and stick with it and ignore the size, rather than let it make me feel bad about myself.

This piece has previously been published in Midlife-Beauty.

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Vanity Sizing: The Travesty & Tyranny of the Dressing Room was last modified: by

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