How clothing sizes contribute to poor body image

There are three sides to every story: what he said, what she said and what really happened. I’m going to tell you all three sides to an unfortunately common story.

Side 1: He said

Imagine you’re walking through a clothing store. You see a shirt that you really like, so you decide to try it on –– except they don’t have your normal size: XL. So you decide to size down. A large can’t be much smaller, right? You take the shirt into the dressing room, and as you pull it over your arms, you’re hoping it will fit because it’s really nice and you know it will match your new pants perfectly. After some minor struggle, the shirt falls over your upper body, and you realize “flattering” is no longer a word that comes to mind. Discouraged, you take the shirt off and put your other shirt back on, then you leave the dressing room feeling defeated.

Side 2: She said

Imagine you’re walking through a clothing store. You see a pair of pants that you really like, so you decide to try them on –– except they don’t have your normal size: 2. So you decide to size up. A size 4 can’t be much bigger, right? Especially if you wear a belt. You take the pants into the dressing room, and as you pull them over your legs, you’re hoping they fit because they’re really nice and you know they will match your new shirt perfectly. After a little too much ease, you button and zip the pants realizing they resemble a pair of pajama pants rather than form-fitting jeans. Discouraged, you take the pants off and put yours back on, then you leave the dressing room feeling defeated.

Side 3: What really happened

These stories mentioned above are the reality many people face on a daily basis: clothes that are either too big or too small and a body image that’s labeled by a number or letter size.


00, 0, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18.

These numbers and letters become some of the most defining factors of how we view ourselves and our appearances. This is unfortunate because we are so much more than numbers on a scale or labels on articles of clothing.

What an ideal woman has looked like throughout history has changed drastically. In the 1800s, an ideal woman was considered “Rubenesque.” This type of woman would have been a bit more plump and curvy. Then in the roaring ‘20s, the ideal woman was slender but tough, most likely with her hair cut into a bob. You would most likely find her wearing a flapper dress of sorts, too. Fast forward to the ‘40s and ‘50s when Marilyn Monroe was considered the ideal woman. She was a beautiful pin-up girl, and thinner girls in this time period were considered hopeless and incapable of finding a husband. Then in the ‘60s, skinny made a comeback when being “twiggy” was the trend.

Between the ‘60s and the present, not much has changed. Thin, for the most part, has been considered as the more ideal type of woman. However, in the 2010s, plus-size models have staged a comeback with many “love your body” campaigns.

Understanding the evolution of these body images is an important step to understanding the evolution of clothing sizes. As of 2016, the average woman in the United States is a size 16 or 18, according to a study done by the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education.

Clothing sizes contribute to poor body image because often times, you’re a different size in two different stores. In one store you could be a 6 in pants, but in another store you could be an 8 or 10. This is all dependent upon the manufacturer. Clothing sizes are typically dependent upon one’s measurements.

For example, if a woman’s bust measures 36-37 inches, her waist measures 29-30 inches and her hips measures 39-40 inches, she will most likely be considered a size medium (M) or number sizes 8-10. However, these sizes vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, which means they vary from store to store.

Body image contributes so much to how we holistically view ourselves, and unfortunately, a big part of body image is clothing sizes. This is a problem that contributes to many self-esteem issues both men and women face. Personally, I have always struggled with my body image, especially in light of my clothing size. I have always been bigger and taller than most of my friends, and this has proved difficult for me in my self-esteem. I have watched myself transition through a myriad of clothing sizes dependent upon the season of life I was in.

Beyond that, I’ve not been able to shop at certain clothing stores, such as Hollister or Abercrombie and Fitch because of my size. While it is absolutely within the rights of a store owner or manufacturer to only make their clothing for men and women of a specific body build, it’s incredibly excluding and can create poor self-esteem issues. When I was in middle school and high school and all my friends could shop at those stores and I had to just sit there while they enjoyed shopping, it was hard for me. I think one way to decrease poor body image specifically in light of clothing sizes is to explicitly size clothing based on measurements, not numbers or letters.

Men’s pants are often sized, for example, as 32×34, which is waist and leg length. I think measuring women’s clothing this way would be beneficial. Additionally, I think stores and manufacturers should strive for inclusivity when thinking about clothing size. A size 12 should not look different at seven different stores; there needs to be consistency in sizing. No matter what the change is, a change needs to be made to ensure that people are able to view themselves with dignity and confidence, not as a number or a label.