Thursday, October 10, 2013

What's Up With All of the Recent "Size 8" Pride? (And What, Exactly,IS "Size 8," Anyway?)

Size 14?  Well, yes, but no.  Read more here.
In the spirit of "Throwback Thursdays" and my Salon.com essay about the Abercrombie & Fitch controversy, I'm bringing back this oldie-but-goodie post.

Enjoy!

The other day I was editing an article I'm writing for the academic journal, Social Problems.  (The article draws from my master's paper, about the "Plus Size" clothing industry.)  It was my second round of responding to reviewers' edits, so most of the requested changes were pretty minor.  One, however, gave me pause.

Reviewer #2 wrote: "Inconsistency: Sometimes the author says she is a size 8 and other times a size 10." 

Inconsistent?  Sure.  But it's also true. When I wrote that I "generally wear a standard-sized 8 or 10 in pants," I meant it.  Some days I'm an "8" and other days I'm a "10." But to be completely honest, depending on where I've been shopping for clothes, I might also be a "6," a "12," a "Small," a "Medium," a "Large," or an "XL."  My closet currently contains clothes in all of these sizes, and they all fit.  Sure, my measurements fluctuate a bit depending on my hormones and/or the length of time that's passed since I last ate a super-salty meal (yummmm), but I know my body, and it doesn't change all that much.

It's not me, it's them.  
Who?  Them. 
The clothing companies who can't seem to make up their minds about what size(s) we are.

The crazy inconsistency of clothing size standards in the U.S. fashion industry fascinates me.  It fascinates me so much, in fact, that I've conducted research on the topic.  I'll tell you more about the particulars of my sociological stuff some other time, but suffice it to say that I kind of scoff whenever I hear anyone - particularly celebrities - claiming to be any certain size.  

The stand-out offender, to my memory, was Jennifer Love Hewitt, who responded to trash magazines that had dissed her for gaining weight by saying on her blog, "Like all women out there should, I love my body. [...] A size 2 is not fat!  Nor will it ever be."  It really pissed me off that Jennifer used a completely nebulous concept ("size 2") to tell the world that she wasn't fat, and, therefore, shouldn't be picked on.  For the record, this was pure "fat talk," and while it may have seemingly gotten supposedly-size-2-Hewitt off the hook, it also reinforced the idea that it's okay to be cruel to women who are fat.  Folks called Hewitt a body image advocate for sticking up for herself, but I wish she'd stuck up for the rest of us too.  Nobody - not even very very fat women - deserve to be treated with disrespect.  (Oh, on a side note, mark my words: if vanity sizing continues the way it's been going, size 2 may very well be considered "fat" in a future filled with size quadruple-zeros!)


Anyway, back to the present.  These days, "Size 8" seems to be the new cool-girl size.   Female celebrities owning their down-to-earthiness are all about the Size 8!  (This all kind of reminds me of the whole "Real Beauty" thing from a few years ago, which sounds nice, but also suggests that certain women are somehow more real than others.)  Anyway, this recent SIZE 8 IS GREAT! trend started with my favorite funny-girl, Mindy Kaling.  

Here is what Mindy writes about being a "chubby 8" in here book Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me?:
Since I am not model-skinny, but also not super-fat and fabulously owning my hugeness, I fall into that nebulous, 'Normal American Woman Size' that legions of fashion stylists detest.  For the record, I'm a size 8 (this week anyway).  Many stylists hate that size because, I think, to them, I lack the self-discipline to be an aesthetic, or the sassy confidence to be a total fatty hedonist.  They're like 'Pick a lane.'"
I like that Mindy suggests that her body changes by the week, but what about her clothing size?  A size 8? From where, exactly?  I'm not suggesting that Mindy is actually bigger than a size 8, or smaller, or whatever.  In my opinion a woman's actual size and clothing size shouldn't matter at all.  But  they do, so why claim something that we all know to be... well... "nebulous."  Are we all agreeing to ignore this so we can tell ourselves that WE are, in fact, size whatever-we-want-to-be?  (FYI, I find it really interesting that she thinks stylists prefer either super thin or super fat. In my experiences working in the fashion industry, "super fat" was what they called... me.  So maybe times have changed?)

Next there was Miranda Lambert.

Lambert told everyone who reads SELF magazine, "I feel my best when I'm a toned, not flabby, size 8."  Again, size 8 is the chosen size.  But, don't worry, she's not flabby.  Indeed, Miranda's as-long-as-I'm-not-flabby body confidence appears on the magazine cover next to a headline promising to "Peel Off the Pounds!" Sigh.

Finally, formerly-skinny-sized-now-formerly-plus-sized-model Crystal Renn added her two-cents.

Renn fended off critics of her recent weight loss by saying,
I've been a double-zero, children's clothes, at 95 pounds, and I've been all the way up to a size 16 and everything in between.  [....] Now I'm a 6, 8, sometimes a 10, depending on what designer I'm wearing.  And that's an interesting place to be in fashion, where extremes are the norm.
Renn's quote is actually my favorite of the three.  Why?  Because it (finally!) recognizes that clothing size labels are all over the place.  I have no idea what's going on with Renn's weight-loss-gain-loss (and it's really none of my business), but I do believe what she's decided to tell the world about her clothing size: it totally depends on what designer she's wearing.  

Since clothing size varies tremendously across brands, celebrities (and real people!) can claim to be any variety of sizes without lying.  For example, I could describe myself as an "XS" since I have one t-shirt in my closet that fits.  Or, I could describe myself as "XL" thanks to another t-shirt that fits.  (It's magic, I tell ya!)  Anyway, my point is this: why are celebs suddenly claiming "Size 8" instead of something smaller (or larger, for that matter)? 

If Mindy and Crystal are to be trusted, this "in-between" size isn't very appreciated by "the industry." My opinion?  I think that claiming to be a "size 8" is intended to give us the impression that the celebrity is not so skinny that we can't relate to her, but also not so fat that we cringe on her behalf, or no longer aspire to be her.  

But I'm not sure how I feel about this.  

On the one hand, I don't think a woman's body size or clothing size or weight or does-she-did-or-doesn't-she enhance her appearance through surgery or hair dye should matter a fig to anyone.  All of these things ought to be simple matters of biology and/or personal expression, NOT determinants of whether a woman ought to be respected or admired or loved.

On the other hand, since the above situation seems unlikely in the foreseeable future, my second-preference would be for female celebrities - and the rest of us! - to be completely upfront and open about their bodies.  For example, my mother-in-law, Sherry, has had quite a few cosmetic procedures and has a policy of complete disclosure. I respect this a lot. Instead of us all obsessing about "does she or doesn't she," I'd like women to simply say, "yup, I dye my hair," or "yup, I got an eye-lift," or "yup, I pay an enormous amount of money for a personal chef and personal trainer," or "yup, I had weight-loss surgery," or "nope, I eat like crap and I'm probably going to kick the bucket early, but I've got crazy good genes for looks!"  Even more basic, I'd like women to say, "yup, I'm 5'5" and today I weigh 157 pounds," (that's me, by the way).   I can't help but wonder if sharing more objective information about our bodies might help us cut through some of the little fibs we tell each other - and ourselves -  about what makes a someone "normal" "ideal" or even "real."  

Of course, we don't yet live in a world that allows women to say these things while also controlling how people react to them.  Because of this, I'd never ask anyone - celebrity or not - to "come out of the closet" about this stuff.  I just wonder whether pushing ourselves into a culture of "full disclosure" (i.e., talking about our measurements instead of our clothing size) might help us get closer to a place where the mystery of these things have less power over our lives.

But what do YOU think?  Is it nice or just sneaky when celebs talk about their clothing size?  Is it none of our business, or are you frustrated when celebrities keep their beauty secrets secret?  Finally, are you attached to being, or fitting into, a particular clothing size?