by Stephanie Herrera

How many times has your day been completely ruined after putting on clothes that didn’t fit or you went shopping and felt ashamed after trying a size bigger than what you’re used to? 

What happened after? 

That experience is not as unique as you might think… it’s something that is more universal and perpetuated by the fashion industry…. THAT’s global. 

A 4th year dietetics student at the University of British Columbia, Stephanie, did a dive into this topic after having a conversation with a friend studying to become a fashion designer.

Stephanie shared: I found it interesting how our conversation transitioned from genuinely wanting to know about each other’s passions to having a very important discussion about thin ideals in the fashion world and how that correlates with the Health at Every Size Movement (HAES) we so strongly address in the profession of Dietetics. I found this information to be valuable and something that I wish I would’ve known during my formative years of highschool when finding my identity was a large part of my experience.” 

We collaborated on putting this blog together for you – so here’s 3 reasons WHY you should be WEARY of the fashion industry, and 3 ways to MOVE FORWARD.

1. There is NO standard sizing system.

Have you ever walked into a store being one size and then trying on that SAME size in another store and having that clothing item not fit you? Because I definitely have. This has caused feelings of dissatisfaction and frustration and unfortunately, I am not the only one who feels this way. 

It turns out, following a standard sizing system is completely voluntary for clothing manufacturers and most clothing companies choose to create their own sizing standards based on the demographic they tend to cater towards. For instance, companies such as Old Navy will have a target population that differs in body shapes, lifestyle and income compared to the target population of a company such as Zara. One thing to notice is that the models at Old Navy often resemble “that family next door” while we typically associate the models at Zara to be high-end fashion models. Due to the differing target populations, sizing becomes inconsistent, inaccurate, and unreliable. 

Moreover, studies have shown that women will prefer one clothing store over the other based on their size at that particular store. A customer may choose to shop at a store where sizing is on the smaller side so that they may feel more confident about their bodies. 

2. The ideal image is for profit… NOT for health

The fashion industry is a business. Companies strive to reduce costs as much as possible and prefer straight patterns as they are less “costly” to produce. My friend used an analogy to explain this concept to me: If one individual has a body shape that was straight and another individual had a body shape with many curves, who do you think it would be easier to design a T-shirt for? If you guessed the straight body type, you would be correct. 

As all body shapes are unique, it would be ideal to design a template customized for each body type that matches every single curve as well as the height of the individual…although that’s not feasible to do for mass production. Basing sizing systems on one body shape and reducing the number of sizes acts as a huge money saver for the manufacturer. As a result, the fashion industry will prioritize tall and slim female bodies because it saves them money and makes it easier for them to produce in large quantities. So if you don’t fit the mold, you’ll feel the need to change your body at all costs to “start fitting in”.

3. The sociology of it all

This may sound cliche, but there have definitely been instances where I let my clothes wear me and dictate how I felt about myself rather than me wearing my clothes. Women tend to blame their own bodies for ill-fitting clothing and this can have a negative impact on body image, self-esteem and identity. 

Unrealistic media images on platforms such as instagram and tik tok allows society to display messages associating thinness with attractiveness and health. This pinpoints thinness as the “ideal body type”, however, when clothing is disproportionate to the size and shape of our bodies, this leads to a disparity in how we view ourselves and that ideal body type. 

Interestingly enough, Registered Dietitian Christy Harrison identifies in her book Anti-Diet that people didn’t begin comparing their bodies until industrialization in the textile industry was introduced. When industrialized textiles and standard sizings came along, this contributed to the mindset that we needed to conform to a certain body type. If women continue to be busy “fixing” their bodies, they won’t have time or energy to live out their purpose in life! 

In striving to reach those ideals, one might resort to partaking in extreme measures such as unhealthy dieting and exercise regimes, or choose to follow the advice of influencers who have that “ideal body type” but have no evidence supporting the health benefits of the products in which they choose to advertise. That comparison is too presumptuous in associating it directly with food and exercise – genetics have a 40-70% impact on our weight, and we never know what another person’s battles are, if they are struggling with an eating disorder, mental health challenges, hormonal issues, chronic disease, cancer or addictions…  

Likewise, people associate losing weight with reaching the goal of a particular clothing size. This preoccupation with weight and shape can “trigger” food restriction and dieting. For some, this can develop into a clinical eating disorder.

So, where do we go from here? 

The question that perplexes me is how can we give so much power to allow a sizing system that has been proven to be so inconsistent and unreliable define our self worth?

Our society’s infatuation with thinness has imparted this message that we are never good enough.

So let’s focus on what we CAN do instead…

1. Self-Acceptance comes before Self-Love

Although self-acceptance is definitely harder than it looks, it’s not something you can ignore and jump right to “self-love”. The Health at Every Size ® movement emphasizes that we should “embrace all social characteristics such as size, shape, race, national origin, sexuality, gender, disability status, and other attributes as assets” as this is what makes us unique and stand out from everyone else. 

Self-acceptance starts with accepting everything that has happened before and up to this point in your life. Our body is a vessel to carry us through the world… and we only get one model… the one we have today. If we continue to feel guilt and shame in our skin, we will continue to hurt… physically, mentally, and emotionally. No weight, size, or shape will ever earn respect on its own virtue; respect comes from within… So the only way to move forward and learn to respect your body, is by accepting it. Focus on what you can do right now… not in the past, nor the future. Body Love and Positivity aren’t enough unless they are preceded with acceptance & respect.

2. Mindset Shift – What does stress have to do with it?

Linda Bacon, PhD and author of Health at every Size ®  states that, “even if we knew how to successfully accomplish being thinner, this will not necessarily make us healthier or happier”. Rather than being preoccupied with our image, it is important to take care of ourselves and establish sustainable healthy lifestyle behaviours, and in turn, a healthier mindset

Weight stigma weighs us down (pun intended!) – so instead of focusing on the weight, size or shape, focus on reducing the stress you experience around food & your body. Stress worsens your health more than a missed exercise or a cookie ever will. The increase of cortisol in response to stress is correlated with a multitude of health conditions like type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, immunosuppression, digestive issues, depression, and anxiety. So before you follow prescribed weight loss diets, think twice. Think about what you can do that can be more long-term, and look at self-care & stress-relieving actions you can take. 

3. Shop for your Size by companies who design for it 

Clean out your closet of clothes that no longer serve you well. Find clothes that fit your body and make you feel good… you deserve to feel confident, regardless of your size. 

  • Torrid goes to a generous 6x 
  • ASOS curve goes to 26-28 (Don’t use the fit assistant)
  • American Eagle and Aerie up to 20/22 or a 2x in tops, bottoms to a 24.
  • Eloquii is all plus 14-28
  • Lane Bryant stores to a 4x/28
  • Full Beauty online sell a lot of brands all up to 4x and some higher, they have good deals, and are good for basics
  • Lee jeans go to a 28
  • Levi’s jeans go up to a 26 and are far better designed these days
  • Eshakti has a wide range and will do custom size adjustments- time delay of a couple of weeks for fabrication.
  • Target – online is better from what I’ve heard
  • Madewell goes to a 3x, however they force you into a size assistant, looks like their 3x is smaller – about a 22 or so
  • Anthropologie plus goes to a 3x which is a larger 24/26, pricier than the rest, has good sales

 

On the bright side, I find peace in knowing that the fashion industry is constantly evolving and is trying to find solutions for the misuse of sizing guides. In order to produce more sizes at a cheaper cost, made-to-measure technology is constantly advancing in both software development and research in order to target more accurate sizing results for a wide range of shapes. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge that there are designers out there like my friend or renowned Finnish Designer Anna Ruohonen Paris who see the discrepancies and want to make a change and make their aim to create sustainable, ready to wear, custom designed pieces.

Finally, I hope this article provides the understanding that ALL body types are beautiful and that it shouldn’t take a number on a label or a number on a scale for us to recognize that.

Do you have a healthy realtionship with your food & body?

Take this 3 minutes quiz to find out if you have a healthy relationship with your body and food. You'll get your results and supportive resources sent straight to your email.

References:

Christy Harrison: Anti-Diet (accessed June 20, 2020). Available from: https://www.amazon.ca/Anti-Diet-Reclaim-Well-Being-Happiness-Intuitive/dp/B082BJS9KX/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=anti-diet&qid=1594776615&sr=8-1

Carolyn Mair: The Psychology of Fashion (accessed June 20, 2020). Available from:https://www.amazon.ca/Psychology-Fashion-Carolyn-Mair/dp/1138658677

Linda Bacon: Health At Every Size (accessed June 20, 2020). Available from: https://haescocmmunity.com/ 

nutriFoodie: “I want to have a good body image but I’m scared to gain weight” – Explore your Paradigm to discover Body Peace (accessed July 14, 2020). Available from:https://nutrifoodie.ca/2020/04/11/i-want-to-have-a-good-body-image-but-im-scared-to-gain-weight-explore-your-paradigm-to-discover-body-peace/

nutriFoodie: Intuitive Eating and Health At Every Size ® Resources (accessed July 14, 2020). Available from:
https://nutrifoodie.ca/2019/09/26/intuitive-eating-health-at-every-size-haes-resources/

nutriFoodie: Fighting Fatphobia (accessed July 14, 2020). Available from:
https://nutrifoodie.ca/2019/02/08/fighting-fatphobia/

nutriFoodie: 7-Day Self-Care Challenge (accessed July 14, 2020). Available from:
https://nutrifoodie.ca/7-day-self-care-challenge/

nutriFoodie: Manage your Stress & Improve your Self-Care Practices (accessed July 14, 2020). Available from: https://nutrifoodie.ca/2019/01/29/manage-your-stress-improve-your-self-care-practices/#