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Do any of you hate clothes shopping as much as I do? Stereotypes tell me that, as a woman, I should love shopping (especially with my girlfriends at a mall) … well, I really hate it! Not only because of the overwhelming feelings that ensue upon walking into a Kohls, but also because of the never-ending search for the perfect fitting jeans. I may end up at 8 different stores trying on a million sizes until I find one pair that fits.
Clothes sizing is extremely complicated for women. And manufacturers have made it a little (a lot) more complicated due to a little thing called “vanity sizing”. This trick, which is also called size inflation, is when clothing manufacturers label clothes smaller than the actual cut of the item. For example, size 10 jeans, may actually be closer to a size 12 or 14. The Washington Post published an article in 2015 showing the sizing deviations via charts… A size 14 in 1958 is now considered a size 8. Sizing is also SUPER inconsistent between stores – they can vary as much as 4 or 5 inches!
Why do they do this, you ask? Manufacturers are lowering sizes on labels to influence consumers’ buying decisions, and ultimately to inspire them to buy more. Would you feel better walking out of Forever 21 with a size 14 or a size 10? Are you more likely to purchase more if you are buying a size 10, rather than a size 16? By changing the labels on clothing, manufacturers are making consumers feel skinnier, which makes them feel good. This also means they are sending a message to women that they need to be smaller. Men are not free from this deception either. A journalist found and wrote in Esquire that his size 34 pants from Old Navy actually measured at a 39.
My question is, why does pop culture and our fat-phobic society think that EVERYONE wants to be skinnier? What about women who embrace their curves; think Beyonce and Melissa McCarthy. This kind of deception from manufacturers is dangerous. Women feel that they have to “perfectly” fit into their size at every store. If they are a size 4 at one store, but a size 8 at another, this leads to obsession, which leads to dieting, excessive exercise, and weighing, which leads to disordered eating. All just to meet that smaller body standard set by society. But, who ever said smaller bodies were healthier anyways?
Research suggests that, except at extremes, body mass index (BMI) only weakly predicts how long someone will live; and that people who are overweight or moderately obese (by BMI standards) live as long as normal weight people; and oftentimes longer. In fact, one of the most comprehensive reviews of body weight and mortality risk research pooled data from 26 studies and over 350,000 subjects and found overweight to be associated with greater longevity than normal weight. Of course, we do know that obesity is associated with an increased risk for many diseases; however, causation is less well-understood. Epidemiological studies rarely include factors like activity, nutrient intake, or socioeconomic status when looking at the connection between BMI and disease. Yet all of these factors play a role in determining health and disease risk. When studies do control for these factors, risk of disease is significantly reduced or completely disappears. It is likely that these factors, like a sedentary lifestyle, increases disease risk while also increasing the risk of a higher BMI.
The most frustrating thing about all of this is that our society continues to send messages to women that they need to be in thinner bodies for their health, when the research is just not there to back that up.
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Campos, P., Saguy, A., Ernsberger, P., Oliver, E., & Gaesser, G. (2005). The epidemiology of overweight and obesity: public health crisis or moral panic?. International journal of epidemiology, 35(1), 55-60.
Flegal, K. M., Graubard, B. I., Williamson, D. F., & Gail, M. H. (2005). Excess deaths associated with underweight, overweight, and obesity. Jama, 293(15), 1861-1867.
Flegal, K., Graubard, B., Williamson, D., & Gail, M. (2008). Supplement: response to “can fat be fit”. Sci Am, 297, 5-6.
McGee, D. L., & Diverse Populations Collaboration. (2005). Body mass index and mortality: a meta-analysis based on person-level data from twenty-six observational studies. Annals of epidemiology, 15(2), 87-97.
Allison Tropf, MS, RD, CSSD
Allison is a Sports Dietitian in Michigan. She enjoys helping others reach their nutrition and fitness goals through reliable and trustworthy recommendations.
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