About 3 months ago I ventured to the mall to shop — something I have not done in years. I wasn’t sure what it was about malls that put me off, until I fully embraced that it was because I would be faced with my ultimate insecurity: the concept of sizing! The fact that a number on a garment became an obsessive fixation that influenced my decisions and activities was something I needed to let go of. I am not alone in this, many young adults feel the same. But why does it feel like I am? Is it because we do not talk about it often? Perhaps, so today we will do just that: talk about it.

Around 5 years ago, I was extremely slim and, quite frankly, unhealthy. The number I would see on the scale every morning was the lowest it had ever been. Naturally, so was my size. I would constantly be told “You’re so skinny, you look so good!” But why is it that I only look good when I’m skinny? Study leader Dr Lynda Boothroyd explains that, “there is evidence that being constantly surrounded through the media by celebrities and models who are very thin contributes to [individuals] having an unhealthy attitude to their bodies.” As time has passed, the size I was then has become my nightmare, an obsession of some sort, and something I would constantly associate with the times when ‘I looked good,’ as expressed by those around me. I stopped shopping at places where I would only fit into their large sizes, refusing to acknowledge my size may have changed — but this attitude changed 3 months ago.

Post-war manufacturing boom

National standardization of dress sizes did not happen with the advent of mass-produced clothing and department stores, but rather due to the post-war manufacturing boom in the 1940s. Prior to the size guide we follow today, clothing was either sold following measurements in store, via a catalogue or expectations of size based on age. That changed in 1958 and again in 1970 before this approach was abandoned in 1983, and the definition of sizes was left up to private organizations and fashion houses. With the privatization of universal size guides, manufacturers were working to mass produce clothing as efficiently as possible. And the reality is: so much of what we consume today is made cheaply, which leads to sizes being all over the place, even within the same brand!

According to Vox, today’s sizing system is based on a brand’s target demographic. This makes sense. I’ve always wondered how I could fit into a size small in one store then barely manage to squeeze into a size large in another. After much research, I started noticing the stark differences in the sizes used by different brands. For example a pair of trousers in a size small starts at 76cm at the waist at one brand and at 81cm at another. 

You are not your size

Alexis Conason, a clinical psychologist and author of The Anti-Diet Plan says: “[Inconsistent sizing] makes us feel like we don’t know our own body—something that many people struggling with body confidence and disordered eating already feel plagued by. Whenever we try on clothing in a size that we expect to fit and it doesn’t, we wonder if our body has changed—have we gained or lost weight? For many struggling with body image issues, this can send them into a major tailspin. It can trigger feelings of depression, anxiety, and social withdrawal and can also exacerbate disordered eating symptoms.”

Ultimately, I share this today to reaffirm one thing: you and I are not our size. It is not the number on the garment that matters. You are not a size 6 or a size 14, the clothes are. Choose what fits well and looks good and do not let a number define you. The single most worthwhile change you can make for your own personal style, independence, and confidence is learning how to dress for your body, as opposed to following a number that dictates what you can and cannot wear.