No wonder this country has body image issues with the variation in clothing sizes between brands.

By Melissa Farthing, Copy Editor

In recent months, I have gained a newfound appreciation for thrift shopping. Why pay exorbitant prices for new clothes when you can find apparel just as nice (and way cheaper) at second-hand stores across the nation? I’ve had a blast treating myself to a wardrobe makeover at a bargain, but it’s also brought up a sensitive topic for me—body image.

About a month ago, I bought a dress at the Huntington Goodwill. Since the dressing rooms were closed at the time, I had to eyeball the dress and guess whether or not it would fit me. It was listed as a size large, so surely I’d have no problem slipping into it. Right?

When I got back to my dorm room, I excitedly threw the dress on. It fit…but barely. It was very snug, much more than I expected it to be. I figured that since the dress was a size large, I’d have a bit of extra room, but that wasn’t the case. If this dress was the “large” standard for this brand, then I surely wouldn’t be able to breathe in their medium clothing (my usual size).

On my way home one weekend, I stopped by the Goodwill in Van Wert right off U.S. Route 30. I found two dresses to try on for fun. One was a cozy cloth dress with a zesty, colorful pattern—size small. It looked comically big on me, almost as if I was wearing an oversized nightgown. The other dress was a gorgeous lace teal dress with a gold zipper in the back. Size 12 (which is a large in U.S. measurements). It fit me like a glove. I have never been able to comfortably fit into a size 12 before. I ended up purchasing the second dress because I absolutely loved it (and it was half-off), but not before pondering this question: Am I fat?

The answer: Yes…and no.

What I mean by that is there are several ways to look at the question. My BMI shows that I am at a healthy weight (although I would like to shed a few additional pounds). So, in that regard, I am not “fat” (a word which has a pretty nasty and negative connotation). However, the U.S. women’s clothing industry begs to differ.

Women’s clothing sizes have traveled all over the place throughout the decades. Remember how I mentioned being surprised to fit into a size 12? In 1958, a size 12 was equivalent to what a size six is today. What constitutes a size six, you might ask? Good luck finding out, because a pair of size six jeans can vary up to six inches between different brands, according to Time Magazine. So, a woman who can easily wear size six jeans in one brand might not be able to even zip up size six jeans in another brand.

This shift in sizing can be especially frustrating for women who are considered “plus size.” With the way the fashion industry treats this category, you may think that plus size women are in the minority, but you would be incorrect. According to Time Magazine, 67% of women today wear a size 14 or higher. Yet, many stores don’t even carry these sizes (or they give shoppers very little options).

Sure, some of this criticism applies to the men’s clothing industry as well, but I do think this is primarily a feminine problem since there is so much cultural pressure telling us what we should and should not look like. Being skinny has always been seen as “the norm” in the media, and while there have been strides to change this stigma, its impact can still be felt—and it stings. 

Take something like the Disney Channel, for example. Yes, there have been a few characters throughout the years that have had curvier body shapes, but the vast majority of the actresses on the live action shows are thin. What kind of message does this send young girls who watch the channel? It doesn’t help that the actresses often wear “trendy” outfits and are very fashion forward.

Here is what I have learned from this newfound love of shopping: the fashion industry wants to trick you. When you can fit into a smaller size, you feel skinny. When you can fit into a bigger size, you feel fat. The garment you’re trying on has the same measurements, but depending on how it’s labeled, your perspective on your body shape changes. It’s a cruel rollercoaster ride that contributes to the massive body image problem we have in this country.

Ladies, next time you go shopping, I encourage you to ditch the labels. When you begin sorting through racks, seek out what size you are on average, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t fit into that size with every garment. Sizes can differ greatly between brands and getting caught up in the variations will only drive you nuts. For me, I can be anywhere from a size six to a size 12. If you are truly worried about your weight, make an appointment with your doctor and take their words to heart. Don’t let the fashion industry tell you whether your body shape is “healthy” or not!