Varied clothing sizes leads to unhealthy body image issues

Sydney Mahl

The little tags on the backs of clothing brands have big implications. Wiggling into smaller sizes in an attempt to enhance their self-image often leaves shoppers with the idea they’re simply not skinny enough. 

“Maybe a larger size,” the tags suggest as a zipper refuses to zip. 

“One size … is not … for everyone,” they manage between breaths as they’re suffocated between fabric and skin. 

Numbers usually add up to truth, but on clothing tags, numbers and sizes are manipulated more than warped mirrors at a carnival. 

Designers and brands size their garments not to a standard size, but rather, to flatter their target customer demographic, which can cause sizes between brands to fluctuate. Although Gap owns both Banana Republic and its namesake store, a size eight hip at Banana Republic corresponds to Gap’s size two hip measurement. Large size differences between brands can lead to a negative body image for customers when the same size in a different brand does not fit. 

Textiles and apparel junior Lindsey Butler has experienced the negative side effects of sizing disparities between brands firsthand. 

“I was at a point where I wouldn’t shop at certain stores or buy certain products because I didn’t want to get things in a size large,” Butler said. “That made me feel bad about myself.”

Butler grew up with an interest in fashion, but noticed disparities in sizing between popular brands. Abercrombie and Fitch, for example, didn’t carry women’s clothing in sizes XL or XXL until they found themselves in hot water in 2013, when a 2006 Salon interview with CEO Mike Jeffries resurfaced. In the interview, Jeffries described the company as “exclusionary,” and geared only toward the “cool kids” — which did not include size XL and XXL women.

“It’s sad that it’s normal for girls of our generation to be uncomfortable with our bodies,” Butler said. “I remember thinking that if I sat down and had rolls, then that was a bad thing.”

In recent times, brands such as Brandy Melville have kept Abercrombie and Fitch’s exclusionary marketing tactics alive, as Brandy Melville’s clothes come sized “one size fits most.” But for average 16-year-old teenage girls, who a 2012 report by the CDC describes as 5 feet 3 inches with a 31-inch waist, “most” doesn’t always fit. 

Textiles and apparel junior Tara Bordbar has worked at various teen departments within Nordstrom every summer and winter since she graduated high school. In this job, Bordbar learned how to communicate with customers severely affected by negative body image. 

“A lot of uncomfortable experiences have either been with a customer who comes in not feeling good about their body or with one who has to buy size 30 jeans when they’re usually a 27,” Bordbar said. “It really hurts mentality and confidence.”

Textiles and apparel lecturer Ochkee Bego said every brand has their own standard size that tries to appeal to its target customer. She said a size six in H&M, a brand that targets teenagers and young women, could be vastly different from a size six in Ann Taylor, whose target customer is a more mature, professional woman, with a different body from that of a teenager. 

“Some women have a problem with sizing and they think they are not good enough,” Bego said. “We (fashion designers) give the impression that a certain size is the perfect size, but we do this without even thinking about it. It is more a business model than anything else.”

Bego said she attributes increasing body image distortion with the rise of technology.

“Who doesn’t take selfies?” Bego said. “This makes people, especially young people, more conscious of body image. You decide what is beauty. If it doesn’t come from inside, whatever you wear — it’s not going to represent you.”