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This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
I'll never forget the first time I fit into a size zero. A fake size zero, that is. I'll admit that for the first few minutes I was like, Maybe I am a zero now? I did have my burger without the bun last week… Feeling energized by this new discovery, I quickly purchased my new skirt and moved onto the next store. In the fitting room, I felt a mixture of outrage and confusion — not only did none of the zeros fit, I could barely get my arm into the sleeve. The sales associate refrained from saying, “You could try Sears,” but she might as well have. I ended up leaving with a two, a four, and a six.
Here's the thing: I am not a zero, I've never been a zero (except for one summer in middle school when I shot straight past it), and unless I remove a few ribs, I never will be. And, I'm more than fine with that. My beef with vanity sizing is about the fact that retailers have, for some time, been playing to our socially wired insecurities. This affects shoppers of every size, and we've been paying for it both monetarily and psychologically. Vanity sizing is shady, manipulative, and — let’s be honest — just plain irritating.
Let’s break it down. Vanity sizing is when retailers label their garments as smaller so that you have to size down, and it bites for several reasons. Firstly, and most obviously, it’s confusing. If you are a four in one store and an eight in another, it makes it more difficult to accurately pick sizes, especially if you’re ordering online. The discrepancies between brands can be staggering — a size 8 waist at Delia's can be four inches smaller than a size 8 at Dolce & Gabanna. It can even make you feel like your weight is yo-yoing when in reality it is the stores' measurements that are fluctuating. Sure, you start to remember in X brand you’re up, and in Y you’re down a size, but when you think that originally sizing was completely standard across brands it does beg the question — why has this happened?
You guessed it: Loving, old corporate America strikes again. Studies (like this one) show that when people feel thinner, they feel better about themselves, and are more likely to go ahead and swipe the credit card. Yes, fitting into a smaller size actually raises your self-esteem so much so that you are more likely to purchase an item. Conversely, research in this study also showed that if a consumer didn’t fit into the size they thought they were (for example European brands are notorious for running small), the negative sentiment transferred to the item they were trying on and they were less likely to purchase it.
Vanity sizing is a psychological attack that can hurt your mind, confidence, and wallet. It feels as though, as a society, we are finally making some progress with body diversity and plus-size representation, slowly moving away from being obsessed with the numbers sewn into our pants (or showing on the scale), but vanity sizing is a constant negative reinforcer. A number of inches of fabric is not a measurement that can be interpreted — 28 inches is 28 inches, no matter which store you're standing in. Garment sizing should be standardized industry-wide for the consumer's sake. There should be no case-by-case interpretation of what it means to be a size four.
Though seemingly inconsequential, vanity sizing affects all of us in a negative way. Even if an individual doesn't notice the problematic practice, vanity sizing adds fuel to fire in terms of misinformation about weight. We aren’t going to change the fabric of our skinny-obsessed culture overnight, but instead piece by piece. We need to look at all the factors that contribute to our skewed perception of size, and neutralize them. A piece of fabric with a number on it does not define us, which is why we need to standardize sizes. Clothing sizes are a utility — a measurement of cloth, not the measure of who you are.