The average woman is no longer size 14. Do we adjust the size tables or our diets?
I was scrolling through my newsfeed yesterday and there, in the middle of all the political turmoil, was a conversation concerning a study released this past spring about an increase in the size of the average American woman. The article in question was published online in September but referenced research published back in April. The article suggested that the charts used to determine women’s sizing need to be adjusted, that we should reconsider what it means to be “normal” in the US. However, the study cited, as well as a considerable amount of other research suggests that the adjustments need to come from elsewhere, particularly our diets.
We should probably note that the issue isn’t really just related to women. The average sizing for men has increased as well. The difference is that most men either don’t care; the size of their clothing does not contain the emotional element that women experience. Men put on a size 46 sports coat where once a size 42 fit, and most just chuckle at how their body changes as they get older. Women who are accustomed to wearing a size 12 suddenly find they can’t fit into anything smaller than a size 16 and all hell is likely to break loose right there in the middle of the store. Both men and women have increased in size, but each gender regards that change quite differently.
Also, we should take note of the fact that average is a mathematical statement achieved through the comparison of multiple pieces of numerical data. Normal, on the other hand, is merely a perception. There is no science or mathematics behind what constitutes normal. We each decide for ourselves what constitutes normal based on the data we give ourselves, such as the images we see in media, the friends with whom we most frequently associate, and our relationship with family members. To confuse average with normal, which is what the article appears to do, is a grave mistake.
Make no mistake, we have a problem
The actual research on which the article was allegedly based took average body measurements from the most recently published National Health and Nutritional Examination Surveys and compared them to ASTM International industry clothing size standards. The source of those average body measurements is important. The National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey used make the following statement:
Despite the public health gains in recent years, more Americans are overweight than ever before. Today, more than half of the adults in the U.S. are overweight, and the number of overweight children and teens has doubled in the past decade. This has led public health experts to look for ways to improve both diet and fitness.
This is far from being new information. In fact, the information used for the study was from a 2010 survey. If anything, the problem has grown significantly. Obesity is defined by most in the medical community as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above. BMI is calculated using height and weight. For example, a 5-foot, 9-inch adult who weighs 203 pounds would have a BMI of 30, thus putting this person into the obese category. The accuracy of using BMI is challenged by many in the fitness community since muscle weighs more than fat (a well-toned body can still have a BMI over 30). However, the majority of Americans can’t use the fitness excuse quite simply because they don’t exercise at all.
What concerns us in this particular conversation is that more women are obese than men. I know, that’s not what we expect, but that’s what the numbers show. A 2012 update to the 2010 study showed that 33.7% of men and 36.5% of women were obese. Prevalence was highest for non-Hispanic black women (56.7%). If you live in the South or the Midwest, you’re practically doomed. No wonder we don’t fit into the same clothes we wore five years ago, or maybe even last year! We have a problem!
Sizing charts don’t help matters
If the real issue here is a health matter, then why are we getting upset with the sizing charts? There really is no benefit to making adjustments so that what is now a size 20 suddenly becomes a size 16. We call that vanity sizing and it only serves to confuse an already impossible to understand the system. The ASTM International charts for women sizing look something like this (warning, the table may not display correctly on all mobile devices):
|Closest standard size||10||12||14||16||18||20||22|
|Est. height||5’4″ (162.5 cm)||5’4″ (162.5 cm)||5’4.5″ (164 cm)||5’5″ (165 cm)||5’4″ (162.5 cm)||5’6.5″ (169 cm)||5’6″ (168 cm)||5’6″ (168 cm)||5’6.5″ (169 cm)|
|Est. weight lb (kg)||115 (52)||125 (57)||135 (61)||145 (66)||155 (70)||165 (75)||175 (79)||180 (81.5)||195 (88.5)|
So, what if your body deviates from those numbers? What if your hips are larger but your bust is smaller? What if your waistline never recovered from having a couple of kids?
What’s important to realize is that this chart is an attempt to provide a standard so that the size 10 you buy in one store generally matches the size 10 one buys in a different store. Only, that doesn’t actually happen. There’s no law that says apparel manufacturers have to follow the standard. Making matters even more confusing, international clothing companies, including favorites such as Burberry, Chanel, and Dior, all use very different European charts when sizing their clothing.
Don’t think that no one is paying attention, either. Back in 2002 ASTM proposed “new labeling standards that include actual body measurements in addition to numerical values.” Even more, ANSI documents state that: “Studies conducted by ASTM in the 1980s indicated overwhelming consumer endorsement for the inclusion of body dimensions on clothing labels.” However, both retailers and fashion labels have fought such labeling for fear that women will shy away from clothing that reveals their actual measurements.
You control the change
If retailers and fashion labels are going to ignore recommended changes to sizing standards, then it is up to each of us to decide how we are going to respond when we no longer fit into the size clothing we think we should fit. Personally, I solve the problem for myself by buying suspenders. My weight fluctuates considerably by season according to the amount of exercise I get. So, my slacks range anywhere from a size 42 to 36, and quite honestly, even the 36 is a little large at the moment. With such fluctuations, I would have to buy new pants every couple of months if I were relying on a belt. Suspenders solves that problem. Sort of.
One has other options as well. Choosing clothing that only comes sized S, M, or L removes a bit o the stigma (or guilt) of not fitting into a size 6. Of course, those garments are not going to be tailored to fit the curves of one’s body, but in case you haven’t noticed, fashions have been getting looser and more flowing for a few seasons now. Most minimalist designs are especially good about leaving room for things such as seasonal weight fluctuations.
Of course, one might actually consider losing weight and exercising, but we both know that’s not always the answer we need. If you are already obese (don’t worry, we won’t tell), then you should consult your doctor before making any radical changes in diet and /or exercise. Many of the fad diets that you’ll find in magazines and online can actually be quite dangerous, especially if one has an undiagnosed health issue. Sure, we’d all like to not be obese, but we would still like to be among the living as well. Don’t let a dress size send you into a self-destructive diet that only makes matters worse.
We end here: changing the sizing charts doesn’t alter the fact that, as a nation, we’re overweight. Until we get our over-sized asses in gear and address that problem appropriately, then no, we’re not going to fit in the size clothing we want. Don’t blame fashion for the problem. Blame that fast food line you keep finding yourself sitting in. Blame the three cases of soda you consume in a week. Blame the holidays. Blame genetics. Blame whatever the problem really is and then fix it.
The power is totally yours.