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Does Size Really Matter? Not When It Comes to Clothing

Size-less clothing in eating disorder recovery: erasing the numbers on tags.

"Age and size are only numbers. It's the attitude you bring to clothes that make the difference."

—Donna Karan

“It doesn’t fit." One of the most used phrases for women in dressing rooms and this “simple” statement can lead to deep underlying turmoil about self-esteem and body image. Clothing sizes for many are synonymous with weight, which for many, is synonymous with beauty and self-esteem. We as females must break this thought pattern as the fashion industry no longer has set standards for clothing sizes, and many women are not aware of this.

According to an article in the Washington Post, “A size 8 dress today is nearly the equivalent of a size 16 dress in 1958. And a size 8 dress of 1958 doesn't even have a modern-day equivalent — the waist and bust measurements of a Mad Men-era 8 come in smaller than today's size 00."

The first woman’s clothing chart was created in 1958 and women's sizes ranged from 8 to 42. A size 8 woman had a 23.5-inch waist, a bust of 31 inches, and a weight of 98 pounds whereas nowadays a 23.5-inch weight may not even exist on the shelves.

We live in an era of “vanity sizing” where clothing manufactures have learned to size down clothing measurements in order to give the false pretense that a smaller size equals a thin body shape which equates to beauty, according to our society. We are driven by numbers: how many calories we consume in a day, how much we weigh on a scale, what size dress we wear and how many calories we burned during our exercise regimen but we often forget to understand these numbers are driving more and more individuals to engage in unhealthy diets leading to lower self-esteem and the development of eating disorders.

The history of standardized clothing sizes

The National Bureau of Standards, which was renamed the National Institute of Standards and Technology was initially responsible for maintaining sizing measurements in women’s clothing. In the 1990s the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) has since taken over and has since re-standardized women’s clothing sizes and clothing manufacturers have since chosen to ignore these standards resulting in an arbitrary sizing disaster leaving many women to question, why do they fit in to a size 2 dress in one brand and a size 6 dress in another? ASTM is a non-government organization that charges for access to its sizing charts and as a result, many merchandising brands do not want to fork out the cash and would rather create their own clothing sizes.

The dangers of inaccurate clothing sizes during eating disorder recovery

Eating disorders affect 30 million individuals in the United States and carry the highest mortality rate out of all mental health disorders. The majority of individuals do not seek treatment for their eating disorders and those that do often struggle with their weight and clothing size after leaving treatment and entering recovery. Shopping for clothes during eating disorder recovery can be extremely overwhelming and can create unhealthy thoughts and feelings. More than likely you are not the same size as you were before you entered treatment for your eating disorder because you are much healthier now, however, a size may still not be just a number to you. You are told to throw out your scale, stop weighing yourself and counting calories, and only allow healthcare professionals to track your weight progress as needed but shopping for clothes with a wide range of unpredictable sizes can be a potential trigger for relapse. So is there a solution?

Size-less clothing during eating disorder recovery: The Garment Project

Since many fashion designers are now aware that a large number of clothing sizes are no longer held to a standard, the invention of sizeless clothing or “one size fits all” is now becoming more popular. A clothing size, much like a number on a scale, should not be a benchmark to measure your self-worth or your self-esteem.

The Garment Project is a non-profit organization that was founded by Erin Drischler in order to promote body positivity and helps women overcome the struggle that is commonly faced when recovering from an eating disorder by offering support in building a new size-less wardrobe. Erin struggled with buying miss-sized clothing while undergoing treatment for her eating disorder and discovered that the number on the tag became one of her biggest enemies.

According to an article, “Drischler says many times after returning from treatment she would look at a piece of clothing and see the size number on the tag, which brought back a negative memory of the size and weight she was when she wore that item. She wanted to get rid of that garment and the memory, but it can get expensive buying new things all the time. So she decided to make that transition smoother. She and fiance Jordan Tomb founded the Garment Project, a nonprofit that aims to empower women recovering from eating disorders by providing them with new, size-less clothing, individualized for their healthy bodies and lifestyles. Their motto is, ‘You've changed your life. Let us change your wardrobe”.

The clothing industry is in general exclusive in terms of smaller size versus larger sizes however the outdoor world has begun to finally realize the importance of making clothes that actually fit your shape, no matter the size you are. “Active bodies come in all shapes and sizes so enough with the labels, let's just get more sizes. Product designers and buyers from REI, Columbia and Brooks are teaming up and inviting the experts (you!) to have a conversation about the opportunity for brands to offer more sizes for women in outdoor clothing”. Advocate for body positivity such as Mirna Valerio are teaming up with REI and speaking out about the importance of designing clothes that are inclusive to all body shapes and sized for women.

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