As enjoyable as shopping for clothes is, it can also be frustrating, annoying, and quite frankly, not the best for one’s self-esteem. The range of sizes offered to women is entirely non-diverse (and don’t even get me started on the unflattering lighting in the fitting rooms). The amount of time I've spent hunched over in a dimly lit dressing room trying to contort my boobs to fit into a bathing suit that doesn't offer mix-and-match sizing is, well, a lot. We all have different bodies, we all take different shapes. So why are women consistently confined to a scale that doesn't include such variation? I have written my thoughts about gaining weight, losing it, and trying to maintain it. It's all tough. But there is certainly room for improvement when it comes to women’s clothing sizes, and that's an understatement. And—no surprise here—as it turns out, the information retailers have been using is completely outdated.
The average size of an American woman was widely reported as a size 14. The clothing industry somewhat took this into account and adjusted its sizes. Though, most labels didn't even do that; the majority of clothing lines still sell up to size 12 and that's it. Then, a study published in the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology, and Education revealed, "The average size of an American woman is now between 16 to 18, which is an increase from 10-year-old data that indicated most women in the U.S. were a size 14." This information even further brings to light the need for clothing in sizes above the previously acceptable numbers. It's infuriating, really, and it's time something tangible is done to rectify the long-standing oversight.
The authors of the study determined that the average waist circumference has increased 2.6 inches in the past 21 years. According to a report from The Revelist, “In conducting the study, the researchers write that they hope "that women may be relieved in knowing the average clothing size worn is larger than [they] thought," and that it alters the public's perception of "average" size.”
Model Sonny Turner decided to do her part to help stop the madness soon after this information was revealed. She posted a photo on her Instagram page and aired her grievances with swimsuit designers specifically. "[High-street] bikinis do not cater for women of my body type. [The] majority of online stores don't either," she wrote. "We need straps that aren't so tight it's as though our neck is about to snap off. We need bikini bottoms that don't give us wedgies when we walk. We need string bikinis that don't expose our vagina lips. We need swimsuits that fit over our hips without dragging the neck of the costume down causing neck ache."
If I had any musical talent whatsoever, I'd turn her bullet points into a pop anthem. The fact of the matter is women who wear clothing that qualifies as "plus-size" (a word that isn't concrete in meaning either) are left with few options. Our society has decided without warrant that women of all shapes, curves, and edges shouldn't feel good about their form. We grow up learning to feel bad about our bodies for no other reason than it doesn't look like the altered versions of those featured on billboards. It's oppressive to solely have access to swimwear that fits those bodies—the same bodies that are essentially cooked up behind someone's computer. It has to stop. Here's hoping it will. In the meantime, we'll be posting about it as much as we can as resistance.
Christel DA, Dunn SC. Average American women’s clothing size: comparing National Health and Nutritional Examination Surveys (1988–2010) to ASTM International Misses & Women’s Plus Size clothing. Int J Fash Des Technol Educ. 2016;10(2):129-136. doi:10.1080/17543266.2016.1214291