Something crazy happened to me yesterday. I was shopping for Christmas gifts, when a plaid miniskirt began shouting my name. I’m not often approached by random outfits in a retail store, so I’ll admit my curiosity got the best of me and I allowed it to drag me into a fitting room. I am not a fan of clothes shopping. I hate crowded retail stores with fashionable young people wearing name tags pestering me about all the help they can provide. Internet shopping was invented for people like me, people who avoid other people when possible. There’s something so satisfying about seeing the perfect outfit online and having it magically appear (okay, not completely magically) at your front door via a large, brown truck. But, this was clearly no ordinary skirt. So, I grabbed it and a couple of its friends and wandered back to the unisex fitting rooms in The Gap.
The fitting room was being managed by a way too attractive, twenty-something year old guy with striking blue eyes. I have to admit that this always throws me for a loop. I have been around long enough to remember when there were both men’s and women’s fitting rooms. And, after 14 years of marriage, I’m no longer accustomed to having a random guy nearby to assist me with my clothing. I guess I should learn to appreciate that luxury these days since fitting rooms at The Gap are as close as I’m going to get to reliving my college days.
But, I digress. The skirt and its buddies were all lined up, so I chose the biggest one to try on first. In a perfect world, I am still the same size 6 that I was in college. Well, the size 6 I had brought into the fitting room with me more or less fell down off of me as soon as I put it on. Interesting, I thought. So, I went to the size 4, which also proved to be too big. I scoffed at the size 2, but put it on only to discover that I could spin the entire skirt around on my waist. It was still too loose, and I had run out of sizes. I had to go to the laughable next step of asking the blue-eyed fitting room hottie to retrieve for me a size ZERO item of clothing. Yes. A size 0. My husband laughed.
“How can you be a size 0? By virtue of the fact that it’s a 0, doesn’t that mean you don’t actually exist? Wait. When you turn sideways, do you disappear?”
All joking aside, I was a bit perplexed at this point. I mean, seriously. Let’s get real here. I am 5‘5” tall and just under 130 pounds. I do not have an eating disorder, nor do I abide by some movie-star macrobiotic diet or Diet Coke and cigarette weight loss plan. I do not do 1000 sit-ups a day. I do not have a personal trainer. I am a fan of high-fat dairy cheese in all its forms, and I do eat dessert nearly every day. Yes. I live in the fittest state in the nation, and I do a reasonable workout 4 days a week. But there is absolutely no fathomable reason that I should be three sizes smaller now than I was twenty years ago.
Still, hottie returned with the size 0 skirt and I tried it on. It fit. What? How? Am I shrinking? If I am a size 0, then surely the young women on Gossip Girl must be wearing toddler clothing, right? Barbie clothing, perhaps? If I wasn’t a size 0 when I weighed 15 pounds less than I do now, how is this possible? Retailers have figured out that people will buy more clothing if they feel better about themselves. And, who doesn’t feel better about herself when she discovers she’s miraculously a smaller size without having lost any weight? Let’s face it. If you have to get a bigger size than you wore last season, you may not feel like shopping: you might actually feel a trifle nauseous. It’s depressing. But, if you get a smaller size, you figure that you’d better get two other things in this exceedingly small size as proof and then go out for a celebratory cheeseburger because, after all, you’re so skinny you must not be eating enough.
Yet, this country is getting fatter. You needn’t go any further than your local mall or grocery store for adequate proof. Our sedentary lifestyle, combined with an abundance of “convenience foods” heavy on fats, sugar, and refined carbohydrates, has been working against us for decades now. I spend a lot of time at home perched on a stool in front of my laptop, mere feet from a giant stainless steel box full of food, and this could be a huge obstacle in the road to thinness. However, I am also fortunate to have the time, flexibility, and income to afford active hobbies. Our family hikes, bikes, skis, snowshoes, and inline skates. There are miles of open space trails behind my house for running and climbing. I have a gym membership and the time to use it. I realize not everyone has the same good fortune I’ve had. I was blessed with a fairly high metabolism, good health, an apathy towards chocolate, and an honest love of being active. But many people in this country are not as fortunate as I am. And, this is why clothing manufacturers have changed their sizing to increase their sales.
I’m not downplaying the positive, albeit ephemeral, effect achieved by suddenly and inexplicably seeing a size 0 on your clothing tag. It did make me temporarily euphoric and self-confident. But, it’s not realistic and it’s simply not true. Nearly twenty years ago, when I was what was then a size 6, I bought a gorgeous velvet cocktail dress at a vintage store. It was labeled size 12, and it was a tight fit. It threw me to try on a size 12 dress only to discover that it was nearly too tight to wear. But, that experience stuck with me. I’ve never forgotten that dress or the lesson that obviously I was not the size 6 my clothes proclaimed me to be.
This downsizing clothing (while we’re all upsizing everything else) is troubling to me. We’re deluding ourselves into believing that the status quo is not only good but it’s better than good. What’s not to like about putting on 20 pounds since high school but still being able to wear the same size you wore to chemistry class? The reality is, however, that 34 percent of Americans are obese and nearly another 33 percent are overweight. We’re not healthy. Maybe if we stopped focusing so much on sizing each other up and focused instead on helping each other out we’d make some progress?
While I’m not sure what the solution to this clothing dilemma is, I do know this much: I am not the Incredible Shrinking Woman, and I didn’t buy the super cute, plaid, size 0 miniskirt that called me by name. I knew every time I’d put it on, I’d feel at best a bit disingenuous and at worst like a complete fraud. Perhaps that sounds silly, but it’s the truth. Before you judge me, just remember that a zero is merely a number. I’d like to believe I’m a bit more than that. We all are. And we should start treating ourselves and each other that way. I think we’d be a lot happier.