I think it’s pretty clear I ain’t no size two, ‘cause when I shake it shake it, my pants start falling off. I’m a nerdy, middle-aged suburban woman who wears sub-zero clothing. In my world, that ought to mean clothes that keep me warm in the winter. Au contraire, mes amis. Let me tell you what it’s like.
What I want out of the fashion industry is pretty straightforward. Call it business casual. I want flat shoes, natural-waist pants, knee-length skirts, shorts that cover my entire caboose, and tops that cover my entire bra. I prefer that it be assumed I am in the practice of wearing undergarments, without displaying them for all to see. I’m not a bluestocking. As far as I’m concerned, public nudity is a-okay, as long as it’s intentional. Which my accidental flashing of my entire naked breast in a restaurant the other day most assuredly was not. I have a young friend who is probably engaging in ritual self-mutilation at this very moment, in a feeble attempt to bleach the sight of my sundress malfunction from his mind. (The label says Size 1, by the way). My narrow shoulders cannot accommodate loose straps any more than my flat marathon runner’s butt can hold up a loose waistband. All those signs reading PULL UP YOUR PANTS? I know they’re aimed at me.
Despite what most people would guess, my body image is quite good. I won a lengthy battle with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease, and every day I appreciate my strength and energy level with full force. I like having visible muscle definition. I have never been “skinny” and I am definitely not “naturally lean.” I’m just… small. But not small enough. I’m at least two inches too tall to wear petites, with a long waist, long arms, narrow shoulders, short legs, big thighs, and more bust than fashion designers expect. Put it this way. For the first time in my life, I look better naked than I do dressed. Nothing fits me.
You think I’m exaggerating? Let me Google some size charts for you.
Target: size 0/2 bottoms. Waist 26-26.5. Hip 36-37.
Sears: size 0. Waist 25 ½. Hip 35. (Same as KMart)
JCPenney: size 0. Waist 25 ½. Hip 35 ½.
Walmart: starts at size 2. Waist 24 ½. Hip 35.
LL Bean: starts at size 4.
Costco: starts at size 8.
My measurements are 34-27-34. According to the size charts, I should be able to fit in a 0 at Ann Taylor (see above photo), the Gap, and Old Navy, and a 00 at Banana Republic. In practice, those size 0’s are too loose. I tried on several size 0 garments at the Banana Republic store yesterday that were too big, and a very sweet employee directed me to the website, where I found… five styles of pants. Period. They don’t carry a 00 in the store, and I guess it’s not a big seller online either. Most 00 stuff is designed for truly skinny body types, not for athletes with bulky hamstrings, adult hips, and a BMI of 20.
There is a dividing line between extra-small clothing and average-size clothing that is at least as vivid as the scene change from sepia to Technicolor in The Wizard of Oz. The women’s section has everything I want: modest, classic clothes that cover my stretch marks. Their “XS” is equivalent to about a size 6. The extra-small section (see H&M, Forever 21, Macy’s, and Nordstrom) currently has biscuit-bottom shorts, racer-back baggy tank tops, miniskirts, “pants” that were called “leggings” in my day, beachwear, and a broad spectrum of completely transparent tops, mysterious cutouts, and distressed denim. Good luck finding a single item that would be suitable on an airplane or in a nice restaurant, much less anything that would meet any office dress code. I can choose between “teen character actor” or trying to duct-tape age-appropriate garments onto my body. Which I’ve considered. But this is a hot climate, yo. That gives all new meaning to the concept of “tacky outfits.”
Caring friends have advised me to wear children’s clothes (because Dora the Explorer has a new business casual line) or men’s clothes (because there are so many more men who are 5’4” and weigh 120 pounds – problem solved!). Really, though, nobody gives a flying leap about my problem. I Googled “size zero” and found a Wikipedia article that indicates a 3” range in clothes labeled “size zero,” explicates “criticism” and “movement against size zero,” and then stops without indexing places one might purchase said clothing. The remaining first-page results are all about a size-zero woman who got liposuction, except for one article about size inflation called “Congratulations! You are a size zero!” I looked up “size zero fashion” on Pinterest. Much to my astonishment, what popped up was “curvy” and “plus-sized,” with a certain amount of disparagement for small women. “Does anyone really look like this?” and “Anorexia is a disease it is NOT a fashion statement”. You think people body-shame you? Evidently my clothing size gives people the right to assume I’m mentally ill.
I have just as much right to buy clothes that fit as anyone else. But capitalism is failing me. There is no market for the products I want to buy; therefore, they don’t exist. I’ve been online, and I’ve only found one brand of underpants that fit me. Even on Amazon, I’m off the bottom of the size chart for almost everything. I used a tape measure, ordered a sundress that should have fit, and the smocking… didn’t stretch. My options at this point are to keep returning most of my online orders, make my own clothes, pay for someone else to do it, or wear vintage. (I’m the same height and weight as Betty Grable, although Grable’s hips were an inch bigger and I’m bigger by 4” in the waist, 3” in the thigh, 2” in the calf, and ¾” in the ankle. Nobody seems to think she had an eating disorder, even with that tiny waist and those slender legs). My long-suffering husband, who has been my companion in clothes shopping over the last decade, is threatening to take me to London, where I would be a size 6. In other parts of the world, my build is perfectly normal and average. My “size zero” issues aren’t just a First World Problem – they’re almost exclusively an American problem. Correction: a Unicorn-American problem.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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