"Vanity" Sizing Isn't Good for Anyone, So Can Brands Stop Doing It, Please?

Vanity sizing is actually incredibly degrading.
Publish date:
August 19, 2016
shopping, clothing sizes, fashion industry

I have more than one person in my life who tells me I'm crazy and that some more cake won't hurt when I say I'm trying to watch my weight. "You're just fine!" they say. "You have a distorted body image. It's all in your head!" They think they are trying to help, trying to boost my self-confidence, but I think they're perpetuating a delusion.

That same delusion can be found in endless stores across the world in the form of vanity sizing. It's the reason I can go in my closet right now and have a size 6 dress that's kind of roomy on me and size 10 jeans I'd need the jaws of life to button. These sizes are lies, and these lies that are told for our vanity do not help. They actually hurt — a lot.

Every single time your mom on one hand asks you "how you let yourself get this way" and then on the other offers you pizza and brownies, in my opinion she's furthering a confusing contradiction in the SAME WAY — the same EXACT way — these stores do.

There's a psychology behind vanity sizing. Brands put smaller sizes on larger cuts of clothes with a very specific manipulation in mind: For many women, including myself, seeing a smaller size on a label makes us feel better about ourselves. We'll buy that outfit in a smaller size, because it convinces us we ARE that smaller size, even if every other outfit we own tells us otherwise. And we'll buy into our own delusions. I've done it. I've bought things I don't even LIKE because I wanted to feel good knowing it was a smaller size. Like that dress from the Loehmann's going out of business sale that was — what color, exactly? I don't know. But I bought it because it was a small size and fit. And have worn it 0 times. But, hey, at least it's proof I own that size, right? Le sigh. What is THAT about? Why do we keep on telling ourselves lies? And why does society make it impossible for us not to do so?

But it is a lie. And that lie is making everything more difficult than it has to be. It's because of that lie that shopping becomes more difficult. These days we buy so much online, which means that more stuff has to be returned. With such a great variability in sizing between brands, many of us have no idea what our size actually is. I can't run into a store quickly and grab a size 6 jacket. Because...what does size 6 even mean? I've had times I have had XS dresses SWIM on me, but size 10 jeans not even button. I can't shop online, and I really hate bringing six different sizes into the dressing room at all times.

Rationally, no one should care what size the label says. We should care how the fit is and how we feel in it. But humans are not always rational people. When we put on a few pounds — be it from medication, stress, comfort eating, or all of the above — vanity sizing allows us to live the lie we want to live just a bit longer. It's irrational, of course, but there's a logic to it. Companies hope we'll start to gravitate toward the brands that DO lie to us because we don't want to face the uncomfortable truth that the brands with true sizing provides.

And how many times will I do this? How many times will I see I am a very different size in Gap than, say, H&M, and decide the Gap size is the right one because I prefer the number on the tag? It's not reality. It's a lie, and I'm drinking the Kool-Aid.

It's pretty simple, ultimately: Everyone likes products that makes them feel good about themselves, even if they're ultimately damaging.

I think what's important to realize is that when people (or brands) tell us lies about ourselves in order to make us feel better, they are doing us a disservice. Vanity sizing is actually incredibly degrading. Vanity sizing is nothing but the sexist sales tactic that theorizes women will be happier if they can pass as a smaller size, so we will tell them they are so they like us. (It's THE EXACT same thing as that friend who tells you how thin you look every time you see them, even if you have put on 30 pounds since your last coffee date.) Sure, mainstream culture perceives smaller women (those who take up less space, by the way) as better, prettier, more feminine. But vanity sizing is evidence that we feel that way about ourselves too, at every size, and are buying into this incredibly misogynistic ideal.

Shopping for a dress shouldn't feel like I'm playing roulette. Nor should it be an exercise in emotional torture. If I'm a size 10, or a size 12, or a size 4, I should be that size everywhere. It's up to me to own it and know it and buy what I need for myself in any store and know that what I pick up will fit me. Maybe I don't need lies mislabeled as "vanity" in order to make me feel better. I need the truth. I'm a big girl, in curves and in mind. And, honestly, I really need a new pair of jeans and don't want to have to shop at 10 different stores to find them.