Size ain’t nothin’ but a label

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I was overwhelmed by the amazing response to my recent guest curator post on Etsy. Before listing my picks from the site, the team very kindly let me wax lyrical about Big Girls Browse and why I started it, and it was lovely to see some of the reactions from the Etsy community.

One comment in particular really stood out to me. Niftyknits said “I’ve been trying to pretend I’m still a UK14, not 16…but this gives me the courage to say heck – I’m a 16!!!”

I was so touched when I read that, because it sums up the exact reason I started this site. We live in a world where there’s so much stigma attached to a stupid number printed on a clothes label, and there shouldn’t be! Your dress size does not define who you are.

In my experience UK 16 (and sometimes even 14) seems to be a real trigger point for a lot of women. For many of my slimmer friends, it seems to be the unspoken barrier between being ok and being ‘fat’ (and I mean ‘fat’ the way an obviously not fat girl does when she turns to her friend and yelps “OMG I’m soooooo fat”). I don’t really know why this particular size has such bad connotations. Perhaps it’s because, for a long time, 16 was the biggest size a lot of shops sold, and the crossover to the plus size market.

Now that’s not so true. As a nation, we’re getting bigger. Size 16 is now the average. The likes of New Look, M&S, Next and George stock larger sizes as standard. Evans, meanwhile, starts at 14, not the 16 that most people assume.

My dress size has yo-yo’d between a 12 and 16 for all of my adult life. Over that time my body mass index (BMI) has been everywhere from 22 (healthy) to just under 28 (overweight). I have never been obese (a BMI of 30+) though I’m sure a fair few internet trolls would tell you otherwise if they saw a picture of me in a bikini.

My comfy weight (what model Crystal Renn refers to as the ‘set point’ in her book) is around a size 14, with a BMI of 24. This is on the high end of the healthy range, but healthy all the same. At that weight, I can enjoy myself, have the odd treat and resist becoming the Crazy Diet Girl that I was at my slimmest. But I frequently go above that weight, and it really doesn’t make much of a difference. I don’t morph into a different person when I put on 5lbs.

I once put a picture of myself on a blog and stated my dress size in the accompanying post. I was a size 14 max at the time. One woman took no time in getting her claws out to comment “Size 18 more like!”

I was livid. How dare she? I was proud at that time to be maintaining a so-called healthy weight. The last thing I needed when I was actually making an effort was for some nasty little witch I’d never met to make me feel bad about myself.

But then I thought about it, and I decided that by being pissed off, I was just as bad as this woman. I was letting dress size rule my life. Who cares if I was a size 18? IT REALLY DOESN’T MATTER. The only thing I had any right to be upset about was the fact she thought I’d felt the need to lie about it!

The label in your clothing means nothing. It’s taken me a long time to realise that. There’s no magic change when you go up a size. You don’t suddenly become a heifer overnight. It’s just a number.

Two women can wear the same dress size and look completely different. Height, body shape, muscle mass, waist-to-hip ratio, even the size of your boobs can contribute to what dress size you wear. The BMI scale (which dictates that a woman of average height, were she a size 16, would probably be slightly overweight) doesn’t take into account the fact muscle weighs more than fat, or the fact that big breasts aren’t a choice. It also doesn’t take into account the reasons women are the size they are; from lifestyle to genetics to the medication they’re on (including, of course, the contraceptive pill). One woman’s 12 is another’s 22. It doesn’t matter what the label says as long as you’re happy.

More importantly, and the point I was trying to make when mentioning the comment that woman made, is that size is in the eye of the beholder. Unfortunately, there are some people who will always look at women and see fatties, whether they’re size 12, 16 or 26. But there are just as many others who’ll look at a size 16+ and see a voluptuous, sexy woman who’s got better things to do than obsess over the label in her jeans. And that is a very attractive thing indeed.

If, with this site, I can make just one or two women of a similar size to me feel better about their bodies, then I’m happy. I’ve come to terms with the fact I wasn’t built to be super-slim, and I’m concentrating on being happy and having a healthy attitude towards my size instead.

And the happiest, healthiest people are the ones who don’t obsess, or care, what a label says!

  • http://www.twitter.com/malkinbister Kat

    God you’re so right. Especially in the high street market, sizes yo-yo enough to make you feel hideous. With Topshop and Miss Selfridge (hell, any shop where teenagers are the primary end of the market) I end up adding a size-ish onto my own size when trying on clothes. I’m 6’1 and variously a 12, 14 and 16 depending on where I’m shopping and whether I’m going for tops or bottoms. Similarly, TALL ranges vary enormously in terms of trouser, skirt and top lengths. Bloody annoying when you’re trying to find a pencil skirt that covers your knees…

  • http://www.twitter.com/malkinbister Kat

    God you’re so right. Especially in the high street market, sizes yo-yo enough to make you feel hideous. With Topshop and Miss Selfridge (hell, any shop where teenagers are the primary end of the market) I end up adding a size-ish onto my own size when trying on clothes. I’m 6’1 and variously a 12, 14 and 16 depending on where I’m shopping and whether I’m going for tops or bottoms. Similarly, TALL ranges vary enormously in terms of trouser, skirt and top lengths. Bloody annoying when you’re trying to find a pencil skirt that covers your knees…

  • Charl

    damn straight! who cares?
    I can get in a size 16/18 in some trousers but most recently some jeans I wanted almost as much as world peace wouldn’t budge up past my booty unless I picked up the size *cringe* 22 hanger. Almost FOUR sizes difference there.

    At the time I was mortified, but seeing so many women with the same problem of yo yo sizes in shops what are we to do? Go bottom-half-less until the sizes become universal.

    I would rather have the bigger size than squeeze my jelly into a smaller size and risk the dreaded muffin top! No one’s gonna see the size but me (and maybe the other half if he FINALLY gets round to doing his share of the laundry!)

  • Charl

    damn straight! who cares?
    I can get in a size 16/18 in some trousers but most recently some jeans I wanted almost as much as world peace wouldn’t budge up past my booty unless I picked up the size *cringe* 22 hanger. Almost FOUR sizes difference there.

    At the time I was mortified, but seeing so many women with the same problem of yo yo sizes in shops what are we to do? Go bottom-half-less until the sizes become universal.

    I would rather have the bigger size than squeeze my jelly into a smaller size and risk the dreaded muffin top! No one’s gonna see the size but me (and maybe the other half if he FINALLY gets round to doing his share of the laundry!)

  • http://secondhandshopper.wordpress.com Caroline

    Great post Gemma. I really must read Crystal Renn’s book soon.

    I too am a girl with a wide array of sizes in her wardrobe. I don’t even tend to shop on size any more, but but holding something up and asking: does that look like it’ll fit me?

    Very happy to hear that Evans start at a 14 btw. I did a mystery shop there several years ago and am certain there was nothing below a 16 in the store… Having seen the BEAUTIFUL summer frocks on their blog a few days ago and thought to myself “Booo – I can’t have one!” I’ll now definitely be making a trip there come spring!

  • http://secondhandshopper.wordpress.com Caroline

    Great post Gemma. I really must read Crystal Renn’s book soon.

    I too am a girl with a wide array of sizes in her wardrobe. I don’t even tend to shop on size any more, but but holding something up and asking: does that look like it’ll fit me?

    Very happy to hear that Evans start at a 14 btw. I did a mystery shop there several years ago and am certain there was nothing below a 16 in the store… Having seen the BEAUTIFUL summer frocks on their blog a few days ago and thought to myself “Booo – I can’t have one!” I’ll now definitely be making a trip there come spring!

  • http://styleontheedge.com/ Karen

    I think every woman, skinny, curvy or plus, ends up with a range of sizes in her closet. It’s never bothered me. I found some major finds by looking both in the 3X rack, which should be too big, and the teen department. In general though, as I’ve gone down in size a bit recently, I’m finding fit more difficult. There’s a major gap in the American sizes between the straight sizes stores offer, sometimes to 16, rarer to 18 or 20 (a size or two up from your Brit sizes. They fit me better than the smaller plus sizes, which are cut fuller.

    I’ve only just found your amazing blog, after launching little site. I’m in awe!
    .-= Karen´s last blog ..Ever More =-.

  • http://styleontheedge.com/ Karen

    I think every woman, skinny, curvy or plus, ends up with a range of sizes in her closet. It’s never bothered me. I found some major finds by looking both in the 3X rack, which should be too big, and the teen department. In general though, as I’ve gone down in size a bit recently, I’m finding fit more difficult. There’s a major gap in the American sizes between the straight sizes stores offer, sometimes to 16, rarer to 18 or 20 (a size or two up from your Brit sizes. They fit me better than the smaller plus sizes, which are cut fuller.

    I’ve only just found your amazing blog, after launching little site. I’m in awe!
    .-= Karen´s last blog ..Ever More =-.

  • http://www.pasazz.net/blog Sarah

    I agree 100%. Size is nothing but an insignificant number… and anyway sizes vary so much from store to store to store it doesn’t even matter! You might be an 18 at one store, a 16 in another, and even a 12 in another! As long as clothes fit well and make you look gorgeous and confident that’s all that matter. No one will be peeking behind you neck to see what size you’re wearing anyway. So it is truly insignificant. Look for a great fit and do not fuss over size.
    .-= Sarah´s last blog ..10% Off Fit & Flatter Solutions at Swimsuits For All =-.

  • http://www.pasazz.net/blog Sarah

    I agree 100%. Size is nothing but an insignificant number… and anyway sizes vary so much from store to store to store it doesn’t even matter! You might be an 18 at one store, a 16 in another, and even a 12 in another! As long as clothes fit well and make you look gorgeous and confident that’s all that matter. No one will be peeking behind you neck to see what size you’re wearing anyway. So it is truly insignificant. Look for a great fit and do not fuss over size.
    .-= Sarah´s last blog ..10% Off Fit & Flatter Solutions at Swimsuits For All =-.

  • wobi

    I absolutely love this site! It mirrors so many of the things I've been going on about for years now. Couple of additional rants though – I dont think most people (except Beth Ditto) understand that larger sizes shouldnt simply be about making the clothing bigger. As a 'fat' person, my body is fundamentally different from that of someone who is a size 12 or 14. For example, tights need to sit higher on the waist to ensure they dont just roll off! And not everyone has big bums and boobs – some of us have decent enough hips and boobs but a tummy that would put most second trimester pregnant women to shame. (My son keeps asking me who I have 'in there'…says it all)! So low rise jeans are an absolute no no. I must have tried atleast 100 pairs of jeans from all sorts of fashion labels – budget, top end, designer…to find TWO pairs that had a decent fit. MAkes one wonder if a woman above a size 14 even has the right to exist!!

  • http://twitter.com/chattermonkey Chattermonkey

    Here here! I've spent years hating the fact I'm, well, fat. I was an early developer and when I hit secondary school I was size 14, had breast, had my period and was pretty much physically a woman. Whereas my female classmates were all still scrawny brats (and they were!) so you can only imagine the fun and games I had for the 1st 3 years. So from then until I hit 25 I struggled with how i looked. Everyone else was taller, thinner, prettier than me. I hated what I saw in pictures and in the mirror. Then one random drunken night whilst I was living in Japan (the land of the naturally size 0) a colleague said to me that the only thing that was holding me back was my hang up about how I looked. She said in a very blunt way “either lose weight or like what you see”. So I decided to go the easy route – like what I see. It wasn't overnight, but now I am the biggest I have ever been – a voluptuous 24 – but I'm the happiest with my weight. I feel no need to loose weight and in fact people comment on how much weight I have lost (in the last year its been about 2lb!) I think because I am more confident. So who cares!

  • http://wolfwhistle.org Amy

    Amazing post – I love and agree with everything you’ve said here. Especially the part about the big breasts: that’s not something I can help and it does push my weight up – of course it does! I’m trying not to worry about size or what the numbers on the scales say but it’s taking me a while to get there.

    ▲ WOLF WHISTLE ▲

  • Greenway

    Hey I have just discovered your website and it is a breath of fresh air! I am between a size 12 and 16 depending on shop, fluctuating weight etc. and I am always very reluctant to buy clothing in a size 16, I can usually fit a 14. Equally I’m always over joyed when I find something that fits me that is a size 12. A few weeks ago I found a lovely coat in H&M and even the size 18 didnt fit me, now that isnt because i’m a size 18 but because their sizes are ridiculous!! I equally have a top from them in a small which fits perfectly! So I didnt buy the coat, but really what did it matter, as you say everyone varies and as long as it fits and makes you look good then its fine! In fact when buying clothes I have cut the label out if it has been a size 16. But I wear 36DD bra and have quite big muscles in my arms from swimming and lifting so no wonder some of the smaller fitted sizes do not fit. Rant over, thanks for your webiste, I am going to keep reading!

  • http://twitter.com/_Dani_elle Danielle smith

    Love your blog,
    i really wish i didnt feel like that.
    x
    http://ablogfromblackpool.blogspot.com/

  • Shelley J

    I have no idea what label size I am. Last I checked it ranged from 18-24! And who knows if that’s been vanity sized since my last mall venture.

    If I go RTW shopping, I’ve learned to bring a tape measure with me. I go by my bust/waist/hip, period. It’s too much stress to haggle mentally over that two digit number on a scratchy tag in the back of a garment I’m gonna cut out anyway.