Claire Biggerstaff

Claire Biggerstaff is a freelance writer and photographer from Charlotte, NC. Her curiosity leads her to write about a lot of topics, but her passion is covering sustainability and ethics in the beauty industry. On her off days, she enjoys baking, reading Polygon articles, and watching way too many YouTube videos.

Body Image, Positive Representation, and a Proposal to Fix Our Wildly Inconsistent Sizing System

While positive representation is undeniably something the fashion industry should take to heart, it’s certainly not enough to make the kind of impact some people think it will.

For most of my adult life, I’ve been in the size 4-6 range. Oh, and I’m short—5’0” short. Other than not being gifted in the height department, I see myself as pretty average, though I’m thinner than the national average

But like most people I know, I’ve wrestled with sometimes crippling body-image issues since middle school. 

It’s a scenario so common among young women it’s almost cliché. From a young age, I was surrounded by glossy magazine covers and advertisements extolling the virtues of being super thin (and telling me exactly what diet to try or product to buy to get there). Naturally, I started seeing dozens of flaws on my own body. 

I didn’t realize that Photoshop and eating disorders were a thing ‘til much later.

I thought that I must’ve been fat and ugly because I didn’t have abs or a thigh gap at age 13. My friends and family would tell me that I didn’t have anything to worry about, that I was beautiful, but of course I didn’t believe them. 

Two minutes after writing that paragraph I see this on my Tumblr dash—glad to know it’s not just me!

10 years later, I’ve matured into a much brighter attitude toward my body, but there are still plenty of days when I look in the mirror and can’t help but feel disgusted by what I see. 

Something that has helped me more than anything in my journey toward self-acceptance is representation. Seeing someone who looks like me, who has a similar body type and doesn’t fit the mold of 5’10” and a size 0, was such a shock to my system—especially the first few times it happened. I thought those people were beautiful, which made me begin to question why I would think any differently about myself. That’s why I support representation in all its forms. 

People develop a much healthier sense of self-worth and more positive identity when they see themselves reflected in the world around them. 

That’s why when I heard about Nike’s move to include plus-size mannequins in their stores, I thought it was a brilliant decision. 

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Don’t get me wrong—Nike needs to seriously step up their game on a lot of fronts, like supporting athletes who want to become mothers and relaxing their win-at-all-costs culture that drives young prodigies’ bodies to break down. But well-deserved criticism aside, the plus-size mannequins are a win in my book for the simple fact that shopping for clothing is much less stressful when you see people like you represented and acknowledged by the brands you like. Heck, I’d love to see even more body types represented by mannequins. But let’s shift gears.

While positive representation is undeniably something the fashion industry should take to heart, it’s certainly not enough to make the kind of impact some people think it will. 

To create a truly more inclusive fashion space, people need to be able to more easily find clothes that fit them, regardless of their size or body type. But with our inaccessible and wildly inconsistent sizing system, that’s nearly impossible. 

Remember how at the beginning of this article I said that I typically wear a size 4-6, aka a small? Well, my closet boasts everything from an XS to a L, and sizes 4-8. It’s crazy, and it’s stirred up a lot of anxiety for me in the past. For example, I now habitually avoid stores like H&M that tend to run really small because I don’t want to have to buy two to three sizes up from my typical size. 

The thing is, I don’t think that a universal sizing system will fix the issue—and it may actually do more harm than good. So what should we do about it? It’s clear that our sizing system doesn’t work on many levels and leads to consumer dissatisfaction, warped senses of body image, and increased product returns from e-commerce, which bring tons of needless waste into our environment.

If a universal sizing system is off the table, the solution to helping people find the perfect fit the first time around might start with better representation. 

Different-sized mannequins are one part of the equation, but better representation of clothing products on different-sized human models could be even more helpful. In stores, this could look like employees trained to measure and size shoppers. Online, brands could include images of each of their products worn on models of each size they offer (or even their top five most bought sizes). ASOS has already taken a great step in that direction by showing online shoppers each item worn by three different body types. 

Additionally, more advanced tech could help e-commerce brands recommend the best items for shoppers, all without having to take measurements. Take ThirdLove’s “Find My Fit” quiz, which matches users with the best bra style and fit. 

If implemented on a large scale across brands, these improvements could drastically change the way the fashion industry operates, the way we shop, and the way we see ourselves for the better.

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