Deena Shoemaker has a bone to pick with the fashion industry. The counselor for teen and preteen girls knows from firsthand experience that young women struggle with body image, and the inconsistent sizing conventions of the clothes in their closet only make matters worse.
Shoemaker had a eureka moment while rummaging through her own wardrobe, according to the Huffington Post. The 27-year-old realized that she owned a broad range of garment sizes — from 5 to 12 — but that they all fit her the same way! So, while the girls she spoke to were agonizing over their weight and experiencing poor body image, she wanted to show that it’s actually the seesawing sizes of their garments that mislead them into thinking they’re bigger than they are or that their weight is fluctuating.
“I’ve listened to countless girls tell me about their new diets and weight loss fads. I’ve [had] girls sob in my arms and ask me, ‘if I were skinnier, would he have stayed?’ I’ve counseled girls who were skipping meals. I’ve caught some throwing up everything they’ve just eaten,” Shoemaker writes in a post on Facebook. Accompanying the message is a grid of the counselor wearing six different bottoms, each a different size, and each fitting identically.
“I remembered all the times I’ve heard girls say they’re fat because they went up a pant size or talked about all the diets they’ve been on,” Shoemaker told the Huffington Post. “All the pieces fell into place for me when I saw my own pants. The lies they were believing were coming from something so commonplace that they didn’t even recognize it as the source of their hurt.”
Now Shoemaker is on a crusade to get the fashion industry to get its act together when it comes to sizing. “STOP telling my girls that a size 4 is the ‘ideal body size’ and the “epitome of beauty” if you’re going to change a size 4 into an 8 or a 12 or whatever number you feel like on any given day,” she writes on Facebook. Shoemaker acknowledges that she explains to the girls she counsels that Photoshop is to blame for the “perfect” look of the models they see splashed across the pages of fashion magazines and on many of their favorite websites. That’s easy to explain away, she says.
“Photo manipulation is one thing, but how do you expect me to convince her that the number printed inside her clothes is a lie too? How do you expect me to convince her that she doesn’t need to skip dinner for the next month because her pant size didn’t *actually* go up by seven digits?,” Shoemaker writes in her impassioned post.
It’s widely known that a phenomenon in the fashion industry called “vanity sizing” downsizes clothing to make women feel better about their bodies — and ultimately purchase the clothing. “Standardized size charts exist, but designers often take liberties to create their own smaller scale, regardless of how illogical the numbers are,” says Tammy Kinley, associate professor of merchandising at the University of North Texas, according to Cosmopolitan.
Then you have brands like Lululemon, which doesn’t sell sizes that extend into “plus” territory — and Abercrombie and Fitch, whose CEO says the company refuses to make larger clothing because fat people aren’t “the cool kids.” Actually, the average American woman is size 16, so that means we have a lot of uncool people in America.
But, Kinley says, there is a standardized sizing chart for clothing, so what’s with all the discrepancies? It can sometimes feel like clothing companies are conspiring to gaslight American consumers.
Through it all, Shoemaker wants the girls who look up to her to remain strong and positive in their self-image. It’s not you, it’s them, seems to be her message. Or, more accurately, what she wrote to those girls on Facebook. “And to you; my dear beautiful girls, my size 2 girls or my size 18 girls, your size doesn’t determine your beauty; your life does. The size printed inside your clothes is subjective to the fashion industry’s personal taste and it fluctuates rapidly. Stop believing the social normatives about who and what you should be. You are lovely and you are loved. Just exactly the way you are.”