I just got my spiffy new “Bad Girls” T-shirt in the mail. It’s a Large and it fits me perfectly. The funny thing is that when I shop at my the Eileen Fisher store in Suburban Square, I’m an Extra Small. Not just Small, mind you. Extra Small.
When I look in the mirror, I don’t see an extra small woman. I’m actually a little taller than most of my friends. I do have pretty good muscle tone, from all the walking and swimming I do. But I’m also blessed with that extra tushie padding that so often comes with being a middle-aged Jewish woman. There’s really nothing extra small about me. Except maybe my math skills.
Growing up, I always knew exactly what size I was. I was a teen girl in the Detroit suburbs, before girls participated in team sports and decades before the internet. There was nothing to do on Saturday but hang out at the mall. Like all my friends, I was a mall rat. Our moms dropped us off with a charge card or two at noon and picked us up again at five, after the mall closed. In the interim, we socialized and shopped. In those days, I could visit the Hudsons Junior department, go to the Size 7 rack and know that everything on it would fit me. I’m not saying that it would all look good on me. But at least it fit. If nothing I tried on looked fabulous, I could visit one of the mall’s many boutique shops and try on their Junior Sevens. I couldn’t be sure that I’d fall in love with an outfit, or that if I did, Mom would let me buy it. But at least it would fit.
In every clothing store in that mall, a junior seven was a junior seven. And not just in that mall – in every clothing store in Detroit. Maybe in all of America!
Nowadays, sizes are all over the place. In one store, I’m a size 6. Down the block, I’m an 8. In the course of a single shopping trip, I can go from Small to Medium to Large. (I’ve yet to be deemed Extra Large, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.) In each new store, when a saleswoman asks “What size are you?” I respond, “I have no idea. You tell me.”
Or “If this is Eileen Fisher, I must be an extra small.”
I’ve read that the reason for this variable sizing is that store revenue goes up when sizes go down. A woman is more likely to purchase a size 6 (“I’m petite!”) than a size 16 (“I’m obese!”). Can this really be true? After all, when you try on a dress, you’re usually looking in a mirror. You can see how big or small you actually are. Even if the salesperson insists that you’re a perfect size 4 – can’t you see with your very own eyes that your butt is as big as Cincinnati?
Apparently not. Ladies, when we shop for clothing we’re in Fantasy Land, where even the most substantial of us are just lithe feminine wisps, where what used to be a Size 10 has magically morphed into a Size 4, and where one of those beautiful big-boned babes could step right out of a Renoir painting and fit perfectly into an Extra Small.
Needless to say, this playing fast and loose with numbers has done nothing to help my math skills.
Thanks to recent legislation that mandates disclosure, you can now stop at Starbucks and find out exactly how many calories are in that whopping slice of cake you’re enjoying with your latte. But don’t worry – no matter how much pastry you gobble, when you head over to Eileen Fisher after your Starbucks snack, you’ll always be Extra Small.
(This essay first appeared on www.womensvoicesforchange.org)