Many new clients come to my office with weight goals. Some want to lose 10 pounds, others more. There are women who want to reach their “wedding weight” and men who want to be under 200 pounds. The brackets on the scale are meaningful. I have a doctor’s floor scale and the each bracket represents 50 pounds. Other people declare that they do not care about “the number” on the scale that they just want to be a certain size or for their clothes to fit. These clothing-based goals appear sensible but have some inherent problems.
Last week, the NYT ran a story about the confusing state of clothing sizes. “One Size Fits Nobody: Seeking a Steady 4 or a 10.” The article discussed what many women already know and that’s that your “size” depends less on how much you weigh or what size you are and more on the whim of the retailer. Depending on the store your size can vary by a few sizes.
Many retailers, responding to their, ahem, growing consumer base have resorted to a practice called vanity sizing. Vanity sizing involves labeling clothes with smaller sizes so that a size 10 customer feels as though she’s a size 6 because that’s what fits her. I don’t think most people are gullible enough to think they’ve dropped a couple of sizes unbeknownst to them; rather it just makes shopping confusing. A company known as My Best Fit developed a potential solution. My best developed kiosks at malls across America. Basically, your measurements are taken and you are given a report indicating the size you should select at various different retailers. To me, vanity sizing is like the mirrors at a carnival distorting what you look like and the kiosks some sort of fortuneteller. Knowing your size shouldn’t be that hard.
Aware that sizes are unreliable many people rely on a certain article of clothing as their litmus test. I don’t know why but this piece of clothing is a pair of jeans more times than not. We’ve all heard about “skinny” jeans, I have a client who calls her test jeans “reference jeans”. Others know they’re in good shape when they can buy jeans- period. I caution using clothes as your arbiter of size or fitness. For starters, your body can change. I have female clients who, like Aidan who we discussed last week, get back into tip top shape after babies. Yet, your body may change. Sometimes your hips are permanently a little wider after childbirth or things simply redistribute. Changing your workouts can also alter the way apparel fits. You may have a certain look when you were running and your “inches” may be different if you start kickboxing. Slip your skinny jeans on in these instances and you may feel discouraged but the truth is clothes that fit at one time may just never fit well again even if you look great. I also have to add that laundering and dry cleaning can shrink clothes or at least we think it can…
So what to do? We try to be more evolved and not let a number on the scale determine our success with food and exercise but other assessment methods have their flaws. It may come down to what Crunch gym said so well in one of their ad campaigns, we just need to see when we “feel better naked” although I like the jeans concept better.
Are you a scale person or do you go by your clothes? How do you know when you’re making progress with food or exercise? If there’s a piece of clothing you use as a reference, what is it?
Great post. I get so confused when one size fits me one place, and another size fits me somewhere else. Why don't they just keep things consistent?! It's annoying, to say the least. There are a few stores that have kept the same sizes, and I use clothes from those stores to gauge how well I'm doing with my weight (and no, I'm not really thinking about it too much!). I like to tell people to use their belt (one they've had for a while) or their watch as a signal. Many times my watch is super loose, other times it feels extra snug. Those are mornings I know I have either had too much salt, or I'm putting on some pounds (if I have a tight watch multiple days!).
I go by neither, I use my cholesterol level. I know when my diet and exercise is where it should be by my cholesterol level.
YESSS. I really liked reading the article in the NYT…I think men have it so much easier when buying pants! I usually just get what fits me, I try to look at the pants and guess rather than going by size if it's a brand I haven't worn before. I also use my weight as a benchmark, but I know that fluctutes, especially since I've been doing more weight training. I usually just think about what I've been eating. If I've eaten one too many chocolate easter bunnies, I know it's time to clean up my eating habits and sweat a little more.
I don't own a scale so I usually do go by how my clothes fit and yes, I do use a tighter pair of jeans or pants to assess. I also use my watch and rings since I wear them every day and they are usually one of the first things I notice get looser or tighter. How I feel, though, is usually my best indicator. I know when I am not eating as well as I want to, have been eating out a lot, and not exercising enough. I think everyone knows in their own way when things are looking up or down.
Gina like the watch/belt gauge, good ones. Claire, interesting your cholesterol level is that sensitive to your weight shifts. And Lauren- yes the food/habits are always telling. Chocolate doesn't lie.
I don't know that a printout of varying sizes (4-10) would make me want to shop. While I know vanity sizing exists, for some reason going above a 6 is a deal-breaker. I refuse to buy above that number even if it means having nothing to wear. This is flawed logic, I do realize! There is just something about that number. When I was really skinny and size 0's were loose on me, I knew in my heart I was actually a 4, but I still loved buying a 0. Now that I am probably closer to a store 6 I know that parts of me are a reality 10 and that depresses me to no end. I used to live by the tape measure. Before that the scale. Now I just go by the nakeds. I currently feel most content naked…though that might have something to do with the fact that none of my clothes fit! HAHAHA.
i agree it varies between stores and isn't fair for folks oh and I used a juicer as thats what I was using for the oranges and was easy that way
I also can't go by clothing sizes. This past year I was trying on clothes and couldn't figure out why the pants just wouldn't fit right (I always have trouble with pants) and I finally realized I had to go down another size – to a 4, when I've always worn an 8, maybe a 10 once in a while. I did lose a few pounds, but not two sizes worth. It's vanity sizing, no doubt. (Ann Taylor if you're wondering, they're among the worst for this.) So I just go by how I look in the mirror, no clothes. If my stomach is looking pretty good, I can see a few lines from the actual muscles in there, then I'm good. If not, and it looks a little bloated or bulge-y, then I need to watch my diet a little more closely.
Great topic, as always Lauren! I was baffled this weekend bc I tried on a pair of my mom's size 8 white pants and then decided to go with my own size 4 black pants. They literally fit the exact same way (minus the size 8's being a tad large).
I believe that I am a TRUE size 8…as that is what my wedding dress was and they took measurements, etc) but if I go to NY and Co I'm a 4, Ann Taylor 2-6 (2 in their dresses), American Eagle (8 in jeans), Old Navy (6), Express (6…4 on a good day). But overall I just average that I'm a 6 because that is my size in MOST stores. In women's clothing I'm a 4 lol. Oh gosh it's riduclous! I go by my measurements. The scale is a hard read, clothing size is a hard read…but measurements don't lie!
I have to go with clothing over the scale.
The scale can be really discouraging, particularly because it reflects what you may have eaten that day, the night before, etc. I always go by how jeans feel, and if they leave a mark, that's my cue. Also most of my work out clothes are pants or ankle length. I know I feel good about what how things are going when I wear bike shorts to the gym!
I try not to focus too much on the number on the scale but definitely go off of how my pants fit. I try not to get discouraged by sizes at the stores. Usually I get discouraged if stuff I already own doesn't fit the same.
Great article. Pants are frusterating and I really dont go by size anymore, since depending on the store I range over multiple sizes. I just go by measurements and how I feel. My weight ballparks me but right now Im trying to gain muscle weight so Im not too concerned about it. I try to be really in tune with my body too so I can tell if its changing. Sizes are just a number to me.
Vanity sizing is really annoying. When I moved to the US 20 years ago, I was pretty much the same size in every store, now I'm a different size in every store.
I keep track of my weight by weighing myself about once per month. I also have a pair of jeans that I use to get a general idea as to where I am at…
You make some excellent points about our bodies changing due to child birth, different forms of exercise, etc. And it doesn't always mean we are less fit/healthy. I know my jeans fit very differently when I do a lot of running versus when I do a lot of yoga/barre workouts.
Agreed Andrea. When I am running more many pants are tight in the quads even though clothing is lose elsewhere. Inches!
I have not weighed myself since August, so I've had to go by clothing size. I was at about a size 12, and now I'm at about a size 6.
Great point about the way our bodies change. After having two kids, I am back to my pre-pregnancy weight, but many of my pants are too tight. Also, the legs on a lot of my pants are too tight after doing so many lunges!
I do think thought that it can be a very motivating milestone for some people to fit back into their "skinny" jeans. Last week, one of the Mamavation moms fit back into a "skinny" jacket and is pumped.
I think our culture needs to lose all attachment to numbers in terms of measuring weight release success. I encourage my clients to throw out their scales or at least have someone hide them for a few months so that they can learn to focus on how they feel, than a silly number.
Personally, I have a few pair of pants that are my ideal size because I know when I fit in them, I'm doing everything I should to take proper care of my body. I've learned that sizes vary too much from store to store to care what size I am.
Great post! And totally true. Just like weighing myself isn't good bc of a million reasons it may be "off" from one day to the next…. using clothes is a bad base for how well we are doing in our body goals. Although, now that I'm losing, I refuse to buy my "old" size. 🙂
Great post! The more expensive jeans always have a smaller jean number….:)
I use a scale. I'm also someone who thinks a scale can be a useful tool if used correctly. I know this is not a popular opinion. For me, I have a weight that I function best at. Anything more than a few pounds lower or higher and I can tell a difference.
Gah! So true!!!! I used to be a size five when I was in high school, now, over a decade later I can fit into most retailer's size ZERO! Is that even a size? Hahaha. I am exactly the same proportion and weight as I was in high school. Really tiny people, like my sister, now wear a Double Zero 00. Really?
I hate trying on jeans for this exact reason. I have to try on a million pairs to get the right size. I wish woman's clothing makers would do what men do and just freaking use measurements. Okay, I'm done ranting;)
I like a balance of both. I check my clothes, my scale, and all that jazz. The sizes these days are so jacked though I dont pay attention to the sizes or numbers at all!
Jenn @ Peas & Crayons
I'm a clothes person. The scale isn't really my friend…I actually banished it to the closet last month and haven't stepped on it since. I TRY to go by how I feel…but it's hard to not care about how I look as well!
I agree, the reference point is NOW. I once had a picture of me at a younger age and said to myself I need to get to this weight/shape again. Until I realized that something this is futile because time goes forward, not backward. I need to find me new "happy weight"/shape.
I think there is a scale somewhere at my house…probably covered in dust in the garage. I do use clothing as one litmus test, and although I use my jeans, my biggest test is the dress I wore to the rehearsal dinner for my wedding. Since I have been married 11 years, I'm happy I can still fit in to this (form fitting) dress. (Although my body has definitely changed since I've had kids 🙂
I am a different size in every store and sometimes even in the same store. For example, I can fit into a 4 at J. Crew with no problem but then sometimes a 2 fits me better.
Vanity sizing doesn't exist in Canada (where I'm originally from) because over there I fit right into a size 6 or 8. Go figure!
Wonderful post! I hate the scale and try so hard to base my satisfaction with my body on how good I feel, how strong I am, and not on what the numbers say. Easiest way for me is to stay away from that hunk of metal. Numbers are just numbers. I love shopping at the Loft where I'm a size 2, but I can also be a 10 at other stores. The numbers can hurt and we shouldn't let them.
Very similar here in the UK with clothes sizes varyng massivly between different stores.
This really is taking away a vital fat loss tool for most people!