One Size Fits Few

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It looked so flattering on the model in the window. But here, as she struggled to guide her arms through the tight-fitting fabric and stretch it over her bust and torso, she wondered if the model had exerted the same effort she did to put it on. Exhausted, she studied her reflection in the dressing room’s fluorescent lighting. Her arms seemed to fit just a bit too snug in the sleeves, the bulk of her stomach awkwardly pulled at the fabric, and the skin on her back spilled slightly over the tight hem. I thought one size was supposed to fit everyone. Is there something wrong with me?  She pinched the skin on her stomach hard between her fingers, wishing that would make it disappear so she could look like the model in the window.

Unfortunately, this scene is a reality of many teenagers who try on clothes with the claim that “one size fits all.” Companies such as Brandy Melville and Pacsun are notorious for branding their tiny, tight-fitting clothes this way, which markets that body standard as ideal to the targeted consumer of highschoolers. These clothing businesses glorify a specific body type and brand it as “average,” which is not only inaccurate, but harmful and exclusive to teens. PacSun, in particular, often displays their brand clothing on skinny, tall models- which doesn’t translate well to many other body types. The unrealistic concept of “one size fits all” can greatly influence a woman’s body image, self-confidence, and security, which is the main reason why stores that brand their clothing in this way need to look to change their sizing methods. We, as consumers, should take responsibility to spend our money at other businesses that promote healthy body image and positivity.

My first real experience where I became conscious of my body shape was during the early years of middle school, when I began to gravitate towards the popular clothing companies of Hollister and Brandy Melville. I distinctly remember how upset I was in that dressing room, wondering why the petite clothes didn’t accommodate my broad shoulders or curves- because that one size was made to fit everyone, right? I truly believed that there was something wrong with my body, that I should try to diet or exercise more simply because of a label on a tag.

The reality is that no article of clothing will fit every body shape comfortably since every body is naturally different. It’s absurd to think that a single size can accomodate for so many diverse qualities, yet many companies like Brandy Melville try to market their product with the claim that it can. This company is the most frustrating to me because they advertise their sweatpants and jeans with 22”-24” waists as “one size fits all,” but according to What is the Average Waist Size for Women? from Healthline, the average waist size for teen girls in the United States is 32.6”. This store’s contortion of sizing is harmful to girls who might believe that they aren’t slim enough because they equate “average” and “normal” with the branded concept of “one size fits all.”

“It’s really demoralizing for girls, especially at a young age,” said Tess Parrott (‘22). Parrott continued to explain that it just takes one negative experience with this concept of “one size fits all” to change a teenager’s perspective on his or her body. In this generation where physical appearance seems to hold so much value to teenagers, this concept can be particularly damaging to younger girls who are still developing an image of themselves. 

 “It makes me so sad when I hear middle schoolers saying that they need to diet because they just don’t understand that they’re still growing and changing,” said Ella Orchard-Blowen (‘22). Many girls at this age are too young to appreciate that when clothing branded as “one size fits all” doesn’t fit correctly, it’s just an issue in sizing. At 16, I accept that I have an athletic figure whereas many of my peers can fit comfortably into smaller clothing, simply because they are built differently than I am. Even if we maintained the same diet and exercise routine, we would all still have different bodies because of our genetics. However, many girls in both high school and middle school don’t fully understand this. This is such an important and prevalent issue in body image, and clothing stores need to understand how their branding actually affects their consumers- especially since they are targeting highschool and middleschool audiences.

To me, the most frustrating part of “one size fits all” clothing is the implicit blame on the consumer. For clothing brands to claim that one size fits all, it prompts someone who doesn’t have an “ideal figure” to say, “why don’t I fit into this? What’s wrong with me?” The all part of this concept sends a message that the way it fits is the wearer’s fault, not the clothing or label itself. That idea can be really difficult for a teenager to deal with and potentially lead them down a physiologically damaging path.

This warped sense of body image from the influence of “one size fits all” branding can lead to body dysmorphia, which can then prompt eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia. This is because some girls may want so strongly to conform to the standard of beauty that this branding glorifies, which essentially risks their health just to look a certain way. Body dysmorphia is especially common, as it can be so easy to identify flaws when you don’t look exactly like the woman modeling the clothing. As the article, Does Size Really Matter? Not When it Comes to Clothing, from Psychology Today puts it, “we are driven by numbers: how many calories we consume in a day, how much we weigh on a scale, what size dress we wear and how many calories we burned during our exercise regimen- but we often forget to understand that these numbers are driving more and more individuals to engage in unhealthy diets leading to lower self-esteem and the development of eating disorders.” 

Depression and other declines in mental health can also develop from this style of branding. Girls may feel social pressure to believe that their appearance defines them and are therefore not good enough if they don’t fit into the “average” body type portrayed in one size fits all clothing. “I had to go through a lot of mental health barriers because of the way I felt about my body,” said Jane*, “it was really hard to dig myself out of that low…. I still just can’t let myself shop at places like PacSun because I don’t want to support [a business] that brings girls to such a hard [mental] place.” Jane continued to explain the impact of boycotting companies to influence change, which is one strategy that could potentially pressure “one size fits all” stores like Brandy Melville to change their sizing method to one that is more inclusive.

One size fits all culture does not just apply to adolescents. Adults may experience negative feelings towards their body image if they are unhappy with the way this particular size of clothing fits, as well. Parents are often embraced as role models to their children, so if they are dissatisfied with their body, that may very well reflect onto a daughter’s perspective of herself. I consider myself lucky to have parents that promote body positivity, as it has allowed me to feel more comfortable and confident in my own skin. However, this kind of support does not exist within all families. If stores like PacSun were to eliminate the branding of one size fits all, then both adults and teens may benefit emotionally. 

“One size fits all” is an entirely inaccurate form of branding- it does and will not fit everybody. Whether you fit into this label or not, it does not represent your worth since every body is built differently and is beautiful in its own way. Our culture and clothing stores need to accept this concept and change their way of sizing to an all-inclusive method and build an environment that promotes body positivity for our generation and the next to come.

* name changed for anonymity