January 26, 2007

The government is here to help you with your body image problems.

Here's a story about how Spain is standardizing clothing sizes for women "as part of a government drive to ease pressure on young girls over their body size":
The change of sizes will be led by Spain's National Consumer Institute, which will measure more than 8,000 Spanish females between the ages of 12 and 70.

Spanish fashion houses will then try to fit clothes to them, rather than the other way round.

Last year Spain's main fashion show banned designers from using so-called "size zero" women to model their collections.

Now designers aiming for commercial markets should be encouraged to "promote a healthy physical image that conforms with the reality of the Spanish population," the ministry said in a statement.
It's one thing to standardize the sizes. I can't see objecting to that. The standardization of weights and measures is central to free trade. A pound of sugar from one manufacturer should weigh the same as a pound of sugar from another. Clothes sizes are much the same. I suppose you could say that the proportions should be variable. If the average woman is pear-shaped, will it be illegal to design for the apple-shaped woman? But basically, it doesn't bother me that manufacturers won't be allowed to manipulate the numbers to get the jump on their competitors.

But weren't they putting smaller numbers on larger clothes? I don't know about Spain, but here in the United States, they didn't use to have size 0 or even size 2 in ordinary women's departments. I should think reality-based sizing would have women shocked to learn what their real size is. But at least it won't vary from shop to shop. Some women might get upset not to fit into a size they were used to fitting into. Whether that sends them into crash dieting is another matter.

The bigger issue is whether government should demand that clothing manufacturers participate in the promotion of healthy bodily images. I don't much like government efforts to improve people's thought processes. It puts me in a bad mood.

Hey, why not ban black clothes? They're depressing and worn by people who are depressed. Let's mandate pastels and snappy prints!

***

The reason I'm blogging about this is that I got a phone call this morning asking me if I could go on the radio to talk about this story -- which I hadn't yet read. Wanna talk about it for 5 minutes, like 8 minutes from now? Okay.... Anyway, so I did that. This blog post is just a byproduct.

41 comments:

Anonymous said...

"I don't much like government efforts to improve people's thought processes. It puts me in a bad mood."

Ditto. I think my bad mood comes from my suspicion that directed social change is a fool's errand in most cases. So things like this strike me as a waste of time and money.

Trey

Anonymous said...

"Hey, why not ban black clothes?"

So then Manhattan will become a nudist colony?

Seriously, I've been told by a friend who loves vintage clothes that the difference between sizes now and in the early-to-mid-60's women's clohing is "ridiculous".
She's a size... I dunno, 2 or something, and has 40 year old dresses that say size 6 or larger.

Apparently size inflation has been going on since at least the 80's.

amba said...

I only realized that sizes were being downsized to flatter skinny-minded consumers when, after years of being a perfect size 8, I noticed that without changing my own size in the slightest I was swimming in size 8s and had to buy a 6.

Hey, don't ban black, it's one of the few ways to look thin without actually being thin!

Yeah, government trying to enforce a change in culture sounds futile and depressing. The way culture enslaves people's minds so that they make the "free choice" to starve themselves to death is also depressing. Is there a solution? Who knows.

It's weird that the worship of thinness is a mark of affluence, because when there's a lot of food around, thinness becomes scarce and hard to attain. Where food is scarce, fatness is élite and beautiful.

Anonymous said...

I agree that sizes should be standardized. A size two in Gap should be the same as a size two in any other store. But why focus on women? I think this is a better news for men. I hate to shop for clothes...mostly because my wife insists that I try everything on. If sizes were standardized, then I could just walk through a store, pick up what I want in what I know to be my size, and bam! I'm done shopping.

Fatmouse said...

Spanish doctors will also no longer be allowed to call their patients "Morbidly Obese." They shall instead be referred to as "Big Boned."

Pogo said...

I'm glad Spain has solved that pesky terrorism problem so they can get back to the really really important job of modern Western civilization, the total governmental control of every thing you make or write, do or say, eat or wear, think or believe.

Caveat civis.

Susan said...

Doesn't the EU, to which Spain belongs, micromanage this sort of thing? I'm surprised clothes sizes aren't standardized throughout Europe.

vbspurs said...

"The government is here to help you with your body image problems."

How silly.

And a size "zero" in Spain is a size 34, too -- so they can't even blame it on the sinking pit feeling that you're literally a size nothing.

First Denmark ponied up government-sponsored prostitutes for the challenged. Now, Spain wants to help you with your self-image.

One can't even blame the kooky Socialists because unlike Zapatero*, the PM of Denmark is centre-right.

Although it's true that the old continent is endemically Socialist in nature -- and this is just further proof that government intrusion into your life is hunky-dory by certain people, as long as they're the ones thinking of it.

*Which incidentally, means Shoemaker -- he shoulda concentrated on women with big feet. I mean, having size 10 clodhoppers is no fun.

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

Spanish doctors will also no longer be allowed to call their patients "Morbidly Obese." They shall instead be referred to as "Big Boned."

Way ahead of you, Fatmouse. The new proper term in Spain is not "gorda como una cebolla" anymore -- it's ternesca.

Basically 'zaftig', without the Jewish mother.

Cheers,
Victoria

TabithaRuth said...

It works the other way too--the more expensive the bra the bigger the size. (Which is really odd seeing how that is supposedly a measurement).

Joe Baby said...

Hah! Pointless. They'll all be wearing burkas before too long.

Smilin' Jack said...

The bigger issue is whether government should demand that clothing manufacturers participate in the promotion of healthy bodily images.

Being fat is neither attractive nor healthy, and government edicts can't make it so. This program has nothing to do with promoting health--it's all about making voters feel better about being fat and unhealthy.

The fashion industry doesn't try to make thin models attractive--why should they?--they use them because they are attractive. And that attractiveness derives from our instinctive ability to recognize health in humans.

For this reason I suspect the fashion industry has unintentionally done more to promote women's health than any government edict, and that being more weight-conscious is one important reason that women live longer than men.

class-factotum said...

Yes, this is where that insane "Marilyn Monroe was a size 14" comes from. In the '50s, a size 14 is what a size 4 or 6 is now. Anyone who can look at a photo of that woman and say she was fat is nuts.

But even if the government were to interfere in this, you would still need to try on clothes. Men's clothes are already standardized -- they are often sold by inches -- but there are always variations in cut and the way fabrics drape and how something actually looks on your body, whether it technically fits or not.

It seems like Spain had its taste of facism and now wants to return. Pity.

exhelodrvr said...

So are bikinis going to be banned? Or will they segregate the seashore so that there are "beaches for plus size" and "beaches for the obviously unnatural because they are more slender than me"

Mark the Pundit said...

Jeff,

Wouldn't it be size deflation? heh.

Anonymous said...

Joe Baby has the best comment of the day.

Dean Esmay said...

What you may have missed is that in a lot of European countries, governments are much more intricately involved in corporate affairs and the government often owns large chunks of corporations and/or sits on their boards. At least large, publicly traded or national level corporations.

It is very possible that the Spanish government is intimately involved in the fashion industry, as well as many other industries.

One might strongly object to that until one realizes that prior to the early 20th century, corporations were very rare and were invariably viewed as artificial creations of the state. They certainly weren't viewed as a natural market phenomenon--which, as it happens, they weren't.

America is one of the few countries to give corporations as much power as we do, and to keep government as separate from corporate governance as much as we do. Whether that's good or bad is another debate. But in Spain it's probably entirely normal for government to get involved in all sorts of decisions like this. Yet somehow they're not degenerating into a Stalinist hellhole...

Simon said...

"I don't much like government efforts to improve people's thought processes. It puts me in a bad mood."

That instinctive skepticism of the power and right of government to try to change people -- except in extraordinary circumstances -- is one of the pillars (orperhaps even the taproot) of conservative thought. Maybe this is why people think you're somewhat more conservative than the positions you take on the big-ticket items would seem to suggest?

Truly said...

Hey Victoria: Size 10.5 narrow over here. Count your blessings.

Harsh Pencil said...

It seems that if the government wants to encourage standardization (as in a pound of sugar from one producer should weigh the same as a pound of sugar from another) then it should simply mandate that (as class-factotem said) women's clothing be sold like men's. A 42 man's jacket means "This jacket was built for a man whose chest is 42 inches around." Simply mandate that the tag say something like "36, 24, 36" which means, "this dress was built for a model with a 36 inch bust, 24 inch waist, and 36 inch hips." Yes this is government interference, but simply "truth in advertising" interference.

Simon said...

Smilin' Jack said...
"The fashion industry doesn't try to make thin models attractive--why should they?--they use them because they are attractive. And that attractiveness derives from our instinctive ability to recognize health in humans"

Are you kidding? Most of the models I see look neither attractive nor healthy, and the ones that are get airbrushed until they don't look it.

vbspurs said...

In the '50s, a size 14 is what a size 4 or 6 is now.

Nah. Even given the already pointed out 'deflation'.

From a Marilyn Monroe site:

Height: 5 feet 5 1/2 inches

Weight: Varied, 115 - 120 lbs.

Measurements: 37-23-36 (Studio's Claim); 35-22-35 (Dressmaker's Claim)


Whew! What a narrow waist to boob-hip ratio.

But back in the day, women didn't necessarily rely on clothing boutiques or department stores for their attire.

They made clothes, themselves.

Here is a fun site showing vintage patterns which you can buy, presumably for theatrical costumiers, and the like.

Unless you just happen to want a 1950s dirndl skirt of your own.

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

Hey Victoria: Size 10.5 narrow over here. Count your blessings.

Aww, Truly, I didn't mean to imply I was a size 10 foot.

I'm a size 7 - 7 1/2 shoe, sometimes size 8 sneaker.

That's a little above-average for a woman, I think (I'm still a little lost with USA sizes), but not like your shoe canoes.

*duck!*

Cheers,
Victoria

Smilin' Jack said...

Simon said...
Are you kidding? Most of the models I see look neither attractive nor healthy, and the ones that are get airbrushed until they don't look it.


Yeah, that makes sense. The fashion industry uses ugly models, and airbrushes them to make them look even uglier. That's the way to sell clothes.

I wish more men thought like you---more size zeroes for me!

Revenant said...

The stick-figure look of many modern models is certainly unhealthy for most people, but I'm sick of the myth that "fat" used to be considered "beautiful". Aphrodite didn't look like Mama Cass.

Palladian said...

"Yet somehow they're not degenerating into a Stalinist hellhole..."

No, they're degenerating into a Socialist hellhole...

AllenS said...

It's impossible for a man to understand women's clothing sizes. Women's clothing shops know this. That's why they always have gift certificates.

Anonymous said...

Why should government even be involved ? I just don't see a problem that requires government interference.

Your reference to standardized weights and measures seems very inapt. Sugar is sugar. Salt is salt. Things of this nature tend not to vary much in quality. Clothes are a completely different matter. Size 41 slacks of one design might fit very differently than size 41 slacks of another design.

Anonymous said...

Per Revenant's last comment, the comment that "fat" is "beautiful" comes about because of a totally inappropriate and misleading definition of "fat". And yes, the current fashion industry has a lot to do with that misleading definition. Calling a woman with a 22 inch waist "fat" because she's got big boobs and hips is ridiculous. And I very much doubt any male whose "instinctive ability to recognize health in humans" is working will call her "fat" either.

Unrelated note to Professor Althouse: I see your nephew is doing pretty well at Torrey Pines so far. I hope he keeps it up.

Simon said...

Revenant - You mean "the luscious Cass"? ;) I'll agree with the thrust of your point, if your point is that "fat" was never widely considered beautiful, but it does seem clear that what is considered to be be fat has shifted dramatically. I'm not an art major, but it does seem to me that the depiction of women has shifted from, to borrow Victoria's word, zaftig, in earlier times, to gaunt since the Second World War.

Jack, you're welcome to them. ;) The only person I can think of who I find attractive who comes close to what the fashion industry would regard as attractive is Mary Katharine Ham, and I would still reserve that she is both thinner and younger than I would usually be attracted to. At the risk of sounding like Naomi Wolfe, I regard the fashion industry as a predatory industry that creates and manipulates an unrealistic standard of beauty and encourages women to do themselves harm in order to meet that standard. It stretches the limits of credulity that this is considered attractive, and while I don't demand that the fashion industry should cater to my idea of what is beautiful, they could at least refrain from promoting one that is painfully unhealthy and encourages depression and eating disorders among women. I have no idea what goes through these people's minds, but if I were king, these people would be the first against the wall.

class-factotum said...

Victoria,

I was basing my size assumptions on my memories of the '70s when I used to sew my own clothes. I was a 12 then; I'm a 6 now. I weigh the same!

I pulled a pattern from 1986 and compared the measurements to the sizes on the J Crew website. For a size on the pattern, the measurements are 36-28-38. Those same dimensions get you a size 8 (waist and hips) at J Crew.

I don't know what Marilyn's size was -- I have just seen that stupid email that tells women today we shouldn't feel fat because "Marilyn Monroe was a size 14."

Revenant said...

I'm not an art major, but it does seem to me that the depiction of women has shifted from, to borrow Victoria's word, zaftig, in earlier times, to gaunt since the Second World War.

Well, women used to bind their breasts to achieve the "flapper" look, back in the 1920s. So while fashion is definitely "skinnier" than it was in, say, the 50s, it is still "fatter" than it has been in the not too distant past.

Besides, I don't know anyone who looks at old pictures of the sex symbols of the 40s and 50s and thinks "ew, its a whale, throw her back in the water". Those old pictures still look hot. Fashionistas who think ultra-skinny is the only way to go are just crazy or gay or something.

Kirk Parker said...

Simon,

"It stretches the limits of credulity that __this__ is considered attractive"

Whoa man, that link needed a lot more DON'T CLICK ON IT warnings! I see what you mean, though: gaunt, gaunt, gaunt. Yuck.

vbspurs said...

I was basing my size assumptions on my memories of the '70s when I used to sew my own clothes. I was a 12 then; I'm a 6 now. I weigh the same!

Lucky so-and-so! ;)

Seriously, that's remarkable. You have good genes (jeans?).

I pulled a pattern from 1986 and compared the measurements to the sizes on the J Crew website. For a size on the pattern, the measurements are 36-28-38. Those same dimensions get you a size 8 (waist and hips) at J Crew.

It's possible, because I take a J Crew size 6 to 8, although I can't tell you my measurements (it's not something modern young ladies know offhand, sadly).

BTW, I recently purchased some Banana Republic tops.

Size Large. Basically, they're a size Small for anywhere else...some of the more bon-ton shops in the US, I find, have these odd sizing problems, whereas others (say JC Penneys, etc.) I hear do not.

Is there not only a sizism at work here, but also classism?

IOW, is it presumed by retail stores that blue collar ladies, or similar, are chunkier?

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

Well, women used to bind their breasts to achieve the "flapper" look, back in the 1920s. So while fashion is definitely "skinnier" than it was in, say, the 50s, it is still "fatter" than it has been in the not too distant past.

Don't forget the hobble skirt look of the mid-Edwardian era.

It was a direct reaction to the bustle look of the late Victorian epoch, which was a kind of enhanced bottom style (talk about junk in your trunk, as another Althousian put it), albeit it is true that it was usually wasp-waisted ladies who looked best in a bustle.

Still, the hobble skirt of the 1910s was the first time women's figures were severely constricted BELOW the waist, instead of above it -- since at least Graeco times.

Jennifer said...

While I agree with your overall commentary on government intervention to "better" people's thought processes, size standardization seems like a good thing. I have clothes ranging from a size 4 to even a few size 10's. That's ridiculous. But, it'd be similarly ridiculous to let my clothes size affect my body image. I look how I look regardless of what label the fashion industry slaps on my clothes. So, I'm not even sure I understand what goal they're aiming for.

A comment on the side debate of whether models are attractive or not - runway models don't have to be attractive. There are lots of arguably ugly runway models. It's hard to find hundreds and hundreds of girls 5'9" and taller weighing 110 pounds and less who are *also* drop dead gorgeous. As for print models, most are beautiful. But, some are just interesting looking and not particularly attractive. So, it's not just a taste issue. There *are* lots of unattractive models.

class-factotum said...

Victoria,

I think there is a class thing going on with the sizes. I worked at Macy's over Christmas in the ladies' clothes section. The sizes went up to 16. The larger sizes (I had never heard of 1X, 2X, etc) were in their own section on another floor.

Sizes vary between brands, too, which I'm sure you've noticed. I used to buy suits on eBay. I learned pretty quickly that in certain (expensive) designers, I was a four (!!!!!) but that I was a six or an eight in others. Some designers won't even let their clothes be made in a size larger than 10 or 12, I've heard.

As far as my weight being the same now as it was in 1979 -- if I charted it, it would look like a voluptuous sine curve! I am merely crossing the baseline right now. Who knows where I'll be in six months?

Anonymous said...

Torrey Pines? Very swanky.

Which means Aunt Ann gets unlimited free lodging .

I love family connections.

Peace, Maxine

vbspurs said...

I think there is a class thing going on with the sizes. I worked at Macy's over Christmas

Ooh, busy. I read your profile just now (so as not to make a booboo about the gender), and I see it must've been temporary -- but that's good, 'cause it must've paid very well!

in the ladies' clothes section. The sizes went up to 16. The larger sizes (I had never heard of 1X, 2X, etc) were in their own section on another floor.

That's also agism, I'm sure you'll agree.

With women, there are MANY undertones at work. Not so much, with men's fashions.

Sizes vary between brands, too, which I'm sure you've noticed. I used to buy suits on eBay. I learned pretty quickly that in certain (expensive) designers, I was a four (!!!!!) but that I was a six or an eight in others.

Awesome! Armani?

-- Especially since whenever I buy couture (unfortunately, not at all often), I found that the women taking my measurements were whistling under their breath. Made even me, known for my self-confidence..., sad. Imagine others? --

Some designers won't even let their clothes be made in a size larger than 10 or 12, I've heard.

Quite so. Not the Italian designers, though -- they're more generous. But the French, watch out.

As far as my weight being the same now as it was in 1979 -- if I charted it, it would look like a voluptuous sine curve! I am merely crossing the baseline right now. Who knows where I'll be in six months?

Hang in there! Although I hear Nutrisystem is tasty. ;)

Cheers,
Victoria

amba said...

I'm sick of the myth that "fat" used to be considered "beautiful".

Revenant,

What, you never saw a Rubens painting?

I was also talking about Africa. In many of those parts, fat was the thing to be.

A Woman of Letters said...

I have clothing items from size S to 3X. And, yes, they all fit. I can't quite explain it (although the size small item is an oversized tunic top, probably from the 90's, and the size 3X top is a camisole with smocking that was meant to have a close fit -- but I wanted it to be a little loose so bought big).