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Cultural stereotypes leave women playing the size game

SHARE Cultural stereotypes leave women playing the size game

In my nearly 49 years as a woman, I've learned one thing for sure: Size is relative.

Too much of a woman's identity is related to size. Describing a woman as a "size 8" says more about her than just how much fabric it takes to cover her body. Somehow, our society has come to stereotype a woman's character according to those numbers. It's certainly not fair or logical, but larger is not better in our culture when it comes to the female gender.Too many of us act as though we assume those bigger numbers mean something's lacking in other departments - self-discipline, self-esteem, even education. Of course, there is no correlation between size and positive character traits in the real world, but this kind of irrational thinking is a fact of life for women.

So we deal with it in odd ways.

The old comic routine that shows a woman trying to squeeze into a size too small is too true to be funny. In my annual trip to the mall to boost my T-shirt wardrobe for the summer, I found myself doing what I always do: going through the racks of sizes I know probably won't fit me, looking for that one shirt or pair of pants in a small size that somehow, miraculously, will.

I always go shopping alone. Nobody - except maybe one of those "size 2" sales clerks that are so annoying - knows what size I'm trying on, and not even "Miss 2" knows what size number is on the tag of the one I eventually buy. Still, for some reason that probably has something to do with hormones or genetics, I'll always be more inclined to buy clothes if a small size fits.

The designers and clothing manufacturers know this. They're able to sell lime-green shorts to middle-age women because they're not stupid. They know how to play to this size mind-set in the same way they convince people that orange is The Color of 1998 and anybody can wear pants made with Lycra.

I'm totally convinced Liz Claiborne is the smartest woman alive. If I had any money, I'd invest in her company. Never mind that her clothes tend to come apart at the seams - literally - or that I have to refinance my house every time I buy one of her sweaters. Hey, with Liz, I can fit into a size smaller than I can with any other brand. I'm hers forever.

The Gap is good at it, too. Only there can I buy a pair of shorts sporting the number "2" and actually wear them. Price is no barrier when the issue is size. I'd sell my car to buy something with a "2" on it that I could wear. Never mind that these shorts have the exact dimensions as other pairs I own that have a number four times as big.

I've been known to buy a dress that I had absolutely no use for whatever because the size was two numbers smaller than what I normally wear.

This should not be confused with the quite different concept of an article of clothing that actually is smaller, as in a waist that's fewer inches in diameter.

The number has much less to do with size than it has to do with the mentality that smaller is better. If I'm walking around in jeans with a single-digit number on the tag, my self-image is intact. The smaller the number, the better I feel, even though in my rational mind I know my body is the same, no matter what the tag says.

And then there's the game we play - and I know I'm not alone in this - in which we buy an item a size too small, determined that by the time we leave on vacation or before the big wedding or party we'll be able to fit into it. This has got to be the most morale-defeating exercise women subject themselves to.

Even if, by some superhuman effort at decreasing intake and increasing output, we manage to shrink to fit the outfit, it's inevitable that next time we try to wear it, it's mysteriously become too small.

I'm sure there is some woman out there who does none of these things. She knows who she is; she buys clothing based on whether it actually fits rather than on what number appears on the size tag. She is secure and confident. She likes herself and cares nothing what the world thinks.

Some day I'd love to meet her, but I would never go shopping with her.