No doubt you’ve heard things like, “Clothing sizes don’t matter” and “Size is just a number” plenty of times, but you’re also probably aware of the clothing sizes you usually wear. It’s normal if you have some emotions all tied up in those numbers, even if you know they don’t mean anything. But take heart: This woman has some serious proof of how meaningless clothing size can be.
In a powerful new Facebook post, Deena Shoemaker features photos of herself wearing six different bottoms that fit her the same way—and they all have different sizes, ranging from a size 5 to a size 12. “No, I’m not selling my pants; I’ve just got a bone to pick,” Shoemaker writes. She notes that she started to notice how dramatically different the sizes of all of her pants were. “ And I have a real problem with the fact that my size 5 pants fit me THE EXACT SAME WAY that my size 12 pants do,” she says.
Shoemaker says she has worked as a counselor for preteen girls who think size is everything. “I’ve listened to countless girls tell me about their new diets and [weight-loss] fads,” she says. “I’ve have girls sob in my arms and ask me, ‘If I were skinnier, would he have stayed?’ I’ve counseled girls who were skipping meals. I’ve caught some throwing up everything they’ve just eaten.” Shoemaker says she can prove pretty easily to girls that images in ads are often doctored, but clothing is trickier.
“When you resize a girl’s pants from a 9 to a 16 and label it ‘plus size,’ how am I supposed to fight that?” she said. “Photo manipulation is one thing, but how do you expect me to convince her that the number printed inside her clothes is a lie, too? How do you expect me to convince her that she doesn’t need to skip dinner for the next month because her pant size didn’t actually go up by seven digits?”
“STOP telling my girls that a size 4 is the ‘ideal body size’ and the ‘epitome of beauty’ if you’re going to change a size 4 into an 8 or a 12 or whatever number you feel like on any given day,” she said.
And finally, she says, this isn’t just about girls—all of our lives would improve if we could stop focusing on the number on the tag. “The size printed inside your clothes is subjective to the fashion industry’s personal taste and it fluctuates rapidly,” she said. “Stop believing the social [norms] about who and what you should be.” Check out her full post below.
The size obsession is a struggle many people can identify with. “It’s body anxiety but manifesting itself as ‘what is my size?’ because size is a common way to evaluate your body,” Gail Saltz, M.D., a psychiatrist and the author of The Power of Different, tells SELF. The fact that size is usually a number is significant, Saltz says, because numbers seem like a scientific measure, plus people may even unwittingly relate to them the way they did to grades they received as a child. “We decide what number we feel is success and what feels like failure,” Saltz says.
This is unfortunately just part of American society, psychologist Paul Coleman, Psy.D., author of Finding Peace When Your Heart Is In Pieces, tells SELF. “We are a society that does care about appearance and is weight– and size-conscious,” he says. “Clothing sizes represent a standard by which to judge ourselves and others.”
And it’s a slippery slope. “It’s easy to let clothing size define who we are and how we feel about ourselves—especially for adolescents who rely so much on their peers or outside influences to define them,” licensed clinical psychologist Alicia H. Clark, Psy.D., tells SELF.
Clinical psychologist John Mayer, Ph.D., author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life, agrees. “Clothing anxiety is very common,” he says. “Our concern over clothes starts early in our lives and is imprinted into our psychological makeup.”
But the fact that it’s common doesn’t mean this is a healthy habit. While many people are excited to fit into a certain size, Coleman points out that an actual obsession with wearing a certain clothing size signals that something else is off. “Any time we attach our self-esteem to values that are fleeting or changing, we set ourselves up to be frustrated,” he says.
When trying to move away from this mode of thinking, it can help to appeal to your sense of rationality. “This is not a scientifically arrived-at number,” Saltz says. “Unlike blood pressure, there is not a definitive test that says a size 4 is a 4 everywhere.”
Of course, changing that mentality takes time. Instead of focusing on a number, Clark recommends zeroing in on how clothes look on your body, sure, but most importantly, how they feel to you—not how they’re labeled. Clothing should make you feel like your best self, she says, not like you have to change to fit a certain standard.
Watch: Iskra Lawrence Tells Herself She’s Beautiful Every Day