Here's a statistic that you probably didn't know and almost certainly won't believe: The average dress size for a woman in the United States (and most of the world for that matter) is a fourteen.
If this shocks you or surprises you, you're not alone. I was shocked by it and nearly everyone I've talked to about it can't believe it either. It seems completely impossible that the average woman could have a dress size in the double digits, not in a country that values bikini-butts, grapefruit diets and Calvin Klien models.
But guess what, it's true, 100% undeniably true.
However, while this is great news to “bigger” women who just realized that they are either at, below or slightly above the statistical average, it does nothing at all to explain how we got such a warped notion of what “normal” really is. After all, most people, especially men, seem to think that a “normal” woman should have a dress size that could be counted on one hand.
To answer that question though, all you have to do is go to a movie, visit a store or simply stick your nose in a magazine. In no time at all you'll be surrounded by images of women with unnaturally small waists and dress sizes that barely break positive digits.
Yes, these women are beautiful, there's no denying that, that's why they're in our movies, on our television, in our magazines and modeling our clothes. But still, the question is begged, “Where are the beautiful women with more normal figures?” After all, I've seen plenty of those walking around the streets, just not on my television.
But outside of the occasional one that either slips by or is thrown in to appease feminists that have, quite justly, been harping on this issue for years, you'll be lucky to spot any girl larger than a size 10 in a role where she's viewed as attractive, popular and sexy. In fact, on a recent edition of MTV's Beach House, Crystal and I could spot only one, one girl out of over 200, that had a figure large enough to be considered normal. To make matters worse, she had traded in the typical bikini for a tank top and shorts, an obvious attempt to hide her nonconformity.
However, none of this is news. We're pretty much all aware that the media skews its model base to unnaturally thin girls and that only 2% of all women naturally have the figure of a model (which, for the record, is usually between a dress size -2 and 2). We've all heard how this causes misconceptions about what a woman is supposed to look like and created problems such as anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders in young girls and teens.
But what we don't hear about is how unbelievably sexist this is and how this fear is used to generate billions in revenue.
If you go to a large department store, you'll probably find the women's section divided into two parts, regulars and pluses. However, at most stores, any woman over a size 12 is considered a “plus” and as such is forced to swallow her pride and “cross the line” into the plus side just to find clothes that fit her. This might not seem like a big deal, but the message it sends is very clear, “You're fat, you're not normal and you need a special section just for you.” It doesn't matter that many of these women are actually below the national average, corporate America is telling them that they're overweight.
However, in the same department store, if you pay a visit to the men's section, odds are you won't find any separation at all. You'll be able to find all sizes, from a 28 waist to well over a 50 in the same section, often on the same rack. Even the largest of men can go their entire lives without “crossing the line” or being called a “plus”. The worst men will ever hear is that they're a “big and tall” which makes being large sound like being tall, a genetic predisposition that's not the guy's fault at all.
If this isn't sexist, I don't know what is. But it's a trend that doesn't stop at just the clothes rack, it continues on into how we view our celebrities. The same media that has hounded Anna Nichole Smith and even Madonna about their weight has made hardly a mention about male celebrities such as Marlon Brando, Johnny Popper, and even American Idol winner Ruben Studdard. In fact, many larger male celebrities wind up becoming sex symbols while female ones become the butt of jokes almost overnight.
Though I hesitate to use the words “misogynistic conspiracy”, they seem to be the only words that come close to describing this injustice. But who's to blame for it? Is it men for continuing to judge women based on their looks? At least in part, after all, if women were judged by more internal attributes, this whole argument would be moot, but if men had a reasonable vision of what an average woman looked like, the world would be a much better place.
Is it the media for skewing the types of women it shows in order to get better ratings? Once again, partly, but once again there are beautiful women of all sizes and if we could change our image of what's normal I doubt that thinner would consistently get better ratings.
Is it companies trying to make money off of the fears of the female population? Bingo.
Think about it a second, women have an inherent understanding that, rightly or wrongly, they're going to be judged based upon their looks. This understanding drives women to want to be beautiful the same as it drives men (although to a somewhat lesser degree). However, if a woman is convinced that she's beautiful, she doesn't spend nearly as much keeping herself that way as she would trying to make herself beautiful if she's convinced she's unattractive. In short, if you show a picture of a beautiful woman and every female consumer that sees the ad says, “Hey, I look like that already!” they don't buy the product, there's no need.
Now, when you consider all of the products sold on the idea of beauty (diet aids, foods, clothes, makeup, hair products, even vacations and cars just to name a few) there's a LOT of money to be made by convincing the vast majority of women that they're not up to the standards of beauty.
This all relates back to something that advertisers call “need creation”. It's a broad term that refers to the techniques advertisers use to take products you never needed before and convince you that you can't live without them. You might never have needed a microwave oven, a cell phone or even a computer fifty years ago, but through clever marketing and adapting to societal changes, advertisers got more than enough people to adopt these products that now they are all but essential.
The same thing has happened with diet and beauty products. Most women don't truly need these items but through need creation, largely through the use of imagery beautiful and skinny women, have gotten enough people to adopt that almost every woman feels the need to diet, wear make up and dress in the best clothes. So good was the act that they even got men sold on the idea along the way, even though the women they love and cherish usually look nothing like the image that's being presented.
Inevitably, these images seeped out from the advertising pages and into the content pages. Models and celebrities got thinner and thinner over the years. “Twiggy” the 60's model famous for her extremely thin figure, is now put to shame by just the everyday runway model. Twiggy, who weighed 91 pounds when she first became famous, even said she felt fat compared to the other models she saw at a recent comeback fashion show she did.
This, in turn has seeped into department stores and our everyday lives. In fact, where in the 50's the average store mannequin had a waist 34 inches around, now it's only 31 (for the record, average waist size is around 37 inches). In some parts of California, only 10% of all stores even carry sizes 14 and above and more and more stores have the unreasonable expectation that women the majority of women are unnaturally thin.
I'm not falling for it and neither should you. If Marilyn Monroe can have a dress size between 12 and 16 (which she did in the sixties), so should any other woman in the nation and she shouldn't be forced to feel guilty about it, shop only in plus sized stores or to diet in order to fix her "condition". We don't treat men that way and to continue holding such unreasonable expectations of women we, as a society, are not only being cruel but also hypocritical.
But what can we do to stop it? After all, the problem seems to be all around us and there's millions of dollars invested in keeping the status quo. Between diet gurus and fashion magazines, no one causing the problem seems to be ready to relent on the issue. After all, when your family fortune is made by convincing women they're fat, you're not about to shut your doors and tell them the truth. That would just be stupid.
But we as individuals do have a lot of power. First and foremost, we can avoid falling for the lie and avoid giving into these dangerous stereotypes. It might not be easy, especially for those of us that had these images and these ideals beat into us from an early age, but it can be done. After all, everyone has their own idea of what beauty is, all we have to do is learn to listen to it instead of what others have been telling us all along.
Second, we can put different, more realistic images out there. Though magazines may not run your photos, the Internet is a great means of distribution. Services such as Kazaa and Morpheus allow people to swap pictures without ever seeing one another. While most of these photos are pornographic in nature, it doesn't mean you can't use the channel to get your message across.
In short, take a photo of yourself, it doesn't have to be a nude one or even a very sexy one, a school picture will do, and put it out there with a nondescript name such as “Pretty girl” so that it will be downloaded. Trust me, people will see it and even though this would never be able to outnumber the images forced down everyone's throat by the media, it only takes a few instances to plant the seeds of doubt and doubt in the myth is what needs to be raised.
Finally, stop supporting products that engage in this “need creation”. It should be pretty obvious who's doing what and by simply not doing business with these companies, you're sending a strong message. Companies take notice of even slight drop offs in product sales and, if you combine your boycott with a few well-written letters, they might be willing to actually listen to what you have to say.
After all, this whole issue started with the almighty dollar, it will probably have to end there as well.
In the meantime though, I encourage everyone to stop this charade and open your eyes to the not-so-bitter truth. There are beautiful people of all shapes, sizes and colors. The quicker we can all see that, the happier and better of we'll be as a society because we'll stop tormenting people based upon their appearance, and we'll stop setting a self-destructive double-standard.
In fact, putting an end to this gender/size warfare could be the biggest peace movement in the history of the modern world…