Yesterday I went shopping. Obviously, this isn’t a surprise. My mind had worked up the idea that I needed a new pair of shoes so off I went. Back to school sales are in full swing so needless to say I was in heaven. As I flitted from place to place I found myself being an oldie in the middle of a crowd full of tweens dragging their exasperated moms around and around trying to find the new look that no-one else would have (we all know the impossibility of this feat). As I stood close to the dressing rooms (totally not creepily) next to one girl + friend and her mom I overheard their conversation:
“Ugh, Mom, these are a size five and they’re too small.”
“Do you want me to go get the next size up?”
“NO! I do not wear a six!”
“Honey, a six is still small.”
“Mom you don’t understand.”
The girl went back in the dressing room and started talking to her friend. The one snippet that I heard made me simultaneously cringe and completely sympathize with this girl. She said, “I’m officially fat. I think I should do that detox cleanse that Lucy done last year. It’s solid liquids but she lost, like, ten pounds.”
This girl couldn’t have been more than 14 years old and here she was standing in a dressing room almost crying preparing to start a detox because she needed a size six in jeans. As I stood there the only thing that I could think about was how much I remember being this age and feeling the same self-loathing and societal pressure because I didn’t look a certain way. Any girls teenage years are hard enough without factoring in the overwhelming need to be super-model sized. Girls are faced with the pressure to be a Kendall Jenner in their world without a full glam squad and millions at their disposal. The emotional toll that this puts on them is unbelievable.
But, this pressure doesn’t just stop after primary school. Women never stop being measured against some ridiculous standard that is seemingly impossible- and half the time undesirable to them. Women are expected to always look presentable, but not be trying too hard. We are expected to be face ready with makeup in place, but in a natural way. We are expected to be confident, but not so much that it intimidates a man. Be coy, but not unattainable. Be sexual, but not a slut. Be smart, but not smarter than him. Every standard is met with another mark that we aren’t supposed to cross. Sound taxing? Now, think about going through this while also facing puberty, or a total lifestyle change like college, and it gets impossible.
This 14-year-old girl couldn’t even make it out of a dressing room without finding something about herself that she needed to change. And the thing is, society will tell her that’s okay. She will grab her phone and open Instagram and be met with another post from *insert celebrity here* about the new detox tea that she should be drinking or the next miracle waist trimmer that will solve her size six issue. I’m not saying that this is an issue caused by celebrities, because it’s not. The fact that no-one looks at these issues and says “Hey, this is wrong and we shouldn’t be teaching these girls that they need to change their body to fit an unattainable standard” is ridiculous. That girl will look around the clothing store that she’s in and be met with life-sized poster images of some starved size zero model who is actually 25 and had a rib removed to look smaller. She will think she needs to look like that too, and the cycle goes on and on.
As of 2016, the average size woman in America is a size 16. SIXTEEN. Yet, we still look towards a size two and expect to achieve that. As women, we need to stand together and promote body love and body positivity to such a degree that every 14-year-old hears it. I don’t want to walk into another clothing store and find a teenager in tears because of her size.
A couple of weeks ago I went to the mall in search of new shorts. I had already given myself the mental pep-talk that “size doesn’t matter” and “you look awesome don’t even look at the size”. So, I went in and grabbed the two pairs of shorts that I liked best and went to try them on. The first pair was a size 8. I was thinking, “Hey, that’s good! You go girl rock that size 8.” But then, in that same store, I needed a size 12 in the next pair of shorts. A 12. At that point, my tears were welling up. I started mentally planning to join a gym and thinking about how that was going to fit into my schedule. Then I looked down and noticed the size 8 shorts on the floor. And the lightbulb went off. How could I be standing there declaring myself a size 12 when I had just gushed about how good I looked in the size 8? This is where another problem lies. Clothing sizes are a lie. There have been countless studies and articles and rants published about how businesses have “shrinked” the clothing sizes that we know over the years. In doing this, they perpetuate the idea that the standrads they are setting are normal. Todays size 12 is not a true size 12. It’s another standard set to make us think that this is okay. How can we expect young girls, and women in general, to hold up to a beauty standard that isn’t even real? We can’t.
To that 14-year-old girl I want to say this. You are beautiful. You are so much more than the clothing tag on your jeans. You do not need to do a cleanse because girl, I saw you, and you look good. Don’t let beauty standards change the way you feel about yourself. Don’t let social media and clothing businesses tell you what size you need to be. I know how you feel, and I still feel that way most of the time. But, you know what I’ve realized? It doesn’t matter. As long as you love yourself and have confidence in your body, you will be breathtaking. Anyone who says otherwise can screw off. Figure out who you are and absolutely rock it. Everything else will fall into place.
So, my takeaway from this experience is that we desperately need to lift each other up. Shout out to that girl walking down the street slaying those jeans. Promote body positivity and ignore societies standards of you. And when you see a young girl despairing about her image, tell her how beautiful she is. Wash away the standards and replace them with confidence.