Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen

Someone to blame

I've seen lots of people link to this entry, the one about the Size 6 Harem. It frustrates me immensely, because the person who reposted it says in a comment that she believes the story literally, that the writer went to a large department store and was told they didn't sell skirts as large as a 14 or a 16 and focused 4s and 6s. And I call bullshit. Show me the "large American department store" that doesn't stock skirts in 14s or 16s, and I will show you the empty building with the tumbleweed blowing through it. Every large American department store I've ever seen has had a "plus sizes" section that went larger than a 16 -- and no, I'm not claiming that the larger sizes are stocked well or even adequately, but I am claiming that it's absolutely ridiculous to claim they're not there at all, if you're talking about a 14 or a 16 as a "larger size." (Which it isn't: I forget whether the average American woman wears a 12 or a 14, but it's one of the two. I think it's high time to recenter the norm and add on a "small women's department" in addition to the "large women's department," because they're calling things large that are average. But they're stocking at least some of them, is the point, and this essay claims they just aren't.)

Show me the "large American department store" that stocks mostly 4s and 6s, and I will get my size-4 ass over there right now. I will not stop to shower and change out of my pajamas and comb my hair. I will only put shoes on because it's legally required. If they're focused on 4s and 6s, maybe there will be something in there that fits me. Maybe if they vanity-size the 4s into what should really be 6s or 8s, there's some chance they'll carry a 2 that'll fit me -- and a 2, not a 1, not a straight-line teenager-shaped garment.

Generally they don't. Those claims in that essay were just not true, and I don't think they were harmlessly untrue, either.

Most women I know have a hard time buying clothing, because women's clothes are supposed to be more fitted than men's. I'm pretty sure many, maybe most, of us have thought, "It can't be like this for everybody." Actually, it can. When you take a really wide range of body shapes and sizes and try to standardize them into a simple numerical system, it is possible for the average to work well for no one. We shouldn't mistake the problem of averaging across a sample that isn't bell-curve shaped on more than one axis for the problem of thinking everybody ought to be a certain size. We have both problems, but not manifested as they're described in the linked essay.

People who listen to this kind of essay uncritically end up thinking that the system is skewed in favor of me and people like me. I'm average height, I'm on the thin side, I'm fairly curvy. It must be all my fault. Clothes must be made for me. Guess what? They're not. They just plain aren't. Some designs are ideal for skinny girls with boobs. They're flattering. They're pretty. And they're usually actually constructed for stocky girls with significantly less chest. Many of the styles that most flatter a thin, curvy figure are cut to give the illusion of that figure rather than actually fitting on it. Some of my women friends have claimed that I "can wear anything [I] want and it'll all look good on [me]." That's very sweet, but also very wrong. A wrap dress cut for my body type would indeed probably look fine, but a wrap dress intended to make someone else's body type look like mine is going to look ridiculous on me, and that's mostly what the stores sell, because they believe they'll be able to sell more of them. They may be right; they're in this business and I'm not. But it's destructive to blame each other for clothing problems, and it's destructive to assume the system is geared to cater to someone it's utterly failing.

Once in high school, I was having a particularly bad day, even by high school standards, and my locker jammed, and I kicked it and shouted, "I HATE THIS PLACE!" And the stoner guy with the locker next to me, the kid in the tatty metal band T-shirts who smelled as though he hadn't gone as many as 5 minutes without a joint in the last 4 years, blinked at me in shock. "You hate this place?" he said. "I hate this damn place so much!" I said.

He pried the locker open for me, shaking his head. "Even the brains hate it here. Hey!" And he called this amazing situation to the attention of a passing friend. "Hey, guess what? Even the brains hate it here." His friend stared at me incredulously. I reaffirmed my feelings about Ralston High School: "I can't stand it. Why do you think I'm trying so hard to get out of here early?" They hadn't thought about it that way. And from then on, we weren't friends exactly, but we were certainly friendly. We were fellow sufferers. We talked from time to time. He had thought that the system that was making him miserable was designed for my benefit and my enjoyment. He had thought that the whole institution was about making things good for "the brains." Once he figured out that it wasn't actually about that at all, I was no longer the enemy. And we actually were people to each other.

That's what I want here. I want to recognize that yes, being smart in high school made some things much easier for me, and yes, being thin makes some things easier for me, too. I just don't want there to be mistakes about what those things are. Some people try to go the other way and pity the skinny girls: "Oh, you poor dear, you must starve yourself for society's notions of beauty." No. I have a fairly small appetite, I get moderate exercise, I got decent genes, and for heaven's sake, I'm 26. I haven't had a kid. I haven't hit any of the major metabolic bumps people's bodies throw at them. I am not a starving waif under the thumb of the patriarchy, and I'm not an arrogant entitlement-mentality shopper, buying from an abundance of 4s and laughing at the lack of 14s. I have a hard time buying decent jeans. Just like most of the rest of you.

The essayist also blames men, which I think is destructive and untrue: other women are much stricter and snarkier about enforcing standards of appearance than men are. And the essayist doesn't seem to understand subtle gender dimorphism. Women are, on the average, smaller than men, so it doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand why most married women have husbands larger than themselves. seagrit is shorter than all three of her brothers, and it's not because her parents starved her and kept her from getting healthy activity. If my parents had had a son, odds are extremely good that he'd be taller than 5'6". This is not a subtle social plot. This is biology.

So we read stuff like this, and we link to stuff like this, and it frustrates me, because the essayist clearly had some good points and some good images, but she veered off into counterfactual claims, and very few people seem to have a big problem with that. Almost everyone I read who linked to it said they thought it was "interesting" or that they found some of the images striking, not that they thought it was right through and through. That's a good thing. What's not a good thing is that the essayist felt she needed to make her points that way in the first place.
Tags: girliness, social fail, til i drop, what five
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