Lessons of Aspirational Sizing

My relationship with numerical clothing size has been challenging. I think it’s fair to say that for most women who have frequently fluctuated between sizes, the little number on the tag can be a great determinant of how we feel about our bodies and ourselves.

My first foray into aspirational sizing came at the end of my freshman year of college when, after a consuming many late-night quesadillas and exercising significantly less than I had in high school, my body changed, and I hadn’t even really realized. Although I realized that my clothes had begun to fit me differently, I hadn’t thought much of it. I could get them on my body, so it was fine.

That spring my older sister was graduating from college and so I was tasked with finding appropriate outfits for her graduation. After finding what I had thought would be “the perfect dress,” I tried it on for my mom. She came to visit me one spring weekend, but rather than oozing praise at my stylish, yet appropriate, new dress, she simply remarked “I think you might need it in a bigger size.”

I immediately felt ashamed. It was the same size as all my other dresses and I retorted that a size up would simply be “too big.” But I got a different dress anyways. In an attempt to hide the changes in my body and to put my mind at ease, I bought a different dress from a different company and with a much looser style. It was the only way I felt I could I could tame my psyche; I wasn’t a different size – that brand just ran small.

I found myself unable to return the original dress that was too-tight. It was so beautiful and I wanted so badly to be able to wear it, but my mother’s remark echoed in my mind. I told myself that by the end of the summer, after returning home to a healthier diet and less alcohol consumption, it could become the dress of my dreams.

Unsurprisingly, I never ended up wearing that dress. I hid it in the back of my closet, admiring it, but never slipping it on. I was both afraid that it would never look the way I had hoped, and ashamed for keeping a dress that simply didn’t fit because I was so hung up on the size on the tag. By the end of the summer came, though I had lost some weight, I could never bring myself to wear that dress, it was too strong of a reminder of what a poor mental state I had been in previously, and how little I had respected my own body.

I wish it had ended with that dress. In the years since then, I have knowingly ordered pants in sizes I used to be, but am no longer. I felt that as a reward to myself I could wear them once I was skinny enough. If I was in-between sizes, I would order the size down as a way to push myself to eat a little less or work out a little more, as if once the pants, or dress, or shirt, fit the way I wanted, my mind would rest and I would find myself at peace. But those days never came.

I have never worn a single piece of the aspirationally-sized clothing I purchased. Even in the times when the clothes did fit, the reminder of when I had bought them, and why they fit now, brought me too much shame. I never felt comfortable or confident wearing them out of the house. And so these pieces collected dust in the back of my closet until I could finally concede that I did not need them, nor would I ever actually wear them. I finally donated them, alongside the rest of my clothes from high school.

Even now that I have stopped trying to order pants just a pinch too small and have attempted to free myself of my own personal body-shaming tendencies, I still find myself fruitlessly wondering if those pants would fit me now – as is if being able to wear those clothes would somehow coincide with me being better today than I was then.

It takes a lot to let go of an obsession like that, especially when it feels like a goal that was worth striving for. We are all constantly striving to accomplish our goals in one way or another. When I realized how destructive my small habit was to my body, I found myself asking, “What does it matter if you are this size and not that one? How will a larger number on a tag devalue your own worth?” And then, I found myself understanding that the truth is – it can’t.