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Label Inflation Hits Tween Fiction

March 27th, 2008 · 6 Comments

Jessica Valenti is pissed that a relaunch of the Sweet Valley High series has retconned the twin protagonists from a “perfect size 6” to a “perfect size 4.”  I’m sympathetic to the idea that kids literature probably shouldn’t be compounding young girls’ body image issues by stipulating a “perfect” size, whatever it might be.  But I’m also not sure this actually represents a change that produces “skinnier twins,” as Valenti writes.  As someone accustomed to buying pants with the waistlines measured in inches, I have no idea how women cope with the arbitrary-seeming size numbers used by designers of women’s clothing.  But I am given to understand that one clear trend over time has been a sort of size-inflation, as designers ratchet down the numbers linked with objective measurements.  I’m guessing a size 6 circa 1983, when the books were originally published, probably is about a size 4 (or smaller?) today.

Tags: Language and Literature · Sociology



6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Tony // Mar 27, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    I used to wear XL t-shirts. Now I wear L. Yet, I weigh exactly the same and have the same build I had when I wore XL. Part of it may be a changing preference for how I wear my clothes. But a simple comparison of old shirts I have that are XL and new shirts that are L dismiss that as the sole explanation.

  • 2 Psyche // Mar 27, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    I was a size four in college, now I’m a size 2. I’ve gained weight since then. In fact, I found a few size fours left over from high school last time I was at home, and they were all too small – what was a size four ten years ago is now a size zero, near as I can tell. (They were all too big for me in high school, but back then size 4 was the smallest size you could find at a department store with any reasonable frequency; now lots of labels offer a size 00.)

    I would guess that a perfect size 6 in 1983 would be about a size 2 now, but it’s complicated further by the fact that label inflation is most severe in the cheapest brands, and becomes progressively less severe the more money you spend on your clothes.

  • 3 Jacob T. Levy // Mar 27, 2008 at 11:22 pm

    On the principle that measurements should measure something, I’ve always found it bizarre that there’s a size zero for (allegedly) three-dimensional clothes-wearers. A size zero should mean that *something* has gone to zero…

  • 4 diakron // Mar 29, 2008 at 8:42 am

    My experience as a 33-year-old man is that as long as I’ve been in charge of purchasing my own clothes, sizing has been remarkably and frustratingly arbitrary. Sometimes an XL shirt is too small, sometimes an L is just right. Sometimes I need to buy pants with a 38-inch waist, but I still have a couple of 34-inch pairs that fit just fine. And don’t get me started on shoes. When I was in the habit of alternating Doc Martens and Chuck Taylors, there might have been a size disparity of 2.5 or so between them. (Yes, I know Docs were produced in the UK until recently… I refer to their claimed “USA” sizes.)

    None of this addresses the retconning, though, which I do think is kind of insidious. Still, it ain’t my young adult novel series, so I don’t think it’s that big a deal…

  • 5 Lane // Mar 30, 2008 at 8:33 pm

    Jessica Valenti is pissed…

    At which point I stopped reading.

  • 6 LP // Mar 31, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    I was a dedicated SVH reader in middle school, and I didn’t remember anything about size 6. On the other hand, the emphasis on the blonde hair made a much stronger impression on me, and made me want to move to SoCal on the double.

    For many women, size arbitrariness is ultimately a value, as it allows those who are uncomfortable with their bodies (most women, probably) to avoid any actual measurements of their bodies. If most women actually desired clear, factual size measurements, these would be much more common.

    Plus, given the relatively more dramatic curvatures of the female body, it would be hard to figure out what to measure for any given garment, as compared to men’s clothing.

    Jacob- Note that there’s also a size-00, double-zero. I wonder how this is related to regular size-0 — are these women now occupying negative space?