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Why the New Thin is the Old Normal:How Vanity Sizing Adds to the Health Crisis

Be Still Pant vs Still Pant

It started with two pair of pants from the thrift store

Hey mom, thanks.

My mom (a self-professed thrift store addict) hands me two pairs of well-known brand pants that she found during her retail therapy session (thanks mom!) for $3.00 each. She knows my size now. For the last few years she would caringly buy me a higher size up (my usual size for years) but that size just stopped fitting.  I thought, “maybe I lost some weight?” but I didn’t think so and I didn’t think too much of it. It certainly didn’t bother me to have lost (what I thought) was a clothes size.

I pick up the pants my mom handed me and hold them up to my eyes. They look way too big for me. I check the label-no, they are the right size (the new ‘smaller size’) and what great finds these pants are: good quality and high label brands.

Hey mom, thanks.

Let me try them on. Oh, shoot! Both of these pants are like way huge. Even putting on a belt wouldn’t do anything to make them fit.

I am upset. Are these pants missmarked?

I look again at the label. No, the same ‘smaller’ size for both.

Now I am dumbfounded. That is until I heard about ‘Vanity Sizing.’

What is Vanity Sizing?

Have you been a victim of this trick? Vanity sizing is an increasingly popular technique that clothing manufacturers use on both male and female consumers: making clothes bigger, yet marking the product as the same size as before. While this illusion that we can now fit into the same size clothes as prior (or smaller) is a good boost to our self-esteem, it doesn’t help but mask the real issue: most Americans are getting bigger and these clothing sizes are just not real.

The French women also use the magic pants that used to fit

I used to have the pants. You might have a pair too from high school or college. They were the pants. The ones that if you knew you gained weight and you couldn’t fit into them, then you had to cut back on what you were eating or boost up on the exercise until you felt good in those pants again.

The French women still use the magic pants. They are strict with staying within a certain weight. Most women will control their eating with smaller portions until they fit back into their magic pants again. Vanity sizing is done a lot less in France, in fact a well known French clothing store refuses to adapt this habit. See articleZara Sizes Considered Too Small For Americans.

How vanity sizing hinders the progress on helping America’s health crisis

Vanity sizing doesn’t help the health crisis in America. It hinders the progress of what is normal weight in America. How can we blame people who think they are not overweight if they have stayed relatively the same size clothing over time?  It masks the ability to keep our weight ‘in check’ like in other cultures because we are buying and wearing what we think are the same size clothes. And for some people, moving down clothing sizes makes one assume they have lost weight, when they are probably about the same weight as years earlier.

As Debby Herbenick says, It’s time for a reality check on clothing labels.

“As a public health professional, I have another problem with vanity sizing: It tricks us into leading less-healthy lives. When people fit into smaller-sized clothes, they may think of themselves as thinner than they really are. And people who think this way are less likely to be physically active or eat well, according to a recent Harvard School of Public Health study.”

She also adds an excellent point.

“In a society full of size discrimination, where girls feel pressured to start dieting before they have their first period, it’s no wonder that vanity sizing works as a sales tool.

That is why I label this article “Why the new thin is the old normal”

I won’t tell you my American clothing size. I will just tell you that it is unrealistic and wrong. Wrong also because although I am very comfortable with my body and weight, I can imagine that there are young women who want to reach this magic size that they feel perfect in, a low size, a zero or double zero. When really clothing sizes are distorted and are not uniform.

The new thin is just the old normal. I should know: I am the old normal.

Like this article? Why not pass it along with your favorite social media/email (see links below) or leave some feedback in the leave a reply section? If you are interested in learning more on how the French eat to stay healthy and slim, download your free E-report on “10 Simple Ways to Eat Like the French Without Having a Food Snob Attitude” by subscribing to BrightonYourHealth here.

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14 Responses to Why the New Thin is the Old Normal:How Vanity Sizing Adds to the Health Crisis

  1. anon January 23, 2013 at 21:55 #

    Some of us closer to the lowest sizes have nothing to worry about. Whether my clothes label says 0 or 2 doesn’t matter to me. It’s the people who think they are a 2 but are really a 4 or a 6 who are the problem. And no actually, not them, but the people who buy size 10 but who are really plus size obese. I wore a 2/4 back in the day, lost weight, and went to 1, sometimes 0. Vanity sizing? Not really.

  2. Kathi Frampton October 10, 2012 at 18:20 #

    Yes! I was just commenting on this recently. After losing a bit of weight I needed some smaller clothes, yay! I went to the store and was pleased as punch to buy some new pants in a small size. I went home and eagerly tried on some old clothes I had saved for when I lost some weight. They are the same size as the new clothes I bought, yet they didn’t fit. I find myself commenting inwardly that I don’t look as good as I want , but I don’t look as bad as some people. This mindset has got to stop in order for me to achieve my optimum weight. Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us, Mary.

    • mbrighton October 11, 2012 at 00:14 #

      Hi Kathi!
      Vanity sizing can really be deceiving. But size is only a “number”, lost weight: this is something that is important to your health goals. Look at the big picture, feel good inside yourself whatever “size” you are. Wear that special lipstick or perfume. Even in those vanity pants sometimes it is those extra ‘accessories’ that add the extra touch to just walking down the street with a positive ego! (well, it works for me at least :)!)
      KEEP READING, lovely to hear your comments!

  3. ~ The Lady in Red ~ October 8, 2012 at 14:27 #

    I thought of this article this morning as I went to put on a new sweater. I ordered an Extra Small where-as in this brand I used to be a Small or Medium 5 or so years ago. If this vanity sizing keeps up I will have to go back to shopping in the Juniors Department, because the women’s department doesn’t carry negative sizes! LOL

    • mbrighton October 9, 2012 at 18:03 #

      Hi Lady in Red! Incredible! Thanks for sharing. The good thing about the Junior department is that you will have more clothing choices to keep staying young :)~!

  4. Flo October 6, 2012 at 12:39 #

    Very interesting article, good to know about vanity sizing, my hubby likes to buy pants in the states so I think that he will be disappointed when I tell him that he did increased his waistline, even though he is still buying the same size pants.

    • mbrighton October 6, 2012 at 15:07 #

      Hi Flo, the concept of vanity sizing with men’s clothing is quite recent whereas the technique of vanity sizing in women’s clothing has been going on quite longer. Thanks for your comment. Definitely if your hubby has bought men’s clothes in the states in the last 2 years…he could be a buying the ‘wrong’ size! Haha. (ps-your comment made me laugh!)

  5. Rie Fortin October 3, 2012 at 14:49 #

    I have a pair of magic pants that keep me grounded; when it is too hard to button then it’s time to skip the baguette for a while. I prefer the pants to the scale any day.

    A family member, very fit and at least a size larger than me, will often boast of her size ‘4’ jeans. She looks great in the jeans, but they are in no way a size 4. I just nod politely wondering why it matters?

    • mbrighton October 3, 2012 at 23:50 #

      Hi Rie, Thanks for your comment! Love that you have ‘magic pants’ too. Your last part, about your family member boasting about her size 4…this is exactly the point I was trying to get across. First and most important as you said , “why does it matter?” but secondly…this person believes she is probably thinner than she really is. Yes, super fit…and this is great, but 10-20-30 years ago she wouldn’t be a size 4. It is disillusional. Appreciate always your thoughts.

  6. Maria October 3, 2012 at 14:27 #

    This was interesting to read. I have heard about vanity sizing before and I can understand how it can make people feel good if the number on a label is smaller than they expected it to be. Not that it is that important, but now this article has me wondering what size am I really? I haven’t really gained or lost weight in the last ten years but I do notice some variation in sizing from store to store.

    • mbrighton October 4, 2012 at 14:55 #

      Hi Maria! Thanks for your comment and support. I think the article has pointed out this (relatively unknown) technique of vanity sizing. It doesn’t help the obesity epidemic in America…..

  7. ~ The Lady in Red ~ October 2, 2012 at 23:24 #

    No wonder why I used to order a Small or Medium from a catalogue and within the past two years especially, I find myself searching for an Extra Small. I didn’t lose weight. I didn’t shrink. Thank you for confirming I’m not crazy.

    That said, I love the expression “magic pants”. 🙂

    I am – the old normal. My magic pants will always fit.

    Thank you for taking the time to write about a subject that many of us on the “old normal” side feel fearful to talk about because those who are the “new normal” can sometimes make us feel bad about being fit.


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