Friday, 15 October 2010

Size 16 - What Does it Mean?

This is me. My name is Natasha Devon and I am a SIZE 16.

Michael McIntyre does a hilarious sketch with a (perhaps unwittingly) serious message, involving his wife becoming increasingly alarmed, distressed and aggressive, as she ‘changes size’ from one shop to the next. “She stays the same size” he declares, bemused, “but in one shop she will be a size 8 and then it’s a good day. Yet in the next she might be a 12, and then we have to go home”.

Whilst men might be baffled by this phenomenon, it’s something most women can relate to. Taking a philosophical standpoint (as is my wont), the whole idea of approximating one’s body shape to the nearest pre-defined set of stats and declaring oneself to be ‘that size’ is a bizarre ritual. The sort of thing that would perplex aliens, should we happen to be under extra-terrestrial observation.

Clothes, after all, are meant to fit our bodies and yet, as times have moved on from the bespoke era (a marvellous, Jane Austin style time where everyone’s clothes were made to measure – How I’d like to usher those days back in, if only to stamp out once and for all the Era of the Muffin Top), we’ll hear women screech ‘I want to get back down to a size 10!’ in tones of abject despair. Yet size 10, as the experience of McIntyre’s wife testifies, is an abstract, ever changing and unregulated ideal. So what is it exactly we are working towards?

In the World of Fashion, sizes are a little more finite, strict – Fascist, even. They have remained staunchly unchanged since earliest memory. Hence why my extremely slender former catwalk model mother still refers to herself as a size 12-14, even though the most perfunctory of visual assessments would place her at no more than a 10 on the High Street.

Hence, also, why I will always refer to myself as a Size 16, which is usually met with gasps of disbelief. I’ve realised that the perceived notion of a size 16 differs somewhat from the ideal as it stands in my head. For me, being 5 foot 10 and a size 16 means I have nicely proportioned curves. I see no shame in the admission whatsoever. Yet, for Joe Public, a size 16 seems to evoke images of Rubenesque decadence.

I asked a friend of mine (who shall remain nameless owing to her somewhat controversial opinion) her thoughts on this issue. “It’s because” she said with some vehemence “fat women always say they are a size 16, even when they’re blatantly about a size 24”. So is it, perhaps that a size 16 is the last socially acceptable size before the official and dreaded ‘obese’ classification? Interesting theory.….

Trinny and Suzannah once did a show where they invited (I think) 100 women into a room who all believed they were a size 16. They varied wildly, and not just because of the height factor. Yet, as discussed, there are no regulating bodies, it’s not like a driving licence where you have to go and take a test before you can declare yourself a size 16, so really it was more a reflection on where they shopped than any sort of self-delusion.

Last night I had a first date with a guy I’d spoken to on the phone a few times. He, naturally enough, had asked on the telephone what I did for a living and, in my response I mentioned that I do occasional plus-size modelling. He, rather normally for a bloke, had no idea what that meant, so I had to elaborate and I said I was a size 16.

During our date, he confessed that he had a totally different idea of what I would look like in the flesh (hence me waving at him frantically from the entrance of Spittlefields Market for a few seconds while he looked at me in a confused manner when we first met). “But…..there’s nothing of you really” he said (using an endearing, times-gone-by style phrase), “the way you describe yourself, I expected you to be, well, big. Not that that would have been a problem” he added, manfully.

The next 30 minutes were spent with me trying, moderately successfully, to convince him that I don’t suffer from body dysmorphia. I stopped just short of showing him the ‘size 16’ label on my coat – One must not resort to empirical evidence when the cunning weaving of words will do just as well. “A plus sized model is just a normal-sized person” I explained “that’s why it was so stupid when they wouldn’t let us model clothes (which are designed for normal people)”.

As anyone who regularly reads my blogs will know, even if someone does fit the pre-existing notion of a size 16 person (as encapsulated by the recent MP calling another MP an elephant debacle – anyone who read the story will catch my drift), that doesn’t prevent the possibility that they are completely, mesmerizingly, fantazmororically beautiful, in my mind. Fat and beautiful are not opposing concepts as far as I’m concerned. Kate Moss is beautiful. So is Dawn French. So are about a gazillion women whose size falls somewhere in-between.

As my (fat, beautiful) cousin pointed out the other evening, the problem with our society essentially boils down to the fact that when an anorexic says “I can’t eat this quarter of an orange, I’ll get fat” our default response is “no you won’t”, when in fact it should be “and what’s so wrong with that?”.

So perhaps the solution is to ban all talk of sizes, for, as evidenced by my experience last night, it’s essentially meaningless and gives no indication of how you’re perceived by others. All I can declare with certainty is that to me, size 16 is a fabulous thing.

1 comment:

  1. Here's an interesting thought: when I go shopping, being a 'man of stature', I find it very hard to find clothes that fit. I can only really buy casual clothes in either M&S or Debenhams because they seem to have the most realistic sizes. For example, ages ago I bought an XL shirt in Debenhams & went and bought an XL hoodie from a brand called 'Soulcal'. The shirt fitted me, the hoodie did not. I measured the hoodie, it was smaller than a Large.

    Anyway, my point is that if I went into that shop and said "I'd like a Soulcal hoodie with a 46" chest", then it would have been slightly clearer. This is why I don't understand why women's clothes are all 'Sizes' and not measured in inches, or a representation of inches, like bra sizes are.

    For example, if you were to say 'I'm a size 10' then it would mean you had a waist between XX and XX. Surely that makes more sense & leaves nothing to interpretation?

    Another interesting thought on what sizes people say they are: just because you are one size, it doesn't mean you have a particular body shape. E.g. you are size 16 and gorgeous and slender; I worked with a girl who I happen to know is also size 16 and is entirely the opposite.

    It seems it has a lot to do with how you carry your weight (not entirely always through choice, mind) as to how people perceive you.