Saturday was a really, really hot day, and Penelope and Hank and I spent much of it packing and toting boxes between our house and our storage unit in preparation for our upcoming move. At the end of the day, to reward ourselves for all our hard work, we stopped at a local market for ice cream cones. While waiting at the counter to pay, I encountered this latest issue of People magazine:
“You know she only did that because she caught so much heat for the diabetes thing,” Penelope said nonchalantly, accepting her ENORMOUS “small” ice cream as the cashier passed it across the counter.
I don’t care why she did it. I know from grim experience that losing weight is hard, whether you’re trying to lose five pounds or one hundred. When you are battling a lifetime of deeply ingrained habits, even your own livelihood, as Paula Deen is, it’s even harder. I give her props for her progress so far, and I wish her all the luck in the world in keeping the weight off, because that’s the hardest part.
No, here’s what annoyed me about the People cover: the “Wow! Once a size 18, now a 10!” that hangs in the air beside Paula’s newly-svelte thigh. I have also lost thirty pounds this year, and I also started at a size 18, and I am now… a size 16. Several years ago, I lost 60 pounds and went from a size 20 to a size 16.
Because I am part of a huge online community of people losing weight (livestrong.com — if you need to change your lifestyle, eat better, and drop the pounds, I totally recommend their Daily Plate calorie tracker: better and more accurate than Weight Watchers, and totally free), I know that my 30 lbs = 1 size is a lot more typical than Paula’s 30 lbs = 4 sizes.
Sure, Paula probably has one or two items in her wardrobe that are a size ten. My wardrobe ranges from size 12 to size 18. Penelope’s ranges from size 4 to size 12. That’s the problem with the way women’s clothes are sized: unlike menswear, which is sized by measurement, women’s clothes are arbitrarily sized by a number that has absolutely no standard meaning. (Women’s sizes start at 0, for Chrissake! That’s not a size!) Women’s sizes are not at all standard between brands, and they change over time: “A woman with a 32-inch bust would have worn a Size 14 in Sears’s 1937 catalog. By 1967, she would have worn an 8…Today, she would wear a zero,” notes Alaina Zulli, a costume historian in this excellent NY Times article on the subject.
Sure, people carry their weight differently, and lose their weight differently. Maybe Paula dropped all of her thirty pounds at her waist, thus dropping sizes quickly, while I tend to slim first around the face and feet. (I’m not kidding: for me, 30 lbs = 1 clothing size, but 20 lbs = 1/2 a shoe size.) Still, I think People’s cover is misleading at best and at worst, potentially discouraging to those who drop pounds without dropping sizes.That’s not what we should be focusing on, anyway. Since clothing sizes are completely arbitrary, who cares what size Paula’s wearing? We need to give her credit for making a huge lifestyle change, and celebrate the fact that she looks great and is (probably) much healthier. We need to make her success accessible to all of the rest of us who need to make the same changes: if she can do it, so can you, and so can I (if I stop going out for ice cream!)