Does the Number Really Matter?

By Dr. Patricia L. Bay, Psy.D.
Published in W Magazine, January 2011

"New jeans?" I asked my friend, Sharon, with a smile on my face.

Sharon twirled around, stomped her foot, stuck out her booty and accessed a Cheshire grin that looked like she had just won the lottery. "Oh, yeah," she purred, "these are new jeans." She hesitated a moment and said, "I'm not sure I like them, though."

I was a bit confused by the incongruence of her big smile, the twirly thing and the excitement on her face that did not match the "I'm not sure I like them" statement. "If you weren't sure that you liked them, then why did you buy them?" I inquired.

"Because they are a size four," Sharon stated with a "duh" sort-of tone in her voice.

"Aughh," I responded. I am sad to say, that I had a perfect understanding of her logic. I knew that my friend had been doing Weight Watchers and had lost about ten pounds. In fact, I had worked really hard to curb my sarcasm about this being the very first diet of her entire life. There is something just completely unfair that a woman can get into her 40's and be doing the first diet of her life. I'm not jealous about that. Honestly, I'm really happy for her that she has been a natural skinny all her life and people have actually said to her, "Oh, sweetie, you look so thin you need to eat pizza or chocolate cake or something. Can I get you a milkshake?" I have no ill feelings about that what so ever. Can you tell?

Anyway, it is funny how much better a pair of jeans can look to us if the number on the size label says something we want it to say. I remember trying on a pair of black slacks and thinking I could probably try on the next size down. When I looked at the label, I was thrilled to see that these pants were already that smaller size and I could maybe even go down one more size. Needless to say, those pants instantly became the best thing in the entire store. I would have bought them even if they were completely ugly. This begs the question, can a size 4 ever be ugly?

So what is this obsession with size that women seem to have? Marilyn Monroe was a size 12 and no one ever called her chubby. Of course, back then a size 12 was actually a size 7 in today's sizing. Somewhere along the way manufacturers changed the manner in which clothing for women are numbered.

I learned this after my youngest daughter, who wears a size two, tried on a pair of my jeans that I kept as a souvenir of my body B.K. (before kids). She could not zip them up and said to me, "Geez, mom, these jeans must be a size zero." (Yes, she became my instant best friend.) The tag inside said they were a size 5. Needless to say those jeans are now stored in an airtight container with a sign on them that says "destroy these, give them away or hurt them in any manner and you die."

I guess we can try our hardest to understand why that size number speaks to us. We may never truly get the complexity of the issue. The other alternative is to try on jeans without even looking at the number, buy the ones that fit the best in a style we truly like, and then just love ourselves exactly as we are. Sounds like a lot less work to me.