Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Word on Size

Confidence is one's greatest asset in finding and maintaining a chic style, regardless of size or weight.

Size is, as is style, an immensely personal matter—everyone has his or her own standards of what looks best and at what size one feels most comfortable. Sometimes we give ourselves unrealistic expectations in regard to our dream weight or size, which may not always align with what doctors would consider a healthy weight. As somebody who has been naturally thin for most of my life, it sometimes feels a little awkward for me to dispense advice on weight or size. I offer this advice not to criticize or condone people who are over- (or under-) weight or struggling with their size, but rather as someone trying to give advice on how to look your best, regardless of weight, size, or shape.

As every chic woman knows, confidence is one's greatest asset. When it comes to clothing size, your best weight will reflect a balance between your feelings toward and ability to maintain your current size. Sure, it may be easier to stay at a larger size, but how do you feel about it? Or perhaps you love your smaller size, but how difficult is it to maintain that weight? Your happy size is often a compromise between one where you feel you look your best and one that you can realistically and comfortably maintain.

In her memoir Bossypants, Tina Fey includes two subsequent chapters titled, “Remembrances of Being Very Very Skinny” and “Remembrances of Being a Little Bit Fat.” Although my overall opinion toward this book is lukewarm, I really enjoyed and appreciated these chapters. As someone who is thin and famous, Ms. Fey is able to use her sense of humor to explain a common dilemma faced by many people of average size, which most accurately illustrates my own happy-healthy weight conflict.

When I was "very very skinny," it was 2004 and I had just returned from spending a month overseas. Although my days abroad had been filled with delicious cuisine and lots of German beer, the greatest change to my lifestyle was that I had completely broken the American habit of snacking. Every day I would wake early, have a hearty breakfast, a large lunch, and a light dinner, which would perhaps be followed with a slice of cake or other delicious pastry. There were no late-night pizza binges or nibbles throughout the day—once dinner or cake was served, that was it for the day! Although beer was a regular part of my daily diet, soda or other sugary drinks were completely omitted. (This is when I first became hooked on sparkling mineral water!) I spent most of my days walking around beautiful German cities, and often my evenings included a long jog through the Bavarian countryside. It was the happiest and most relaxed summer of my life. When I landed back in the United States, I was easily a size 2, which is the smallest I have ever been as an adult.

This was what I would come to realize as my "dream weight;" people would tell me how great I looked, and I actually felt great, too. Shopping for and trying on clothes was easy and fun—I felt confident in everything I wore. It was literally like being in a wonderful dream! Although I had effortlessly found that lovely size 2 through my new lifestyle abroad, I knew that in America, those habits would be too difficult to maintain—I had to return to my usual workday routines and stresses, rather than gallivanting carefree through Europe. Eventually, the general American lifestyle soon caught up to me and my weight returned to "normal," or a comfortable size 4. Although I still exercised regularly and ate healthfully, the occasional snacking, living in less walkable areas, and American portion sizes all contributed to my slight weight gain. Fortunately, this was still well within a healthy weight range for my height, and although I ideally preferred my lighter weight, I still felt comfortable and confident in my usual size. I could realistically maintain this weight with minimal effort, and I generally felt happy with my appearance. 

Which now brings me to the, “Remembrances of Being a Little Bit Fat," chapter of my life. For several years after my "very very skinny" phase, I enjoyed my "happy weight;" yet within the last six months or so, I'm noticing an upward trend on the scale. To be perfectly honest, I am presently a size 6, or what I will deem (according only to my personal standards), just "a little bit fat." Although this is still technically a healthy weight for me, it is not a happy weight—I don't feel as confident in how I look, which is partly because my clothing fits a little more snugly than I would like. I've acquired many bad habits (late night snacking, larger portions, more frequent binges on dessert or other calorie-laden foods), and I have decreased the regular exercise that once helped me to counteract their effect. I certainly do not want to buy an entire wardrobe of larger clothes, especially when I know that, with some vigilance, I can realistically maintain my usual size 4. Being aware of my bad habits, and taking the necessary steps to correct them, will help me to regain my confidence and will save me a lot of money in not having to resupply my wardrobe with an additional size range. Although a size 6 is for many people a wonderful and healthy size, for me, it's just not where I feel comfortable or happy.

Personal style and standards both vary tremendously from person to person. Our unique personalities shape not only how we feel about ourselves, but also how we dress and behave. How we look and act at a certain weight or size is unique to every individual. For me, a size 2 is just as impractical as a size 6; a size 4 seems to be my most realistic and maintainable goal. For others, perhaps someone feels frumpy and unhappy in a size 18. Perhaps she realizes that a size 8 is an unrealistic weight loss goal for herself, so she decides to aim for a size 12. Progress is made toward this goal, but after prolonged misery at trying to overcome a plateau at size 14, this woman gets discouraged, ends her diet, and yo-yos back to a size 20! Rather than feeling dejected and giving up on her goal, I suggest that this woman reconsiders the idea of size 14 being her new happy size—one that she can realistically achieve and confidently maintain.

The best advice that style guru Stacy London gives on the TLC show “What Not to Wear” is to dress well for the size that you are now—not the size you wish you were, or the size you were five years ago. Look your best today, and every day, by wearing clothes that fit and flatter your body. Although I would love to flaunt my size 2 style from back in 2004, I know that this is unrealistic and that at this point in my life, these clothes would no longer look good on me. I also know that with a little more conscientiousness on my part, I can get back to looking and feeling my best in a happy size 4. Whether your happy weight is a size 0 or a size 20, you can improve your appearance and self-confidence by showcasing yourself (and the body you have now) in your most confident and happiest light.

The above photo is of some of the fine German cuisine that I enjoyed, which inadvertently and ironically contributed to my "very very skinny" interlude in 2004. This photo was taken by me on a return visit in 2010.


  1. I try to stay in my target weight just so I don't have to go shopping! It's a great motivator.

    Just curious, what do you think is the best way to judge the "ideal" weight for each body type. Do you follow clothing sizes, pounds, physical shape/proportions?

    1. That’s a fantastic question! Of course, a doctor would have the best answer--but according to the medical chart I linked, sometimes a healthy weight can have close to a 40-pound range!

      Really, though, I believe the ideal size all depends on things like your height, your bone structure, your body type… There’s really no such thing as one size fits all! Plus, clothing sizes can vary so drastically--depending on the brand/retailer, I can wear anything from a 0-12… So how accurate of an estimate would that be? Also, weight can vary--mine has been known to fluctuate as much as 5 pounds within a single day--it’s crazy!

      However, I tend to wear a lot of clothes from the same company, so using that particular sizing standard seems to work for me. I have a favorite outfit or two that I use as my gauge--when it fits, I know I’m on track. When it doesn’t, I know it’s time to make some adjustments!

      A favorite outfit may be the best way to keep accurate tabs on your own personal “ideal” weight--if you find a size that works for you that is reflected in a certain ensemble, then stick with it! This method will be much more individualized than random numbers on a chart.

    2. Thanks for the specifics! Good point about brand loyalty, because otherwise my weight standard would change every day with a different pair of pants.