“All Women Should Be Size 14″, says the Daily Mail. Say what?

Amber McNaught writes…

This morning, against my better judgement, I followed a link from Twitter to this article on the Daily Mail website. And was instantly hit with the shocking information that “ALL” women in the world should be a UK dress size 14, according to UK Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone.

Sorry, but what? ALL women in the world should be exactly the same size? And that size should be the apparently randomly-chosen size 14? (Roughly equivalent to a US 12, although obviously it depends very much on the manufacturer) Rubbish. The idea that there is just one “right” size to be; a “one size fits all”, which is healthy for ALL women, regardless of their height, age and body type is ridiculous, and actually rather hypocritical when you realise that this “magic” size 14 is apparently being promoted in order to help rid women of the insecurities created by looking at images of thin models. The article continues:

“[The minister] said that too often, women were made to feel wretched about their size as they were constantly comparing themselves with ‘unattainable’ figures of celebrities and models. This posed a ‘significant risk to the physical and mental health of young people’ she added, and in the worst cases could lead to anorexia and bulimia.”

Right. Because telling women that they all should look like Christina Hendricks, even if they have a completely different natural body shape, won’t make them feel “wretched” at all, will it? For some women, Christina Hendricks’ shape, lovely as it is, is every bit as unattainable as that of a runway model. Take me, for instance. I’m short and slim, and I’m not like that because I starve myself: I’m like that because that’s the shape women in my family are. If I wanted to be a size 14, I’d have to gain an amount of weight which, on my frame, would tip me into the “obese” category of the BMI index. (Just for the sake of clarity, I’m not saying that size 14 is “obese”, or that anyone who is that size is fat. I’m saying that if I, as a short girl with a small frame, was that size, I would be overweight. Equally, I know some women who would be considered underweight if they they were wearing a size 14. It’s a healthy size for SOME women, but not ALL women).

Even then, however, I would not look anything like Christina Hendricks, because when I do gain weight, I gain it on my stomach and thighs, not on my boobs and hips. (Important point: not all size 14 women are the same shape. You don’t reach size 14 and magically turn into Christina Hendricks.) No amount of weight-gain would turn me into an hourglass. I’m just not built that way, and neither are many other woman. Why should we be made to feel “wretched”? Why should we be forced to “risk our physical and mental health” in order to try to mimic the “unattainable” figure of a celebrity? How is this different, or better, than telling women they “should” be a size 8?

It’s not, is the answer. In recent years, however, the media has seemed to be taking the view that the best approach to the “size 0″ issue is to demonize “skinny” women (and notice how we’re allowed to call thin women “skinny”, or use even more pejorative terms, like “skeletal”, for instance, but we’re not allowed to call a fat woman “fat”, and must instead describe her as “curvy”): we’ve had no end of articles on how “real women have curves” (the rest of us are just imaginary, obviously) and “big is beautiful”, and as far as I can tell, this is every bit as unrealistic as the idea that everyone should be thin. The fact is that REAL women come in a variety of different shapes and sizes. Big is beautiful, sure, but it’s not the only definition of beauty, and lately the media seems to want us to think that it is.

Notice, however, the fact that I’m arguing here with the media rather than with Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone. I’ve read the article several times now, and I can’t for the life of me discover when and where she ACTUALLY said that “all women should be size 14″ – a quote which the Daily Mail has attributed to her (and let’s be honest: it wouldn’t be the first time this particular site was guilty of putting words into someone’s mouth). If she did make reference to a particular size as the be-all-and-end-all of female health, then I find that pretty shocking. From what I can gather, though, she mostly seems to want to put pressure on magazine editors not to use “skinny” models. She also wants magazines to be required to disclose air-brushing of photos.

The last point I wholeheartedly agree with. I actually think airbrushing can be more damaging to women’s self-image than the use of slim models. The banning of thin women from magazines, on the other hand, I’m not so sure about. The fact is, whether you like it or not, some women ARE thin. Slim women do exist (and the idea that everyone who is thin must have an eating disorder is a myth that badly needs to be busted: saying that all “skinny” people are anorexic is like saying that all overweight people are greedy) and they need to buy clothes just the same as anyone else does.

To completely remove them from the media, then, and pretend that they don’t exist, seems like a bit of an over-reaction to me. “Curvy” is not the ONLY body shape out there. And let me be very clear here: I’m all for the inclusion of models of ALL shapes and sizes (and skin colours and hair colours and everything else) in fashion. I just don’t feel that this should be achieved by means of the exclusion of every other body type. Sure, parading anorexic models down a runway is deeply disturbing, and is a practice that badly needs to be addressed, but telling women that they should all aspire to being curvy isn’t the answer either: it’s simply replacing one unattainable ideal with another one, and completely ignoring the fact that one size DOESN’T fit all.

 Women: let’s stop bashing each other’s body types. Let’s stop telling each other we’re “too fat” or “too thin” or whatever. Let’s just accept that we come in all shapes and sizes, and that as long as we’re healthy, that’s all that matters. Let’s not try to claim that we SHOULD all be size 0, or we SHOULD all be size 14. Let’s stop telling each other to “eat a sandwich” (a phrase that I would imagine is deeply patronising to people who ACTUALLY have eating disorders: as if it was that simple!) or hit the gym. Can we even do that, or must we go on and on putting pressure on ourselves and each other to conform to some arbitrary ideal, in the name of fashion rather than health?

 Lynne Featherstone says:

“All women have felt that pressure of having to conform to an unrealistic stereotype, which plagues them their whole life. It’s not just the immediate harm, it’s something that lasts a lifetime.”

So says a woman who wants us all to try and look like Christina Hendricks.

She is right about one thing, though: ALL women feel pressure to conform to unrealistic stereotypes. For some women, it’s the pressure to be size 0, even if it means starving themselves. And for others it’s the pressure to be “curvy”, when their bodies are naturally straight-up-and-down.

Wouldn’t it be great if that pressure was completely removed, and we were all simply encouraged to be healthy, no matter what shape we were? Size isn’t a fashion statement. Health isn’t something you can diagnose from a red-carpet shot. And dress size should never be something we try to force each other to conform to.

Edited to Add: Lynne Featherstone has clarified her statement both in the comments section below, and in her own blog, which is here. I’m very relieved to find that she doesn’t, in fact, want to replace one “ideal” body type with another, but still disappointed to see her comments comparing “curvy women” to “stick insects” in the same post. This is exactly the kind of divisive language that demonises people of a particular body type, while setting the other up to be the “ideal”!

42 Comments

  • July 26, 2010

    Minka

    Diversity is what makes this world and its people so special and we should embrace that instead of trying to follow some imaginary standards!

  • July 26, 2010

    Alex

    I completely agree with absolutely everything you said here. Why should we all be size 14? Everyone woman should stick with a body they are happy with, if they want to be smaller than size 14? That’s fine. If they want to be bigger than size 14? That’s fine too! You can’t just exclude a vast amount of people from the media. And you’re right that not everyone is the shame shape either. Ridiculous article, shame on the Daily Mail.

  • July 26, 2010

    Serinde

    besides. women weren’t meant to to be hourglass shaped, we’re supposed to have big hips, for our own sake, so we have less complications in child birth. and anyway VERY FEW dresses actually ARE hourglass shaped and very few pants or what ever are able to deal with big hips and a small waist.

    • June 1, 2012

      Kira

      Hey, woahh. Women aren’t not meant to be hourglass shaped. Women are meant to be the shape they come in. Apple, hourglass, pear, and any other shape are all what women are meant to be. Besides, hourglasses DO have wide hips. They’ve just also got large breasts. I’m a natural ‘column’. ie; i go straight up and down and I’m underweight yet can’t gain anything no matter how hard I try. Point being, I have no hips at all… yet still managed to produce 2 kids just fine, actually. Point being, women are meant to be whatever they naturally are.

  • July 26, 2010

    Annija

    In my eyes, Christina’s figure is absolutely divine. BUT it doesn’t mean that it should be made the one and only beauty standart. What fits one person, won’t be the best for each and every one. I am kind of the same build as you are — a UK size 6, short and thin. And exactly as you said, if a girl of that build went for a size 14, well, it wouldn’t end too well.

  • […] the rest here: “All&#32&#87&#111men Should Be Size 14″, says the Daily Mail. Say&#32&#119&#104at?The … Tags: each-other-, featherstone, hit-the, name, ourselves-and, pressure-on-ourselves, […]

  • July 26, 2010

    Terry

    Well said!

  • July 26, 2010

    Steph

    Agree completely. I’m 5’9 and a size 12-14 depending on the shop, due to bum and boobs. My best friend is the same height and is a size 6-8 because she has a very slender and athletic frame. She’s not going to turn into Christina Hendricks if she eats more, any more than I’m going to turn into Keira Knightley if I slim down! You’re pretty much stuck with the shape you’re got.
    Telling people they ought to be size 14 is no more helpful than telling them they ought to be size 0. Either option ignores the fact that women come in all shapes and sizes. Health and happiness trump label sizes any day.

  • July 26, 2010

    Katie

    Utterly agree… Thank you for drawing your reader’s attention to more important issues in fashion. Keep ‘em coming!

  • July 26, 2010

    Claire

    Every woman should aspire to be fit and healthy. Whatever her size, whatever her shape.

    Size doesn’t make anyone more or less ‘real’.

  • July 26, 2010

    Hannah

    This is ridiculous in my opinion. How can they say that ALL women should aspire to be a size 14?
    If a girl has a naturally thin frame or is below average height, aiming for a size 14 could mean a dangerous and unhealthy weight gain.
    If a girl who is larger, taller or more muscular is aiming for a size 14 it could mean an unhealthy weight loss.

    Women should not aspire to be any shape. How is portraying a size 14 as an ideal any different to portraying a size zero as an ideal?
    Though I myself am a size 14-16, I do not agree with a 14 being portrayed as the ideal. Women come in all shapes and sizes and it is time the media respected this. It comes as no surprise to me that the body shape (hourglass) that men preferred when surveyed is being flogged as an ideal shape, but I believe women should be allowed to be happy with whatever size they are.

    • July 27, 2010

      SarahGuyote

      I completely agree. Women trying to gain weight to a size fourteen might end up more unhealthy than the women losing weight to be a size three. People don;t seem to understand everything in moderation. If you eat healthy and excercise and are a size eighteen, more power to you, but we need to advocate health before beauty.

  • July 26, 2010

    Moni

    Oh well, the old discussion about beauty ideals… It’s as old as time, and this ideal has changed so many times nobody can keep count.
    Of course I agree that it’s dangerous to promote extremes, and it surely is ridiculous to “force” all women to wear a certain size (be it 0, 14, or 25). On the other hand the newspaper had to word it like this, as they wanted to provoke a reaction (a task in which they obviously succeeded ;) ).
    I don’t think people will ever reach a conclusion or at least agreement in this matter, because even the definitions of “healthy” are very different depending on area and historical era…

    By the way, I’m sorry for Christina Hendricks. I don’t think is was in her intentions to be drawn into this discussion in this way.

  • July 26, 2010

    Jaynie

    In keeping with the “women come in different sizes” theme, I could see a law requiring magazines to use models of a range of sizes being useful. Like, they’d still be allowed to have (healthy!) Twiggy-sized models, but they’d also have to meet a Christina-Hendricks sized quota. That, as well as disclaimers about any photoshopping, would be a reasonable step, I think. Promoting a single size or shape over any others, even if it is the most “average” healthy size, is a dumb idea. And wasn’t Twiggy herself made fun of in her schooldays for being so boy-shaped? Do we want a return to teasing all of the naturally slender women?

  • July 26, 2010

    lynne featherstone

    You are right – I did not say that all women should aspire to be a size 14! The last thing we need is to replace the idealised and impossible skinny shape with an equally impossible curvy one. This is a campaign about health and self esteem. The journalists have simply made hay – as usual.

    • July 26, 2010

      The Fashion Police

      Hi Lynne! Thanks for the clarification – I’m relieved to hear that one size isn’t being promoted above all others: lately there’s just been so much attention given to encouraging women to be “curvy” and “real” and it’s very frustrating for those of us who just aren’t built that way. Such a shame that the DM would manage to twist the message so thoroughly!

  • July 26, 2010

    Kiri

    I completely agree with everything you said.

  • July 26, 2010

    Jess

    It’s just the daily mail trying to make a dramatic headline. If they’d been able to find a quote that said anything like that, they’d have put it in quotation marks.

    I would like to see catwalk collections using models with a range of body types and designing different clothes to suit their different shapes. I think it could make a good show. Has this ever been done? I’ve heard of designers using only larger models, but never a variety like this. That said, I don’t think this should be imposed on designers by law or that it needs to be done in all shows. Supposedly the reason catwalk models are that shape is because the clothes hang better on them so it’d be interesting to see whether using lots of different body types in the same show would work as more than a one off gimmick.

    Another thing that needs to be said is that curvy is not a synonym for overweight but it’s used as such all the time. You can be slim and curvy or overweight and not curvy. They’re not the same at all.

  • July 26, 2010

    Bethany

    As a seamstress, I can confirm that women (and men) come in a wide variety of shapes. I am forever receiving clothes to alter that fit in one respect, but have to be adjusted in another. In particular, the waist-to-hip ratio varies wildly.
    On another note, is that a chicken on her shoulder in the picture?

  • July 27, 2010

    Robyn

    What? Christina Henricks has a more implausible body shape than most super models! If I starved myself enough I’m sure I could get that look, because super models don’t have to have big breasts or butts, they just have to be very very slim. But Christina Henricks, as pretty as she is, has a VERY difficult to replicate body type. Notice that her arms are nice and slim but her breasts are extremely large? Or that her waist is still pretty tiny (as well as her thighs!)? When most women gain weight, it definitely does not all go into their breasts. And a lot of times their arms and thighs are the first things to become “flabby”. Christina Hendricks does NOT represent the “average” size 14 anymore than Marilyn Monroe did. That’s just ridiculous.

  • July 27, 2010

    naomi

    essentially the media twisted what seemed to be an inclusive or healthy attitude from the minister into another “ideal woman” pigeon hole…but i am not surprised as it is my opinion that the media has had the most blame in making us women feel as though we are never good enough in our own skins to start with…but that is what it takes to turn us into good little consumers of weight loss pills or muscle mass building powders or botox or tanning products or skin bleaching products or liposuction etc etc
    women always have and always will come in a variety of shapes, colours and sizes and hopefully some day we will all feel represented in the media and have our variety celebrated in the fashion and beauty industries

  • July 27, 2010

    Sonya

    If you’ve heard of Crystal Renn, she’d be a good person to mention right about now. She’s a model who used to starve herself in order to keep herself a size 0. Then, she decided to try the plus size model route, and is now a size 12 or so, and more famous than she was when she was a straight-size model. She’s an inspiration to us all.

  • July 27, 2010

    Julia M

    It’s very hard to find clothes for the ‘perfect’ hourglass, shape, you’d be forever taking things in at the waist! Why not concentrate on celebrating diversity and good health rather than tell us what shape and size we should be?

  • […] let you catch up with it all if you’ve not been following by pointing you to Amber’s summary of the issue on  The Fashion Police. I’ll wait […]

  • July 27, 2010

    MrsBossa

    Although I agree that it is important to have a variety of models, I also blame a lot of this ‘women-bashing’ on magazines like Heat. The focus is always on weight and size – how refreshing it would be to see women of all shapes and sizes enjoying fashion and feeling fabulous. I also wish – since we’re speaking of role models – that there was more focus on what certain well-known women have achieved…rather than their physical appearance.

  • July 28, 2010

    Cat

    Hear, Hear. Great article. Particularly appreciate the reminder about divisive language. I so often see comments like ‘real women have curves’ and ‘eat a sandwich’, and they annoy me just as much as anti-fat comments do.

    If we really want to achieve an environment in which *no* woman is made to feel as though her body shape is inherently undesirable, we need to lay off those comments just as much as we need to lay off the ‘get a bikini body in 2 weeks’ obsession the media promotes. The not-so-slender shouldn’t be made to feel better at the expense of the slender. We should *all* be focusing on health and happiness, not on the size and distribution of one another’s flesh.

    • July 28, 2010

      The Fashion Police

      Oh, don’t even get me started on “She needs to eat a sandwich!” Almost every day someone posts that exact comment on a celebrity photo here, and it always really dissapoints me: funnily enough, though, no one ever posts comments saying “She needs to lay off the sandwiches” or “she needs to hit the gym”, presumably because we all know those comments are rude and unnecessary, but somehow the “sandwich” ones are seen as completely reasonable! So annoying!

  • […] The Fashion Police: Why size should never be a fashion statement Posted in Fashion. Tags: independent fashion bloggers. RSS feed for comments on this post.. TrackBack URL. […]

  • July 30, 2010

    D

    I am 1.6m tall so if I was at least a size 14(UK),I’d be an overweight fat pig.Size 14 or above is okay when you’re taller but a short woman who wears that size looks like a balloon.But size 4(UK) is disgustingly thin even if the woman is just 1.5m.So why not tell women to be healthy(not disgustingly thin of course) rather than tell them what clothes size they ought to be?

    • July 30, 2010

      The Fashion Police

      Um, I have clothes in a size 4 (vanity sizing means that in some stores a 4 is what a 6 used to be), so I guess I’m “disgusting” to you, even although you don’t know me and have no idea how healthy or otherwise I am. Seriously, by making comments like that, you’re doing exactly what you’re complaining about – telling people what size they ought to be (and using highly offenisve language into the bargain: “fat pig” is a horrible thing to say, as is “disgustingly thin”) and standing in judgement over those who don’t measure up to your ideals.

    • August 4, 2010

      raur

      The degrading labels used in this comment is exactly the reason why women stress over their body image.

      Where and how did you get the idea that 1.5m women in size 4 are “disgustingly thin”? I happen to be 1.5m and wear size 4. I can guarantee you I am most definitely NOT “disgustingly thin”. According to my nutritionist, I am at a correct body mass index and I’m quite active and healthy THANK YOU.
      PS

  • July 30, 2010

    Pearl Westwood

    A very well written piece, the media is just ridiculous it always has to be one extream to another. The appropriate weight for every women will be different due to height, body shape, muscle ratio etc. so many different factors. Also I think it was great of Lynne to come on and clarify her words. I think we should all cut the tags off our clothes and just be happy and healthy, size shouldnt matter!

  • […] The Fashion Police: Why size should never be a fashion statement […]

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  • August 2, 2010

    RC

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! For years I’ve been trying to say exactly this….Being a size 0 rail skinny makes me want to shout this to the world!

    “the media has seemed to be taking the view that the best approach to the “size 0″ issue is to demonize “skinny” women” and “we’ve had no end of articles on how “real women have curves” (the rest of us are just imaginary, obviously) and “big is beautiful”, and as far as I can tell, this is every bit as unrealistic as the idea that everyone should be thin. The fact is that REAL women come in a variety of different shapes and” sizes. Big is beautiful, sure, but it’s not the only definition of beauty

  • […] for handbags? Enlighten yourself with the heroic History of Handbags on The Embellished Life! The Fashion Police: Why size should never be a fashion statement What 2 Wear Where: Mad Men Mania: effortlessly polished Betty […]

  • August 4, 2010

    raur

    To each their own really. Some women look really good waif-y, like keira knightley, tilda swinton, and kate moss even. What’s important is for the individual to find the right size that looks good on them. I’m 5′ 107lb, I am considered skinny to my north american friends, but to my asian peers here I’m considered fat. If I were to be a size 14, I would seriously look like the girl that turned into a blueberry in Willy Wonka.

  • August 15, 2010

    Spark

    I’m tiny.. it’s impossible for me to gain weight. This is just how I’m supposed to be. I’m not supposed to be anything else…

  • September 2, 2010

    Jez

    They may have thought they were being progressive by saying women should strive for a larger size… but it is perpetuating the same problems with body image and weight, just picking a different goal to attain. Our cultures need to think differently about weight. There is no one singular body type that is healthy for everyone or attractive to everyone. Men (and women) can find all sorts of bodies sexy, powerful and attractive. While it’s a business, not a social service, the fashion industry would do well by their customers if they portrayed a wide variety of bodies as the beautiful and sexy beings they are.

  • September 9, 2010

    Row

    One thing I really object to is the use of the word ‘curvy’ in this way. I’m not criticising the article – I agree with it and it was an enjoyable read. However, I was always under the impression that ‘curvy’ was to do with body shape – in particular, waist to hip ratio – and not just another word for overweight or for describing somebody above, maybe, a Size 12. (By the way, I am not suggesting that being over a Size 12 is necessarily overweight).
    I am 5′ 2 1/2″, and a UK 8-10, so I’m fairly small in both directions. However, I go in and the waist and out at the hips and have a waist to hip ratio of about 0.7. This suggests that though I am slim I am also curvy…If I’m allowed to describe myself as such, that is! ;)

  • May 1, 2013

    Annomonus

    Size 14 Can Vary In Different Body Shapes, most are Pear Shape and Apple Shaped. Any Size Below Uk Size 14 Is Unhealthy, ‘Underweight’ Men only go For women who Are Curvy Like Size 14 and Above they want Something to Hold on 2. The National Average Body Type For women In the Uk Is 14-16. EXCUSE ME D I’m 5 Foot 2 and Size 14 and I’m all in Proportion!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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