I have this mental image of myself. This image reflects the way I think I look as I operate in the world. Type away at my computer. Meet a cute guy. Get dinner with my friends.
This image is also constantly gaining and losing weight. A lot of weight. It’s always changing, even when I’m not. I sometimes pass mirrors and feel startled, shocked to see I’ve either mentally added or subtracted weight to my body to fit a larger or smaller camp than I currently occupy.
I’ve been a size 0. I’ve been a size 12. For the past two years, I’ve been about a size 6 or 8 (depending on the day and the store I’ve bought my clothes). But I just don’t fit into society’s clean-cut boxes of “skinny” or “plus-size,” and as a result, my mind can’t seem to make up its mind about where I fit and what I actually look like.
I just called my mom last week to talk about a clothing woe, which is when it hit me: What the hell am I, exactly? Medium-sized? Athletic? Curvy? “Normal”? Was I “abnormal” before I ditched disordered eating in favor of my natural body type, which fell between so far between these two distinct sizing camps it can only be described as middling?
I can barely verbalize this unsettled, what-size-am-I, does-it-even-matter feeling.
People had mixed emotions when Amy Schumer recently flagged Glamour for tossing her in the “plus-size” camp — but I felt her frustration completely. “I think there’s nothing wrong with being plus size,” the comedian wrote in a serious post on Instagram. “I go between a size 6 and an 8.@glamourmag put me in their plus size only issue without asking or letting me know and it doesn’t feel right to me. Young girls seeing my body type thinking that is plus size?”
Something’s up with medium sizes. It’s messing with our self-image, and it’s not totally new. I remember actress Jenna Fischer lamenting about the “public affair” that was waffling on the sizing edge back in 2011. “In my business, you have to tell someone so that the next time you go to a fitting, the clothes are the right size,” she told Redbook. “It’s really embarrassing to have to say to your manager, ‘I’m now a 6 pant instead of a 4.’ Emails go out, and they CC the agents…”
Even at the time, before social media blew the sizing confusion into epic proportions, I consciously recognized that a size 6 was “in the middle” of something. I’m sure publicly sharing your size change feels strange. But I also wonder if Fischer might have felt differently had she been fluctuating between two sample or plus sizes, perhaps a 0 and a 2 or a 14 and 16. What was she as a size 6? No longer thin? No longer “Hollywood” thin? She probably didn’t even know.
It’s strange that a middling group can feel so marginalized in this body positivity movement, which began as a counterpoint to the “Us vs. Them” mentality of “thin is in,” but has since morphed into two extreme camps of size. Thin is still in, and why not if these women are healthy? While we’re lauding the Adeles, Ashley Grahams and Melissa McCarthys of the world, we haven’t made room for the women who are something else.
According to Karla Ivankovich, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, Springfield, that “abandonment” is creating a dissonance between the reality and the psychology of size. There is a protection to “fitting in” that we crave. “When we find that we don’t have the approval of others, we lose the sense of protection,” she tells Yahoo Beauty. “There is a fear of rejection that essentially undermines your positive self-perception, which in turn impacts your self-esteem. You’re riddled with a hefty dose of self-doubt.”
Self-doubt doesn’t feel good on anyone. “Internalizing your own negative feedback can be far more damaging than the feedback you get from others,” Ivankovich explains. So, if I can’t find my place in the body positivity movement, we can wind up preaching body love while simultaneously wishing we had any other body. “We are our own worst critics,” Ivankovich says.
There’s an old concept in psychology called The Looking-Glass Self. Basically, we don’t just form self-perceptions based on how we see ourselves, but also by how we think others see us. So that game of mental addition and subtraction with my weight? I probably can’t shake it, because I don’t know how others see me and it’s messing with my self-perception. Society hasn’t voiced much of an opinion about us so-called “inbetweeners.”
Refinery29′s Kelsey Miller sums the sizing problem up pretty accurately. She notes the flaws that still exist in our culture, how genuine or “transparent” the body love movement may or may not be at times, but says the way we view female forms is pretty clear. “The issue of unconscious bias around size is, of course, a much bigger can of worms,” Miller writes. “…But when it comes to the bodies we see on screen, it’s fairly simple: Thin is normal, fat is bad, and anything in between is confusing.”
Model Laney Degrasse is a member of Camp Confusion, too. The 20-year-old, in-between beauty told Elle.com she just doesn’t fit any modeling mold. “I’m only a size six, and the standard in plus size modeling is a size 12, so it’s really, really hard for me to book jobs unless it’s something editorial,” she explained. “I was once a size four, so I lost a dress size, and it prevented me from getting jobs because I was even more in-between because it’s like borderline runway, and then I can’t fit into the plus size clothes.”
Degrasse’s frustration still seems to exist in flickers and shadows, but she’s got the right idea. “Ever since I started modeling, I always told myself that I would never change my body to be a model, you know?” she said. “If I have to change myself, I don’t want to do it.”
“Size is irrelevant, and there is so much variability in everything,” Ivankovich says. “Body habitus is as varied as the clothing sizes. You really can’t do anything about your genetic composition. All you can do, as Laney Degrasse said, is to love what you have. Take care of yourself, because that’s what matters.”
As for me, I’m trying to lose the many boxes and labels for size. I don’t need them, nor do you. I’m not normal. I’m not abnormal. I’m not skinny. I’m somewhere between thin-ish, toned and curvy…but definitely, thankfully, healthy.
Ultimately, I have a unique and different place along this crazy spectrum of size — from petite to plus and everywhere in between – where we should be standing side-by-side. Not the same, but similar and accepting of everyone’s body individuality.