Shopping online for fast fashion is basically an extreme sport: rolling the dice on whether the image will match the product, the inevitable umming and ahhing over a big order when it is followed by a £4.99 delivery fee. The time we gain from avoiding endless queues, we lose in the dithering that comes with the anxiety of being overwhelmed by choice.
Then, of course, there is the sizing. Women can flit between two or three sizes during one shopping spree, not because of very sudden weight loss or gain, but based on the whims of where we are buying our clothes. We may have become accustomed to constant chopping and changing between an S or an M, but most of us are in agreement that a size 14 is by no means an XL, as it was described in Asos’s size guide this week.
An Asos spokesperson said the size XL in some of its third-party brands had equivalent measurements to a size 14 on its own sizing chart. The same guide dubiously labelled a size 12 as large, when the average UK woman is two sizes bigger, at a size 16. Shoppers were understandably incensed – and with Britain on the brink of a body dysmorphia crisis, with almost 25% of women feeling uncomfortable in their own skin and social media continually distorting our ideal of what a human body looks like – the last thing we need is women who are smaller than the national average being dubbed “extra large”. It is reminiscent of fashion’s way of deeming anyone above a size eight overweight.
That throws up another issue: our instinctual recoiling at being considered “bigger”, reflecting a society that continues to revile those who are. To many, Asos’ labelling felt more like an accusation than a factual inaccuracy, with offence taken at the apparent besmirching of those who were labelled “extra large” but did not deserve it. It underlined the vilification that those who do wear the XL size experience on a daily basis. We may have become adept at adapting and accepting our arbitrarily ascribed sizes, but there would not have been the same outrage had a size 14 been deemed a small, because the connotations would not have been stigmatising.
Incidents like this are a reminder of why it matters that body-positive influencers and activists are working to reclaim the word “fat” as a neutral descriptor. When referring to bigger models, the preferred term is “plus size”; when retailers stock larger clothes, they are often referred to as their “curve” range. “Fat” is still pejorative to much of society, because the idea of being bigger continues to elicit undue disgust. In a culture that demands you work hard on your body to be “bikini ready” for the beach and to “look your best” (meaning “slimmest”) on your wedding day, it is no wonder Asos’s ludicrous size guide rankled. Fat is seen as a state that is innately offensive, and will stop being so only when we change our attitudes toward bodies, whatever the label they are wearing says.