What does it look like to be your size?

I used to be a size 2. Once I got size zero pants, when I was maybe fifteen, and I was pretty proud. I would not be able to get into those pants now. Not even close. But sizing is confusing. For something so easy to place a lot of value on, it isn’t nearly straightforward enough.

I often get the sense that I am lopsided, when I’m buying something for my bottom and something for my top at the same time. A bikini bottom and top is the most striking example. The bottom has to be a lot bigger. To accommodate my butt (in case that wasn’t clear). The top has to be pretty small. Because of my breasts.

Because my sizes are all over the place, I wonder if my body is just disproportionate. It sometimes feels like all of my parts are making up their own minds, and none of them are interested in getting along with any of the others. Have my boobs ever even spoken to my butt? Has there ever even been an acknowledgement that they are in this together?

Can’t you guys just be friends?

I always think I’m bigger than I am. When I feel awkward, especially, I feel like I’m taking up too much space. Like I’m stealing it.

When I was little, I wanted to be very tall when I grew up. Tall people are striking. They stand out.

When I grew up, I wished I could be a little shorter.

(even if I look like this…source)

(I spend a lot of time feeling like this…source)

Women are infamous for getting their bodies wrong. In the show “How to Look Good Naked“ (which I’ve watched a few episodes of), the featured woman, struggling desperately with her own perceived ugliness, is asked to compare her body against a lineup of other, mostly naked ones. She always picks a stomach bigger than hers to identify with.

The message is strong, and I always start to cry when the woman proudly models her lingerie at the end. But I also can’t help thinking, “What about the woman whose stomach she just pointed at? Doesn’t she count, too?” The first, mistaken woman is jumping up and down going, “I’m not as fat as I thought!” But does the woman she picked out of the lineup go home thinking, “I’m how fat other women are terrified of being”?

So when a friend sent me this site, called My Body Gallery, I wasn’t totally ready to support it. I have that instinct to think, “Well, thank god I at least don’t look like her.” Or “I wish I looked more like her.” And I don’t like to do that.

But at the same time, I love to look at real women’s bodies. I love it when women talk about their bodies. And I say this without feeling even slightly pervy. I want to get real information about what real women look like. Like everyone else, I sometimes need to be reminded that my own body is perfectly normal.

Well, why wouldn’t it be?

I don’t know. But it’s easy to begin to believe it isn’t. Every other woman has longer, slimmer ankles than me. No one else has breasts that will not for any reason, at any point, create any amount of cleavage. And the sizes…What is the deal with my measurements?

Nothing, says My Body Gallery. There is no deal.

Because even people with the same measurements as me look different. They look different from me and different from one another. And at the same time, I see myself in them. I like them automatically.

When I look past that instinct to rate, rank, and repeat, I see something much more interesting on My Body Gallery. Myself, as a part of a spectrum of women who all look a little different and a little the same. I see that the sizes that we too often use to measure our self worth look a hundred different ways on a hundred different women. There are no rules. There is no inherent meaning in 2 or 6 or 12 or 14. I need to be told that sometimes.

After all, there’s a part of me that is still feeling guilty for being a 6 instead of a 2. Or an occasional 8 on the bottom. I used to be a 2. Why can’t I be a 2 anymore?

What do I think a 2 even means?

Obviously, I’m getting it wrong.  And it feels really, really good to be corrected.

But what do you guys think? I want to know. Would you send your picture and measurements to My Body Gallery? Do you feel like you learn something important from looking at the pictures and measurements that have been submitted? Or do you think it’s too easy to slip into unhealthy comparisons and make it into a competition about who is thinner than who?

*  *  *

Unroast: Today I love the way my eyes look the next day, after wearing a lot of eye makeup. I’m bad at putting it on, but you can never tell in the morning.

P.S. Really? An Iceberg? I seriously couldn’t think of anything else. I’m sorry.

P.P.S. Have I just not seen any yet, or are there really very few older women on My Body Gallery? That’s interesting…

A version of this piece is up on HuffPo here.

43 Comments »

Kate on August 8th 2011 in beauty, being different, body

43 Responses to “What does it look like to be your size?”

  1. Jess responded on 08 Aug 2011 at 12:12 pm #

    I and all of my friends, particularly the performers I know really enjoy the My Body Gallery. It’s important to see other women who look like you, approximately. We don’t get a lot of that, and we don’t know exactly WHAT our number we have put so much meaning into look like.
    As someone who makes costumes and then takes them off onstage under the right circumstances, I deal with body shapes a lot. I can tell you for sure that mass-market sizing is NOTHING to go by. I tell people I’m a size 9. This is true. I can also wear anything as small as a 6 or as large as a 12, depending on the brand’s idea of size and the cut of the garment. In England, I can go as large as a 14, because they have a completely different size system. That number has no meaning and therefore I don’t allow it to have meaning to me. The tape measure is the only gauge of true size. And my measurements are 35-30-38. I still always feel more bottom heavy than I am.

  2. Rachel @ Musings of an Inappropriate Woman responded on 08 Aug 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    It’s definitely interesting to see images of women of similar size and body shape to ourselves – like you say in the post, it’s easy to lose all perspective on this stuff from time to time. That said, even though I think my weight and size are pretty healthy for me, I couldn’t help playing with the module to see what “I” would look like if I dropped 10 or 15 lbs. Which suggests that my brain may not be as healthy as my body!

  3. Ami responded on 08 Aug 2011 at 12:26 pm #

    I haven’t gone to look at the website yet.

    Was pondering why older women don’t appear much. If they’re like me (50 qualifies as older, yes?) they have finally reached contentment and don’t feel that need to compare.

    Would I like to be thinner? Yes. But for health reasons. I have finally reached the mythical land of Half Past Give a Shit and everyone who doesn’t like how I look can smooch my donkey.

  4. melissa responded on 08 Aug 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    Oh cool! Thanks for posting the link to the gallery. I have been driving myself crazy. Every time I’m out and about, I am always looking at others and wondering if I am the same size as them.

    Mostly because sometimes I look thin, and sometimes I really really don’t. And because looking in mirrors is really looking at yourself at a “from above” sort of angle, and so it is incorrect. Same with watching yourself from reflective windows. Photos/videos are probably the best accuracy, which always worried me because I look chunkier in photos than I do in the mirror… But that’s the mirror angles tricking me again.

    I would love to be thinner, if only to make it easier to buy clothing! Otherwise, the only time I’m thinking about my size is when I’m trying to squeeze around objects (and bump into things…).

    I think it’s the fact that I used to wear size 5 pants that makes me long to be smaller. I remember what it was like to look at myself and be so proud of how I looked, and how wonderful it was to have boundless energy!

    At least being bigger, I feel more proportionate, I guess. When I was small, I had really wide hips, but the tiniest waist! Pants were quite funny. I still miss it though. But I guess it’s nice to never get sick too.

  5. Jak responded on 08 Aug 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    I’m that size and weight (18, over 200 lbs) that women in diet commercials are always like “I got to this size and I couldn’t run, I could barely walk and drag my fat ass out of bed every day. Then I took this snake oil and dropped weight. Now I’m beautiful, and I can run after my kids, etc.” Is this really how the world views me? I’m that person that everyone looks at and says “well, at least I’m not *her*.” You know what, I can run. I can bike and swim and stand up from my bed in the mornings. I’d like to see more representations of that, and maybe this site is a way to start that. I’ll be hopeful for once and believe that.

  6. Melanie responded on 08 Aug 2011 at 1:20 pm #

    Looking at that site makes me feel like I must carry my weight all wrong. Everyone who matches my weight and height (5’4″, 110-120 lbs) seems so much tinier than me! Of course, that’s probably just the distorted body image talking.

    And sizes are annoying. I will never, ever be a size 0 (or probably even a size 1/2) again. It’s physically impossible. My 36″ hips (which is the smallest I’ve ever gotten them as an adult even while working out hardcore) just do not fit into size 0′s or 2′s. And I can’t change my bone structure no matter how many stairs I climb.

    But why do I even care? What is so much better about a 0 than a 3/4? Or any other size? How would that really increase my happiness? I’m trying to come to peace with the fact that being in good shape with plenty of energy is infinitely better than fitting into size x. So that’s my goal: getting in shape without worrying too much about the size of my clothes (which is easier said than done).

  7. Dee responded on 08 Aug 2011 at 1:40 pm #

    @Jak – I too look at those diet commercials and wonder why a young woman weighing 200 pounds and wearing a size 18 waould not be able to keep up with her children and when she loses 65 pounds suddenly wears a size 2! and runs marathons. I’m a 60 year old woman who weighs 243 pounds and has been running after an adopted child for 12 years even through chronic medical issues. Now that she’s 12 we go to the mall on the bus weekly. And yes I would love to lose weight but even when I wieghed 106 pounds I never wore a size 2! Sizes I think are quite arbitrary. Just feel good about yourself. I always think I’m still skinny until I see my reflection! and then I say “What?!” O, nevermind.

  8. You can call me Jane responded on 08 Aug 2011 at 1:41 pm #

    This is fascinating. I checked out the website and was pleased with the pictures I saw based on my stats. That said, they need a criteria section where you can check off if you’ve had kids. Thanks to my three children, my mid-section looks nothing like those of the women on the website. I’m coming to terms with appearing four or five months pregnant even though I’m back to my pre-pregnancy weight. My husband says it makes him feel manly, walking around toting three kids and wife who looks perpetually pregnant. That’s one way to look at it, I guess:-). Thanks for your honest writing, Kate.

  9. Katie responded on 08 Aug 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    i don’t know who’s deciding on sizes, but i have the same problem…i’m a stick all around, and yet my hips still manage to be two sizes larger than my chest/shoulders. Oh swimsuits! And i know what you mean about misperceiving ourselves….i’m only 5’6 and i always feel way taller and lurpier than i am…like when i’m around a populace of men who all tend to hover at 5’7 and i squirm in my heels and feel like i’m progressively stretching out like a spaghetti noodle. i know, it’s asinine…silly brain.

  10. Courtney responded on 08 Aug 2011 at 2:16 pm #

    I don’t really want to be thinner per se; I just want to be athletic-looking. I feel like nirvana is looking like you could do pullups and run a mile and still help your friends carry their couch up the stairs.

    I measured myself (the bust-waist-hips set) the other day. I had normal measurements, and I had a waist. It was weird; I always thought of myself as someone with no waist, just a big stocky column. I’ll give that gallery a look later, just to see what normal people really look like…

  11. diana responded on 08 Aug 2011 at 2:49 pm #

  12. Kate responded on 08 Aug 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    @Ami
    OK, you made me laugh outloud with that last bit :-)
    And did you see my P.P.S on the post? I definitely was wondering about that, too…

  13. Kate responded on 08 Aug 2011 at 3:11 pm #

    @You can call me Jane
    Good point, about not seeing post-kids bodies. I love that your husband feels that way. Sounds like a good husband!

  14. sara responded on 08 Aug 2011 at 3:14 pm #

    I went on the site and searched for my size and height- honestly I just wanted to see if people with my measurements had as small breasts as I do (pretty nonexistent actually) but I couldn’t tell… lol, that’s what I get :P

  15. Kate responded on 08 Aug 2011 at 3:19 pm #

    @Diana
    Awesome! Thank you!
    I’m also still jealous of Caitlin for coming up with that idea before me. But that doesn’t stop me from thinking it’s amazing :-)

  16. teegan responded on 08 Aug 2011 at 5:36 pm #

    Regarding the web site: I’m in the range just above average, which means that the photos matching my stats included girls with big hips/thighs, girls with big boobs, girls with some good solid muscle, and girls like me, with a pretty even distribution.
    It’s disconcerting to be the girl who isn’t fat but isn’t thin either. Sometimes it means I’m perfectly okay with it, and sometimes it means I don’t know which camp I’m in – does that make sense? As a kid, I WAS a fat girl. I was overweight in a very unhealthy way. Then I hit high school and puberty and started jogging a little more and drinking less soda and things evened out. Now I’m somewhere between a 6 and a 10 (which makes thrift store clothing shopping quite the adventure). I have crazy broad shoulders and broad enough hips. I look great in a one-piece bathing suit, but if I wore a bikini I’d never take off whatever I had on over it.
    My husband tells me I have the figure of wonder woman, or an amazon. He loves that my thighs aren’t twigs. He loves the little roundness to my belly -and I love his, for that matter. He has a little round belly, like the kind you see on skinny old men.
    Speaking of which, have you posted much about the male side of things? I think a good way to look at yourself is to think about the way you (the proverbial you) think about the man/woman in your own life. Nobody’s perfect. Hubby has skinny legs and the little belly I mentioned, but he has biceps that are the perfect size and a beautiful back. He has a slightly receding hairline at just past 30, but a fantastic beard and curly dark hair. I’m aware of what some may consider shortcomings, but I’m completely in love with it all, and I know he feels the same way about me, which makes it easier for me to feel the same way about me.

  17. Kate responded on 08 Aug 2011 at 5:52 pm #

    @teegan
    here’s a post I wrote about why the scientists who study sex appeal are sometimes wrong (it’s along the lines you were talking about, I think): http://www.eatthedamncake.com/2010/11/01/scientists-weve-figured-out-what-makes-people-sexy/

    I know there’s at least two other posts that talk about this, but I can’t find them!

  18. Harriet responded on 08 Aug 2011 at 9:23 pm #

    I found a picture of a girl on this website, my height and weight and figure type, standing in the mirror exactly the way I do. My first thought was how cute she looked. My second thought was how often I criticize what I see in the mirror, even though I look so much like that girl (it’s sort of weird how familiar this stranger’s body looked). I know I’ve often seem women with some physical “flaw” and think how cute it looks on her, even though I criticize the same thing in my own body, but the ridiculousness of this way of thinking never really hit home for me before I saw this picture.

  19. San D responded on 08 Aug 2011 at 10:59 pm #

    Just like I suspected, I went to the site and they didn’t have any image to match my specifications. You see, I’m unique! Actually when you get my age, you have already made friends with your body. It is what it is. The days of sculpting my body are long gone, but not the days of wearing interesting clothing that works like smoke and mirrors to transform. As my sister in law once said to me “I have no clue what you weigh because you always wear such interesting clothes”.

    First unroast: I love how my hair has returned to being naturally curly, thanks to stopping taking hormones.

  20. Sarah responded on 09 Aug 2011 at 2:12 am #

    I am actually thinking about sending a picture in now! I know that I am a really average height (5’4″) and a healthy weight, but I definitely have a warped perception about how ‘normal’ my body is. Seriously – looking through that gallery made me feel really normal in a GOOD way! Despite the fact that we so often want to emphasise what beautiful and unique snowflakes we are, I think there is something oddly comforting about a site like body gallery. Like you said, there’s all these pictures of women who look a little different but a little the same. The similarities are more obvious to me than the differences, and although I don’t think that site is for everyone, I think it can be useful for some people in putting their body in perspective. Yeah, I may have a bigger chest than this person and larger thighs, but the rest of us looks pretty similar in the grand scheme of things. I think it all depends on how you approach it.

  21. sophie responded on 09 Aug 2011 at 4:10 am #

    i always feel the different areas of my body don’t fit well together. when i’m feeling especially despondent, i like looking at sites like my body gallery, just to regain some perspective.

  22. Lauren responded on 09 Aug 2011 at 11:56 am #

    At first I thought that site was going to be like hot or not. Remember that? But then I realized that it’s really about information. This is my height, this is my weight and this is my body. We all look so different. some ladies are very close to my measurments and look COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. so really? I need to shut up about constantly comparing and thinking …. no THAT is the ideal, no THAT is the ideal, if only I looked/weighed/felt like HER. Because apparently I know nothing.

  23. LittleEve responded on 09 Aug 2011 at 10:06 pm #

    I went to my first ever sewing lesson on Monday, to learn how to read and use dress patterns.

    The most interesting thing I learnt that night is that dress sizing is actually from about the 1950′s, and the size was supposed to correlate to your age. e.g, a 12 year old would wear a size 12. A 16 year old would wear a size 16/16 year old. And I suppose the space given for your butt and breasts in a size 16 is much roomier than what would be expected to be required for a size 12/12 year old.

    Here in Australia, the sizing system remains mostly the same, we haven’t yet gone to the extreme of size 0, 2, 4 6. Those numbers really mean nothing. They’re what’s called “vanity sizing”, and each clothing label or store can set their own sizing regulations, depending on the expectations of their clientele.

    So, to determine your actual size, you need to look at dress patterns, the sizing standards for which are fully regulated, and the same all over America (and Australia), eg, Butterick, Simplicity, Vogue.

    Turns out I’m a 14 up top, and 20 down bottom! How lopsided is that!

  24. Kate responded on 09 Aug 2011 at 10:07 pm #

    @LittleEve
    That’s so interesting! I had no idea.

  25. San D responded on 10 Aug 2011 at 11:16 am #

    Dress sizes are just numbers, and we shouldn’t be defined by numbers, although we do define ourselves that way, i.e. age, dress size, SAT’s, salary, etc, etc. I make some of my clothes and always read the back of the pattern and just buy the pattern based on what will fit when I am done making it. No one knows what size I made, or even what size I buy in the shops for that matter. As long as I am comfortable and it makes me feel great, I don’t care about what number is on the label. Nothing to me looks worse than someone trying to fit in a “number” (that their brain has determined is their absolute size), and having their clothing look ill fitting.

  26. Kate responded on 10 Aug 2011 at 11:20 am #

    @San D
    It’s true, there are WAY too many numbers that are used to define us. I remember feeling that way when I took the SAT, actually. I was like, “Why the hell does this number have any power over my future?” It felt a little absurd

  27. jss responded on 10 Aug 2011 at 1:13 pm #

    Looking at this site again was very, very strange. (I actually put my picture on it about a year ago and hadn’t thought about it since.) I struggled with anorexia and bulimia between the ages of 14 and 24 and, now 26, am finally at a healthy weight for my height. While the physical and behavioral struggle is over for me, I still hate my body as much as anyone and am as terrified of gaining more weight as I was when I was ill. What surprised me about looking at other women my height was that, even by my own admittedly warped standards, I could theoretically gain 20 lbs and look absolutely gorgeous. Thank you for bringing me back to this site. It was a reminder that, psychologically, I still have a long way to go…

  28. Deb responded on 11 Aug 2011 at 5:14 pm #

    Have you seen the original, British “How to Look Good Naked”. The presenter, Gok Wan once had a serious weight problem himself. As someone classified “obese” I found it uplifting, supportive and postive.
    http://www.channel4.com/programmes/how-to-look-good-naked

  29. Eat the Damn Cake » I was almost on Good Morning America today responded on 12 Aug 2011 at 3:41 pm #

    [...] Morning America wanted to talk to me about My Body Gallery, the site that I wrote this very recent post on. They wanted my thoughts. There’s a chance they’ve read THIS [...]

  30. emily responded on 17 Aug 2011 at 1:08 pm #

    It’s funny, I have a different reaction to this site than a lot of people – instead of saying, “wow, look at all the different shapes and sizes of people with the same numbers as me,” I was like “Oh…so that’s how i look to other people, too?” Pretty much everyone of approximately the same height and weight on that site has a similar shape to me, except for a few women with larger breasts, which is a fairly obvious difference.

    Pants sizes are bunk though, everyone I know fits into a range, all brands are different, whatever.

    Did you go on GMA?

  31. MyBodyGallery responded on 18 Aug 2011 at 6:31 pm #

    Hi! I’m the founder of mybodygallery.com and reading this article and these comments made me smile. That’s exactly the point I was trying to make: The numbers are all bunk. :D
    Yay!
    Thank you!!

    p.s. they wanted me to go on gma too and I went through the EXACT same process you did. LOL!

  32. Annie@stronghealthyfit responded on 18 Aug 2011 at 6:55 pm #

    Love this post. So clearly thought out and smartly written!

  33. Lizzi responded on 21 Aug 2011 at 11:56 am #

    I went to the mybodygallery site and was a bit confused. The two women who are my height and weight (one was the same, one 5 lbs. more, but that’s basically the same) looked NOTHING like they were the same weight. The woman who was 145 lbs. looked much, much heavier than the 140 pound woman. I get that things like having more or less muscle makes a difference in how one looks, as well as how weight is distributed. But the woman who was 145 looked more like I did at 165. So either she isn’t disclosing her real weight or I don’t look like I think I do. Either is possible, obviously. And I did like the site and what it’s trying to do. Most every woman I know could use a reminder that what she weighs isn’t the only thing that determines how her body looks.

  34. Eat the Damn Cake » how much do you weigh? the new book responded on 07 Oct 2011 at 1:45 pm #

    [...] When I wrote about My Body Gallery a while back, some of you (and me, too, actually) commented that there weren’t many older [...]

  35. Eat the Damn Cake » no one is too smart to worry about beauty responded on 25 Oct 2011 at 11:25 am #

    [...] Remember when I wrote about the site My Body Gallery and then Good Morning America almost, almost interviewed me about my post? Well, GMA is still radio [...]

  36. liz responded on 03 Nov 2011 at 12:57 am #

    I have to say first… I love this blog. Almost every woman i now is made to feel insecure, and what’s worse, made to feel insecure about their insecurities (confidence is sexy right?) So I really appreciate you putting all these thoughts out here.
    I wonder if I’m a lost cause after looking at the “My Body Gallery” I wanted to appreciate so much, instead as I went through every picture all that went through my head was judgement and comparison. Like you had siad it was all
    Well, thank god I at least don’t look like her.” Or “I wish I looked more like her.”

    I’m trying my damnedest, but it so hard to break. Any other readers feel this way?/ Any stories of how to break out of it?

  37. liz responded on 03 Nov 2011 at 1:00 am #

    dammit, yes. I know I typed the wrong “know”

  38. Mindy responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 1:52 pm #

    I love this blog!! I am forever bugging my husband when we’re out in public. I pick out a person that I think has a comparable body shape to mine and ask, “is that what I look like?”. Everytime he says no in a tone of voice that makes be believe he’s over doing it a bit. The truth is that women have grown up looking at Barbie and Disney princess characters thinking that should be what our bodies look like. We all have distorted body images to some degree. I actually found your blog by searching for “What do my measurements really look like” in Google. Thank you!

  39. Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot responded on 19 Nov 2012 at 6:47 am #

    It’s amazing how women’s bodies change. Especially after babies and as we age. But youthful bodies (and faces) are celebrated and older ones not so maybe that’s why people are reluctant to share them on that site…

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  43. theresa responded on 01 Mar 2014 at 7:38 am #

    apparently there are no women that are 5’10′, 320 lbs and wear a size 26 lmao. we dont exist .. the body gallery is a joke for any one over 200 lbs and a size 16 and over 30 yrs old , i found one woman 30 yrs old 257 lbs and said she wore a size 20 . one , not 2 or 3 , just one lol.

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