Health at Every Size and Eating DisordersWhen your child has a body that does not fit the “straight-size” standards, it can be very challenging to find age-appropriate clothing that fits your child’s body, style, and personal standards.
Children living in larger bodies are at risk of pursuing diets with the goal of reducing their body size. Diets are harmful and can lead to eating disorders, which is why it is so important for parents to reinforce a Health at Every Size approach and absolute acceptance of their child’s body. But even the most accepting parents will find it difficult to handle the silent but deadly feedback that clothing stores provide our children who have larger bodies.
Going clothing shopping can be a devastating experience when your prepubescent girl’s body doesn’t fit clothing located in the Girls section or the Junior’s section. This gap in clothing that occurs between Girls and Junior’s sizing happens at possibly the most delicate time in a girl’s physical growth and emotional development, making it a major trigger for eating disorder behavior and the beginning of struggles with weight. The struggles only increase with puberty and beyond, when weight fluctuations are common, and peer pressure to conform to style standards increases.
Whether your child is already struggling with disordered eating or you are just concerned about her health and wellness, it is a good idea to think critically about clothes shopping before going shopping with your child. Education can help you and she understand the options and navigate the changing room with minimal shame.
Most clothes are made for “straight-sizes”
The vast majority of clothing available in retail stores is for “straight-sizes,” which range from size 0-12 for adults. People who live in larger bodies find it extremely difficult to find stylish clothing in their size.
In 2012, it was estimated that 67% of American women are “plus size” (size 14 or larger) (Bloomberg). However, plus size clothing is often given a tiny fraction of department store floor space, and the majority of mass retailers do not accommodate sizes beyond 12.
This means that people living in larger bodies have a very hard time finding clothing that meets their body needs and personal style aspirations.
There are very few designers and pattern makers who specialize in the plus size market, which means there is a major talent gap in the clothing industry at its most foundational level.
Age-based children’s sizing
Children’s clothing is based on age. This assumes a straight growth curve in which the child grows up and out at a standard rate. However, an 8-year-old girl who is living in a larger body may need a size 12 to accommodate her belly, but a size 12 length is way too long, leading to a poor fit.
A 10-year-old girl who is living in a larger body may have outgrown children’s sizes, but Junior sizes don’t work either because necklines and armholes are too deep, there is too much space for breasts, not enough space for tummies, and the length is wrong.
Junior clothing sizes
Kids’ sizes end at age 12, at which point a girl goes into the Junior’s dept. Many girls size out of children’s sizes well before puberty, leaving an awkward stage during which it can be very challenging to find appropriate clothing. During and after puberty, the female body begins to add weight in specific areas, but, again, clothing is based on a standard assumption for chest-waist-hip ratio, which often does not fit a curvier body type.
Brands are notorious for using their own sizing charts, which means that a woman may range up to four sizes, depending on the clothing brand. This adds significant stress for people living in larger bodies, who already feel incredibly vulnerable in the changing room.
A teen who carries more weight in her thighs may be unable to fit in clothing from one brand, while a teen who carries her weight in her breasts may fit that brand perfectly. This happens to straight-size and larger sizes alike.
The variation between brands can be mind-boggling, as shown in this example of the same woman trying on the same size tank top at four major retailers:
Shopping in the store
To avoid generating body shame and anguish, do some research before going shopping with your child. First, identify whether your child is straight size or plus size.
If your child is a straight size, then you will be able to find clothing for her in most major retailers. If your child is on the large side of straight sizes, you may want to identify retailers that tend to run larger overall, to minimize the pain of not fitting into the largest size in the store. If your child is plus size, then you will likely have more difficulty finding options at your local mall.
It pays to do some scouting in advance to determine whether your retailers carry plus size children’s and plus size junior’s clothing. It’s better not to bring your child on your scouting expeditions, as it will likely be frustrating for both of you, and your child does not need any more external evidence that there is something wrong with her body (she’s likely already facing that every day). We can’t protect our child from constant reminders that her body is not catered to in the fashion world, but we can protect her from unnecessary exposure to the tragedy of this fact.
If your local stores don’t carry an adequate selection of plus sizes, then see below for online shopping suggestions.
Regardless of size, when shopping for clothes in a retail store, the key is to prepare in advance to “upsize,” especially if your child has recently gained weight or her weight has changed its previous distribution pattern.
When selecting clothing off the rack, select multiple sizes of the same item, including one that you are fairly certain will be too large. Try to avoid selecting anything that you are fairly certain will be too small. Have your child try on the clothes from the largest size to the smallest size. This will help her enjoy whatever size actually fits, instead of starting small and trying to force her body into something uncomfortable or despairing over her body’s size.
Encourage her to ignore the size label while she is trying the clothes on, reminding her that every brand does sizing differently, and it’s important to buy things that fit well, regardless of the size on the label. Be careful to avoid bringing any judgment to the sizing process.
If she fits in a smaller size than you were expecting, don’t praise her for having a smaller body. Just acknowledge that the size fits her well. If she is too large for the largest piece of clothing in a certain style, just remind her that sizing is crazy.
Remember: if the pants don’t fit, it’s the pants’ fault – not her body’s.
Whether the pants fit or not should never mean that you provide praise or disapproval of your child’s body. Remember – and remind your child – that it is the clothing’s job to fit her body, not her body’s job to fit the clothing.
Making online shopping work
Unfortunately, most of the major retail clothing stores do not provide plus size clothing in-store and if they do, it can be very limited. An exception for Juniors is Forever 21 and H&M, both of which do a decent job of including plus sizes on the floor.
Many retailers provide plus sizes online, and though it makes shopping different in that you aren’t going on an outing and going in and out of changing rooms, it may be a better experience for your child to shop at home.
Together you can search online retailers, fill shopping carts and place the orders. Ideally, you should over-order the clothing with the assumption that you will likely return 30%-70% of the clothing purchased online. If your budget allows, try to order at least two sizes of every item so that you can evaluate fit comfortably.
If your budget does not allow for over-ordering, then take careful body measurements and consult the size charts for each retailer. If you need to do this, then consider having your child do the “fun” part of adding the stuff she likes to the cart, and you can do the hard/frustrating part of figuring out which size to order.
As the packages come in, try to wait until they have all come so that you can have a “trying on” event, in which your child tries on all the clothing at once to evaluate keepers, maybes, and go-backs. Follow the guidelines above when trying clothes on so that you can optimize your child’s experience and minimize size-shame.
This is very much like the traditional shopping trip but in the comfort of home. Once you have piles based on how well the clothing fits, you can evaluate your budget and prepare for the return process.
Some online retailers that carry “Girls Plus Size” clothing include:
Some online retailers that carry “Juniors Plus Size” clothing include: