For years, I lived in horror of my hips.
From the moment they appeared – those marvelous pre-teen years – it was drilled into me that they would be a lifelong bane. They were genetic, my mother told me, ‘birthing hips’ that would one day come in handy when I actually gave birth (I write this at seven months pregnant, and, let’s be honest, this does suddenly seem appealing). I hated them. Jeans didn’t fit me as well as they did my 13-year old friends. They were just there, somehow flawed and wrong. Models didn’t have hips like mine; they were the easiest barometer to read, as unhealthy as that is. And, most of all, for a tween who just wants to fit in, they were different.
Two decades later, I look back at pictures of my pubescent self and laugh. I looked great. I would never again be so skinny or have such youthful skin. But I also look back with the accumulated knowledge of someone who has spent years measuring and fitting women for clothes. And guess what: pear-shaped is normal. Average, even. Wait – really? So why do clothes fit me and my hips so poorly? Let me explain.
Because Kit, my company, makes clothes to fit real women’s bodies – a dress cut to fit your actual body, not some off the rack size – we need to know what those bodies look like. When we first started, I thought, “Ah, we’ll just need to find a big database of women’s measurements. That will tell us what women’s bodies look like.” Easy peasy, right?
Well… would it surprise you to know that the first and only large-scale survey of American women’s bodies was done in the 1930s? By the Department of Agriculture? Measuring only white women in their 20s? Hmm… doesn’t seem so comprehensive, does it. And then, to make things worse, we used that data to build our industrial sizing systems, both numeric (0-12, initially) and alphabetic (S-M-L). Ever wonder why clothes never seem to fit? It’s because they were based on the body of a 22-year old white woman living in New York in 1937. I kid you not.
Along the way, brands realized that this might not be the best way to approach sizing, so they all started building in their own variations. The Gap, for instance, owns Gap, Banana Republic, and Old Navy, and each of them have their own sizing charts. So a size 6 at each of those retailers, all part of the same company, fits differently. But you already knew that.
Which leads me back to where I started: what do women’s bodies actually look like? According to all of the data we’ve amassed over the last three years (aka actual measurements), the majority of American women weigh between 130 and 180 pounds. They are typically between 5’2” and 5’7.” And they’re most likely a bit pear-shaped – WE HAVE HIPS! The older we get, the more likely we are to carry weight in our bellies.
Those ranges are really wide, right? That’s because there’s such diversity in women’s bodies that it’s hard to even come up with average ranges. I scrolled through all of our measurements before writing this, and that magically proportioned 36-24-36 woman? Yeah, we haven’t ever seen a woman with those measurements. Not one. Virtually no one has a 24” waist.
Many of you reading that might be nodding about now: yep, sounds like me. But if not, don’t stress. We measure dozens and dozens of women, and very few of them are ever the exact same. I always tease my friend Kate, because though we are almost exactly the same height and weight, I am super pear-shaped and she is super busty so we could never, ever share clothes. If you put us together, we could be Marilyn Monroe with her bust and my hips. Or, conversely, a completely curve-less woman with my flat chest and her narrow hips.
Above all, we’ve learned that women’s bodies are incredibly unique. Sadly, rather than celebrating that (other than those great Dove ads), we have spent generations striving for some false ‘normal’ that doesn’t really exist. When we measure women, they constantly apologize for their bodies – “Sorry I’m so busty, these girls are impossible to contain” – or explain why some feature isn’t ideal – “I had knee surgery and gained weight, and while my stomach is back in shape, my hips are being stubborn.” This happens, literally, all the time.
So, yes, I have my mother’s hips. But so do many women. Others have their mother’s comfy bosom or their grandmother’s broad shoulders. And think about it: why should you ever be anything other than the accumulated genetics that make you who you are? You’re great, so much more than a size or a body. Don’t apologize for those hips, or whatever your bête noire body part is. There are bigger fish to fry… like how to get that dewy 13-year old skin I once had. Just kidding! World peace, let’s start with world peace.