Deena Shoemaker was organizing her closet when she was struck by the realization that her pants come in a range of dramatically different sizes, and that her size 6 pants fit her exactly the same way a size 12 did.
This mattered to her as she’s been working with preteen and teen girls for years, first as a camp counselor and church youth leader and now as a mentor coach at a nonprofit organization that supports at-risk kids.
When she noticed the varying sizes in her closet, she flashed back to the countless heartbreaking questions and statements she’s heard from young women about their weight.
“I remembered all the times I’ve heard girls say they’re ‘fat’ because they went up a pant size, or talked about all the diets they’ve been on,” Shoemaker told The Huffington Post. “I’ve tried telling them it’s not true but they never really seemed to believe me. All the pieces fell into place for me when I saw my own pants. The lies they were believing were coming from something so commonplace that they didn’t even recognize it as the source of their hurt.”
So the 27-year-old Kansas resident posted a photo collage on Facebook that shows just how misleading the number on the tag actually is.
“… When you resize a girl’s pants from a 9 to a 16 and label it ‘plus size,’ how am I supposed to fight that?” she wrote. “Photo manipulation is one thing but how do you expect me to convince her that the number printed inside her clothes is a lie too? How do you expect me to convince her that she doesn’t need to skip dinner for the next month because her pant size didn’t ‘actually’ go up by seven digits?”
She had hoped that some of the girls she has worked with in the past would see the post. Instead, it went viral, with over 52,000 shares. While she never expected to reach so many people, she’s glad her message to the fashion industry and young girls is getting out there.
“STOP telling my girls that a size 4 is the ‘ideal body size’ and the ‘epitome of beauty’ if you’re going to change a size 4 into an 8 or a 12 or whatever number you feel like on any given day,” she wrote.
Many of the kids in Shoemaker’s mentoring program have been abandoned by one or both parents, and as a result they may struggle with everything from cutting to suicidal tendencies to anorexia and bulimia.
“They’re dealing with some pretty intense stuff as it is,” Shoemaker told HuffPost. “When you’ve got the fashion industry telling them they’re not good enough because they’re the wrong size, that’s just added stress on top of everything they’re already dealing with. They deserve something better than that. They deserve to know their true value.”
Although getting every clothing retailer on board with a standard sizing scale doesn’t seem likely, Shoemaker ultimately feels that the most important thing society can do to promote positive body image is to focus on health over size, and to remember that lower sizes don’t always equate to healthier people.
The powerful message at the end of her post says it all:
“And to you; my dear beautiful girls, my size 2 girls or my size 18 girls, your size doesn’t determine your beauty; your life does. The size printed inside your clothes is subjective to the fashion industry’s personal taste and it fluctuates rapidly. Stop believing the social normatives about who and what you should be. You are lovely and you are loved. exactly the way you are.”