Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Evidence-based... fashion?

The line between consumerism and obesity is not that difficult to draw, and mechanisms for this relationship are plentiful. Passively sitting in front of screens, consuming sugary drinks and snacks peddled by sponsors, forgoing outdoor activities have all been implicated in our lard problem. On the other hand, when we think of the clothing and fashion industry, we think of the opposite extreme of the eating disorder spectrum: anorexia. At the same time, some have suggested that, in fact, the unattainable thinning of the paragon of womanhood is itself responsible for the paradoxical growth in waistlines.

I think there is another mechanism at play in the fashion paradox. Have you noticed how our clothing sizes have become, shall we way, more forgiving? It seems to me that what is a size 12 waist today probably would have qualified for a size 16-18 two decades ago. Assuming that an inch has not changed that much over the last 20 years, something is wrong. Is there a big conspiracy by the clothing manufacturers to make us feel thinner than we are? This is not altogether inconceivable, since experience dictates that when one feels larger than normal, one may confine her wardrobe expansion to shoes alone and forgo a confrontation with the truth. So, encouragement from numbers may be just what is needed to drive continual clothing sales.

Another uniquely consumerist factor plays into this game: the microscopic half-life of a piece of clothing in the American closet. From where I stand, the American consumer is poised for a nearly 100% turnover of her wardrobe every season. And even if I am somewhat off in my estimate, there seems to be a sense of entitlement to a constant stream of new items. So, if this assumption is correct, it is easy to engage in a frequent deception about size by a constant creep of what is considered size 12, for example. The evidence of stable size we seek from new clothing is, thus, flawed.

So, once again I maintain that, in order to conquer our obesity problem, we need to turn away from consumerist ethic. After all, if I still have my size 12 pants from 4 seasons ago, and I can no longer fit into them, this is grade A evidence that I need to pay the piper.

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