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By Virginia Bola

Offer a woman the choice between a dress she likes a lot, that fits well but is size 12, and a dress she likes, which also fits well but is labeled size 8, and she'll take the lesser sized item every time.

Why are we so hung up on sizes? Men don't care. If something is too snug, they just go to a larger size. If the fit is a little tight for a woman, she'll buy it anyway, and swear to lose a few pounds so it fits more comfortably. We will never go to a larger size that hangs loose -- it makes us feel overweight and bloated.

Many years ago, I worked in the garment district. I was shocked to learn that, as manufacturers, we were allowed to change a label two sizes in either direction if that was necessary to fill the retailer's order. Two sizes is a big difference! That's when I learned to ignore labels, especially during sales. Often the only reason something really nice is still hanging on the rack, despite deep price reductions, is that the marked size is inaccurate. I acquired a lot of inexpensive, beautiful clothes that way.

The female obsession with sizes has not been lost on the production folks. A size 8, for example, is now two and a half inches bigger around the waist than its size 8 counterpart 30 years ago. There are now sections in stores carrying size 2 and size 0 (what?), just to make us feel good. Pay more for your clothes at a fancy department store and I guarantee you'll fit into a smaller size than at the local K-Mart.

I buy the same size now as the clothes that have been sitting in my closet for ten years while I "get back on track." Strangely, the new clothes fit while the older ones still refuse to button. In as short a period as ten years, sizes have grown one to two inches!

Where's the reality? As a nation, we are getting fatter all the time. More than 60% of us are overweight, more than half of that number physiologically obese. Yet apart from specialty outlets such as Lane Bryant, the stores are filled with standard sizes. The old humiliations of a size 18 to 24 have been cleverly replaced by Womens 1X, 2X, and 3X to be more acceptable.

Does the fact that we fit into "smaller" sizes contradict our growing national girth?

No, it's just one more instance of the mutual-fooling-ourselves in which we so delight. Let's be honest and look at the size of our bodies, not our clothes.

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Dr. Bola is a psychologist and an admitted diet fanatic, specializing in therapeutic reframing and the effects of attitudes and motivation on individual goals. Visit her at: