Let’s talk about using clothing sizes as a metric of success in your health and fitness journey. Now, I’m all about setting goals when it comes to exercise, nutrition, and weight management in general. However, like body weight, I find using dress sizes as an indication of progress to be an arbitrary, frustrating, and sometimes detrimental practice.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone say, “I just want to get back to a size (insert dress size here).” If this is you, let’s uncover how this can sabotage your hard work and other metrics we can use instead.

Why Dress Sizes Don’t Work

In preparation for this post, I had the interesting experience of researching the sorted past of dress sizes. Here are a few key takeaways (and if you’d like to check out the articles I read, look here, here, and here).

  • Standard dress sizes first developed in the 1940’s after clothing manufacturers reported spending $10 million annually on altering garments to fit women’s unique body measurements. A government-funded research study took measurements of nearly 15,000 women to identify the size of the typical American woman. However, the sample size measurements were smaller than the national average and didn’t truly represent the American woman.
  • The government tried to revise standard dress sizes several times before ditching the project. By the early 1980’s, manufacturers had the freedom to define dress sizes.
  • With manufacturers in charge, so began vanity sizing – trying to appeal to consumers by adjusting sizes down. Ever been shocked to hear that Marilyn Monroe was a size 12 in the 60’s? Yea, she’d be about a size 6 now.
  • Today, manufacturers have the freedom to define sizes as they would like. The New York Times graphic below demonstrates that clothing sizes differ by several inches when comparing popular designers.

Here’s what all of this leads me to believe: we can’t track our progress based on clothing sizes, especially when we’re comparing sizes between brands or when we’re comparing sizes over time.

Furthermore, dress sizes don’t give us a complete picture of our body. For example, your bust size or width of your shoulders (shout-out to my fellow broad-shouldered friends!) may require you to wear a shirt size that is larger than the size your waist would require.

So, it reasons what if you’re killing it in your workouts and nutrition, and then you go to the mall and find that you need a pair of pants larger than you expected, you might feel pretty deflated. For some, a hit to our ego like this can decrease our motivation and even cause us to fall off our fitness wagon.

I’ll admit that at the height of my struggle with disordered eating (and distorted body image), I cringed when looking at the sizes THAT I HAPPILY WEAR TODAY. Now, I buy clothes that span a variety of measurements and range from extra small to large. And although I sometimes take a big gulp when buying a size much larger than I view myself to be (I’m not perfect), I remind myself that dress sizes are pretty darn arbitrary.

You know what’s not arbitrary? These other ways to measure success:

Some Metrics of a Successful Fitness Journey (That Don’t Require Measuring Tape or a Scale)

  • How You Feel Daily – do you have more energy? Do you notice that you’re better able to focus and have meaningful interactions with those around you because you aren’t lethargic, worried about your weight, or overthinking what you ate for lunch?
  • Your Self-Confidence – are you able to look in the mirror, no matter your dress size, and feel proud of your body for allowing you to do the things you want in life?
  • What You Look Like in the Mirror – are you starting to see some muscle coming through? Do you feel better about what you see when it’s just you looking at yourself?
  • Your Health – is your doctor pleased when he or she sees test outcomes like your blood pressure and hormone levels?

I hope this post gives you the confidence and freedom to feel amazing in your clothes and proud of your fitness journey so far, no matter the arbitrary size on the tags of your clothes. If you’re prioritizing your health and wellness, you’re exactly where you should be!