On being … the right size

By Ingrid Sapona 

No, I’m not writing to announce the end of a successful diet. (I wish.) 

Today’s column is about vanity sizing. Never heard of it? I hadn’t either until I saw a piece on it on CBC’s Marketplace. The Marketplace team tested the sizing on jeans from seven different, well-known brands. They made sure all of them were of a similar style (for example, all might have been boot cut or whatever) and all of them showed the same waist size (38 on the men’s jeans and 34 on the women’s). They had a male model with a 38 waist test all the men’s pairs and a female model with a 34 waist test all the women’s pairs. 

They found that the men’s ran pretty true to size. The women’s, on the other hand, varied quite a lot. They varied – as in, they were bigger than the labelled waist size – by anywhere from an inch to six inches! Yes, that means the actual waist was 40 on a pair marked as having a 34 waist. I noted that the reporter didn’t explicitly say they tried multiple size 34s of each brand (to check for innocent labelling mistakes). But, given that they actually named the brand that was off by six inches, I’m sure they checked for simple labelling errors. Indeed, the fact that there was such a big variation in the same size pants was kind of the point of the story. Apparently, vanity sizing is where a company makes the same style over a number of years and they keep the same size on the label, but they change the actual fit. This way customers feel good about continuing to fit into the pants and they keep buying that brand, not realizing the pants are actually getting bigger. 

At first I wasn’t too fussed by the whole thing. Indeed, I’ve often thought sizing on women’s clothing was odd and kind of arbitrary. Those of us who grew up in North America just accept that – for some reason – at some point we go from sizes that are stated using odd numbers (7, 9, 11, 13) to sizes stated in even numbers (6, 8, 10, 12, 14, etc.). And then, over the past couple decades some stores have gone way off course and use numbers like 1, 2, 3 and 4. Why? Who the hell knows. And if that kind of randomness isn’t enough – some places now have size 0. What does that mean? Is 0 for women who are so waif-like that they’re basically ghosts? 

The Marketplace report made a few interesting points about the impact of clothing size. First, there’s the issue of how difficult it is for women to shop with confidence and ease. A psychologist they interviewed made the point that people often connect the size of clothing they wear with their self worth. When seemingly objective measures (like a waist size stated in inches on garment tags) are not reliable, it’s easy to understand that vanity sizing is a way of manipulating how women feel about themselves. For those having trouble seeing the harm in this kind of thing, I’ll explain. If you’ve been buying jeans from the company that labels the waist as being 34 when the jeans actually measure 40″, imagine how you feel about yourself when you try on another brand’s 34s and they don’t come close to fitting. Is it any wonder that some people hate clothes shopping? 

Besides being eye-opening, I think learning about vanity sizing is kind of a relief because it drives home the fact that you can’t go by the size on the tag. Indeed, I’ve been trying to get comfortable with that idea for awhile. For the past couple of years when I’ve gone clothes shopping, I’ve adopted a new strategy. When I find something I want to try on, I take multiple sizes into the changeroom. I begin by picking up the size I think I am, but I also grab a size smaller and a size bigger. Then I try them all on and hope that one of them might fit comfortably and look ok. On the rare occasion when both those criteria are met, I pretty much feel I’ve hit the jackpot. But, if all of them are too small, I feel pretty dejected. If there’s something about the garment that I really love, I may screw up my courage and try yet a bigger size, but that doesn’t always happen. At that point, I’m usually to discouraged to try anything more. 

Though I don’t think I’ll ever really enjoy clothes shopping, armed with the new insights into the sizing games manufacturers play to manipulate us, from now on the only numbers on the tags that I’m going to continue paying attention are the price. 

What about you? How do you feel about vanity sizing? Does the size on the tag matter to you? Has your size or outlook changed over the years? Will it now?? 

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... an attempt at recompense

 By Ingrid Sapona 

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about Alex Jones. Indeed, until his defamation trials earlier this year, I couldn’t have told you the name of his website (it’s Infowars). Sure, I had seen him – probably on pieces on The Daily Show (Comedy Central’s late-night satirical news program), but I never paid much attention to his outrageous claims.    

Before the defamation trials, I hadn’t heard any of the unbelievable stories Jones made up about the Sandy Hook shooting. I was shocked when I heard the details about the lies he fabricated and unrelentingly promoted, and about the agony he cause the victims’ families. I couldn’t bare to watch the trial because I was sure that Jones would use it to grandstand, but it was impossible to not hear a bit about the proceedings. 

One tidbit that caught my attention during one trial was about how much money Infowars brought in on a daily basis. I don’t remember the exact amounts mentioned, but it was in the six-figure range. I remembered wondering how it was possible that he was bringing in that much. All I could figure was that Infowars must have been selling t-shirts and hats to fans through the website. (But even then, I couldn’t imagine making that much every day selling shirts and hats.) 

It wasn’t until I read a fascinating New York Times opinion piece by Farhad Manjoo that I understood how Jones and Infowars make money. The short answer is ad revenue. (I know, can I get a DUH…) But it’s not just garden variety advertisers one is likely to encounter on Infowars. Apparently (and I will be the first to admit that I’ve never been on Infowars’s website, nor will I ever) the bulk of the ads are for what you and I would probably think of as snake oil. “Wellness” products, such as diet pills, fluoride-free toothpaste that Jones once claimed kills the SARS-corona family of viruses, and products with names like InstaHard (you can guess what that’s for). 

Manjoo’s article helped me understood how Jones operates. I’ve never thought for a moment that any of the social media “influencers” like Jones honestly believe any of the lies or conspiracies they peddle. But, while politicians might make bold-faced lies – or go along with others’ outrageous lies – to gain or retain power, I long wondered what motivates some like Jones to fabricate a lie about something like the tragedy at Sandy Hook. 

Now I get it though. For Infowars, the more outrageous the lie Jones comes up with, the more people will check out the website. (What else could explain the idea of “crisis actors”?) It doesn’t matter one bit whether people visit the site because they’re believers in the lies or because they want to see for themselves whether Jones is as crazy as they’ve heard. Jones knows that once people are on the site, a given percentage of them are bound to notice the ads for the different miracle cures. Then, the minute folks click on the ads – ka-ching! – Infowars and Alex Jones make money. Somewhere along the road Jones figured out that the bigger the lie, the more views, and the more money. 

Thankfully the families won in all the lawsuits against Jones. But, the question many of us are grappling with in the wake of the verdicts is how to stop Jones and others from creating and spreading such lies. Pointing to a “symbiotic relationship between bogus, unregulated health products and bogus political claims”, Manjoo makes the argument that going after the huge market for “alternative health products” is one way of reducing the ability of Jones and his ilk from profiting from lies. I agree with Manjoo. I have long believed that governments should be doing way more to regulate advertisements and certainly if it weren’t for ad revenue, sites like Infowars would probably not exist. (Indeed, I would also make the cost of advertising a non-deductible business expense – that would rein in a lot of the most flagrant excesses.) 

To try to silence Jones, the Sandy Hook families did about the only thing they could: they sued him for defamation. That route was not without its risks, as Jones tried to hide behind claims of the right to free speech. I applaud the bravery of the families for bringing suit, as the trials meant they had to re-live the pain of Jones’ vitriol. When they won, they argued that the only way to stop Jones from continuing to lie for a living was to hit him with a judgment that is high enough to put him out of business. It seems the Connecticut Superior Court judge agreed. Last week she added $473 million in fees on top of the $965 million in compensatory damages the jury awarded the families. 

Regardless of how much Jones may end up actually paying (he’s already entered bankruptcy and no doubt will do all he can to avoid paying), the CBC offered the most straightforward takeaway. The host of The National (CBC’s flagship nightly news program) put it this way: “The cost of telling lies … has gone WAY up for U.S. radio host Alex Jones and his company. He faces a total judgment of over $1.4 billion U.S. – that’s the price for his repeated lies.” Though putting a price tag on lies and hate speech seems crass, maybe doing so will at least make people who might be tempted to follow Jones’ lead think twice. 

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona