If You Don't Fit, You Don't Fit
By Camille Devincenti
When Ella Grove walked into a Brandy Melville at fifteen, she knew exactly what she wanted to buy. It was a long sleeve, sparkly pink shirt that would be perfect to wear for her birthday dinner that night. She picked the shirt off the rack and walked past the carefully folded stacks of crop tops and shirts with activist slogans like “raise boys and girls the same way.” A young, skinny, blonde sales associate led her into the dressing room, protected by only a thin white curtain. As soon as Grove tried to squeeze the shirt over her shoulders, she realized something was wrong. On her 5’9, size 6 body, which was average for someone of her stature, the pink sparkly shirt she had dreamed of wearing on her sweet 16 was far too small.
Brandy Melville, a trendy clothing boutique catered towards teenage girls, only carries a select few small sizes in their stores - some marked as “one size fits all” on their clothing tags. “It’s not that all of the styles at the store are smalls and extra smalls only, the store carries things in sizes x-small to medium, but everything that is sold is only sold in one size of that item. I think they should change the one size fits all to just one size,” said Britney*, an employee at Brandy Melville. In reality, their clothes are limited to those who wear a size zero, excluding many teenage girls from getting the opportunity to shop at Brandy Melville and promoting the unrealistic body standards that are prevalent in our society and in the fashion industry.
Limited sizing in clothing stores that only caters to petite body types has caused a shift in our society that dictates size zero as the most desirable body type. One of the main reasons for this shift is that carrying smaller sizes that only some people can fit into creates an aura of desired exclusivity around the brand. This exclusivity is the reason why Brandy Melville, which has almost 4 million followers on Instagram, continues to be wildly popular the past five years it has been in existence in the United States.
Since her last experience, Grove has not set foot in a Brandy Melville store. “I think that selling one size isn’t really a good marketing technique to begin with, since it’s for a small range of people, but I think it would be less of a big deal if they sold it as “petite” clothing or “fits sizes 00-2”, or like the general size it would fit [instead of claiming one size fits all],” she said. “I never have an issue finding clothes that fit me. The only experience I’ve ever had with this was at Brandy.” According to a study in the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, the average woman in the United States wears a size 16. One of the leaders of the study, Susan Dunn, told USA today that she hopes “this information can get out and be used by industry and consumers alike. Just knowing where the average is can help a lot of women with their self image.” Unfortunately, for many young women just like Grove, Brandy Melville just adds to their self image woes and sets an unrealistic expectation for teenage body types.
Body image, the way one perceives their body and thinks that others perceive them, is directly related to self-esteem. Since a limited amount of women naturally possess the body type Brandy Melville clothing requires, those who can’t fit into it suffer a blow to their self esteem. “I am not sure why the sizing is the way it is. A lot of people that are unfamiliar with the brand, especially a lot of mothers shopping for their daughters will ask if there are other sizes available… I have heard girls say they like something but can’t try it on because it wouldn’t fit them,” Britney* said. Low-self esteem can lead to more serious problems among youth, including eating disorders, depression and substance abuse. According to one study done by the National Institute on Media and the Family, at age thirteen, 53% of American girls are "unhappy with their bodies." This grows to 78% by the time girls reach seventeen.
Much of Brandy Melville’s marketing emphasizes the message that being thin makes one more attractive. “I do not agree with the image that Brandy Melville operates on, the ‘Brandy Melville girl’ being a tall blonde modelesque looking girl and that looks matter in terms of working… I often question why I was hired because I feel like I do not fit the image of a Brandy Melville girl which has kind of made me a bit insecure,” Britney* said. Promoting the “thin ideal” contrasts with the reality that teenage girls come in a variety of body types and fit into a wide range of clothing sizes.
Representing only one body type as beautiful is toxic and unrealistic. Brandy Melville’s limited sizing does not only exclude girls who are overweight; it excludes the athletes with a little extra muscle, the tall girls who need longer-fitting tops to cover their stomachs, and the girls with curvy, pear-shaped physiques. This unrealistic ideal adds to the pressures girls face on a daily basis, not only from models or clothing brands in the fashion industry but from images of women all throughout the media, and can lead to increased body dissatisfaction and disordered eating amongst teenage girls. “In terms of me fitting into things at Brandy… I feel as though some things would look better on someone smaller than me, which can make me feel like I need to change something about my body,” Britney* said.