The ASOS Sizing Guidelines Scandal Shows Fattism Is Alive And Well

While it’s heartening to see growing acceptance for bodies of all shapes and sizes, the new ASOS sizing guidelines and the scandal around them show that the fat acceptance and body positive movements are only in their infancy. The public response clearly shows that so much more work needs to be done. This week it was discovered that ASOS calls a size 14 an XL. Does that make sense? No — but the furor around it misses the point.

Of course a size 14 doesn’t make sense as an XL — it just doesn’t. If we assume that a medium should be the middle, then it would make sense that would be the size of the average woman. And yet by ASOS standards, a medium is a size 10 — a full three sizes smaller than the average woman.

“An Asos spokesperson said the size XL in some of its third-party brands had equivalent measurements to a size 14 on its own sizing chart,” the Guardian explains. “The same guide dubiously labeled a size 12 as large, when the average UK woman is two sizes bigger, at a size 16.”

And it is undeniably frustrating, no matter your gender, when you deal with inconsistencies in sizing. In one shop a size 8 fits, in the other you’re a 14 — you might be an XL in bottoms, but an S in tops. It doesn’t make any sense. But the reason this is such a sensitive issue — and such an explosive one — shows that sizism and fatphobia are still alive and well.

Because would it really matter if a size 14 was considered an extra-large if we didn’t, as a society, put so much shame and stigma around being large? Would it matter if a size 4 was a labeled plus size, if there wasn’t so much judgment for being plus-sized?

Sure, you could argue that it’s just incorrect — that if a medium really is the middle of the road, that the rest of the sizes should be placed accordingly. But this isn’t about pedantry and exactness. The reason people are so upset is not that the sizing is counterintuitive, it’s because weight and size and fatness still bring out a deep, visceral response in a society that is so prejudiced against larger people.

And because we do live in a society that treats fatness this way, labels like these are dangerous. Someone battling with body dysmorphia or an eating disorder could struggle or be triggered by being told they’re “large” or “extra-large”. But that, too, has its routes in fatphobia.

So while inconsistent and just ridiculous sizing can, of course, be a problem, we need to understand the environment it’s created in. The shame, fatphobia, and sizism are what’s truly toxic — not a number on a label.