“Why can’t I find clothes to fit my body? Clothing stores don’t carry sizes that fit me. It makes me feel like a freak. The sizes in stores are all for small, straight bodies — not ones with hips like mine.”

After hearing these comments from a frustrated and self-conscious patient, I wanted to see just how accurate her statements were.

After all, Bella wasn’t thin, but she was a relatively normal and healthy weight. She was curvy like the beauties pictured in Victoria-era paintings, not the “thin” body type so overvalued in current America. Bella would never be that type of thin. It just wasn’t in her genetic makeup. Yet, instead of being able to enjoy and savor her healthy body as beautiful, she felt odd, unattractive and not good enough. To make matters worse, whenever she went clothes shopping, the options presented to her confirmed her negative feelings about herself. There were few stylish choices to fit and flatter her body.

Bella had good reason to be bothered. Despite the fact that the average American woman is closer to a size 14 than a size 8, and that most women have a pear shape rather than a straight shape with a less visible waist, the average American woman is not adequately represented in many retail clothing stores. It appears that there are more clothing style options in smaller sizes, and that most of those styles are better suited to less curvy women. Considering the fact that the average woman spends a significant amount of money on clothing, you would think she would be better represented by the clothing industry.

As an average size 14, Bella has a more difficult time finding clothes that fit. She sometimes has to shop in a “plus size” store or the “plus size” section of a store. This implies that Bella isn’t an average size.

Most women don’t know the facts about clothes sizes or what constitutes a normal body shape. In addition, many have bought into societal standards that are contrary to human nature. The expectation that all women, especially oneself, should be a straight-shaped size 5 or 6 is not only illogical, but it invites all kinds of emotional pain that’s undeserved and a waste of precious life.

Bella’s real frustration should be with a fashion industry that isn’t meeting her needs. She should frequent stores that do a good job of providing her with numerous clothing choices and complain to those that don’t. She should be proud of her healthy, normal body and take excellent care of it instead of being ashamed of it. She should also look for styles and colors of clothing that feel comfortable and look good on her regardless of the size on the label. Finally, Bella should pay more attention to maintaining good self-esteem. That will get her through anything and keep her motivated to do whatever it takes to keep her nature-given body as lean and strong as it can be at whatever size nature meant.

Change is possible, and we see it all the time. However, it often doesn’t arrive soon enough, and sometimes it doesn’t arrive at all. That’s why it’s so important to know when to take the reins, rather than waiting around and wishing things were different. Sure it would be nice if society stopped setting such rigid standards for the ideal women’s body size. It also would be nice if we all celebrated people for who they are. But waiting and wishing can be painful. It’s faster to take charge of the change with oneself and in whatever other way we can influence society. That could be how we raise our daughters, what occupation we choose or even how we speak up when something isn’t right.

Bella decided to think of herself as “all woman.” She started looking online for clothing stores that catered to her shape and focused on showing off her curves rather than trying to hide them. She got on with her life hoping that change on a larger scale would follow.

Previously published in the Tampa Bay Times