We can add more ammo to women’s fight against unrealistic body expectations: A 2016 study found that the average woman in America is not the size 14 we’ve been told for decades: she is actually between a size 16 and 18. (1)
The Average Woman Is Not A Size 14
Like many women, Deborah Christel and Susan Dunn understand how difficult shopping for clothing can be, especially for larger women. There are fewer choices for plus-sized women, who can often feel completely forgotten about when it comes to fashion and clothing. They believed this was because the retail industry’s idea of the “average woman” – a size 14 in America – was incorrect. (2)
The two women, who are both faculty in the department of apparel merchandising, design and textiles at Washington State University, set out to see if their hunch was correct. (2)
They studied the measurements of over 5,500 women living in the United States. They discovered that the average waist measurement in the last two decades increased by 2.6 inches: From 34.9 inches to 37.5 inches. (2)
According to the CDC, in 2019 that average is now 38.7 inches. (3)
Inches to Clothing Sizes
Those extra inches found in the 2016 study equate to between a size 16 or 18, which corresponds to a women’s plus size 20W. (1) Those reported by the CDC mean that the women on average in America wear a large or extra-large pant size or a dress size 18 to 20. (4)
The waist measurements and sizes for different races and ethnic groups experienced even greater distinctions. (1)
Yes, the size of the ordinary woman has changed in recent decades. Unfortunately, the stores have never really accommodated for the “average” on their racks. (5) Despite the former average size 14, access to fun, stylish fashion for anyone who wears above a size 12 has traditionally been a challenge. Most stores just don’t carry anything bigger. (5)
The Goal of the Study
This study, published in the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology, and Education, proves the fact that the common woman is bigger than the fashion industry either naively claims or wants us to believe.
Dunn and Christel’s hope is that this study will be a catalyst for change in the industry and make shopping more inclusive for curvier women. (2)
“We hope that 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. And we hope that the apparel industry can see the numbers and know that these women aren’t going away, they aren’t going to disappear, and they deserve to have clothing.” Sunn said in an email to Today. (2)
She explains that larger females are just as deserving of stylish clothing that fits well as any other person. Their sizes should be included with the rest of the clothes, not shoved to the back in a small plus-sized section, or only available for purchase online. (2)
The reality is that the retail shopping experience excludes the average woman. This costs retailers plenty of potential sales and is highly damaging to women’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth.
Hopefully as the demand for more inclusive shopping experiences and body-positive advertising grows, sizing and self-esteem will grow with it.
Keep Reading: ‘I make toilet paper out of old clothing for our family-of-five’
- ‘Average American women’s clothing size: comparing National Health and Nutritional Examination Surveys (1988–2010) to ASTM International Misses & Women’s Plus Size clothing’ T&F Online Christel, Deborah A. Published July 14, 2016.
- ‘What’s ‘average’? Size 16 is the new normal for US women’ Today Jenna Fratello. Published September 29, 2016.
- ‘Body Measurements’ Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.
- ‘What Is the Average Waist Size for Women?’ Healthline Kimberly Holland. Published June 12, 2019.
- ‘Inside the fight to take back the fitting room’ Time Eliana Dockterman.