Sunday, July 8, 2012

Being the Wrong Size in a One-Size-Fits-All World

I am a lucky person. I have a wonderful family, an interesting job, and many dear friends. I am healthy, and I do not have disabilities that slow me down (aside from being as blind as a bat without my glasses, and having somewhat arthritic knees - but I simply ignore that problem most of the time). However, I am the wrong size.

I always have been the wrong size. I am much shorter than average. When I started grade one, the teacher brought in a kindergarten desk for me and my feet still didn't touch the floor. Going through life as a short person means that nothing in the built environment fits me. My kitchen counter is too high for me to beat cake batter or knead bread, and I can only use the bottom shelf of the kitchen cupboards. When I sit at the dining room table, only my toe tips touch the floor, and I cannot sit upright with my back against the seat back.

When I drive a car, in order to reach the pedals, I have to pull the seat all the way forward so that my chest is less than the recommended 10 inches from the steering wheel. The neck rest in its lowest position is at the back of my head, which forces my head forward uncomfortably. If child seat restraint guidelines had been in effect when I was a child, I would have had to sit in a baby car-seat until I was 9 years old, as that is the age at which I finally reached 40 pounds. As it was, my parents' car did not even have seat-belts, and we children bounced around the back seat like Mexican jumping beans.

Then there is the matter of clothing. As a young woman, I would have fit size 1, if that size had been available in rural Canada, but it was not. (My daughters, growing up three decades later, were able to take advantage of sizes 1-4, however.) My options at age 18 were to wear girls' size 14 (which was too wide and the wrong shape, not to mention age-inappropriate), to buy size 7/8 and have the items altered, or to live in jeans and T-shirts. I chose the latter option. Throughout my life, I have always worn bras that do not fit right, as my correct size is not commercially available. As I have grown older, I have also grown wider, throwing a new wrinkle into size selection when shopping for clothing. Mercifully, many department stores now have a "petite" section, although the styling often seems targeted to the 70 plus demographic. (I do not do frills or pastel flower prints.) I won't even tell you about my troubles with ski boots.

I often muse about why it is still so hard being the wrong size, and why we still have a one-size-fits-all world. In the last decade the western world has transitioned from the industrial age to the digital age, which has profoundly reshaped our modes of communication and our social practices. However, commerce and the retail industries have not kept up. There is no reason to still be stamping out one-size automobiles on Henry Ford's conveyer belts, or filling the racks with women's clothes in sizes 8, 10, and 12, and not much else. We have one-of-a-kind birthday parties, designer cuisine, individualized learning styles, and unique patterns of Internet usage. Why can't we also have computer-assisted made-to-measure clothing, and modular car interiors that can be dialed in to fit the owner? Why not indeed?

Being too short is annoying sometimes, but really it is relatively small on the scale of life's problems. I can modify my environment (e.g., keep a stool in the kitchen; put a footrest under my computer desk), or I can adapt my own behaviors (e.g., curl up on large couches and chairs rather than leaving my feet to dangle). However, some human characteristics are not so easy to adjust, such as being the "wrong" weight, ethnicity, or sexuality. A one-size-fits-all world is not very comfortable for a lot of people.

I am still waiting for the notions of post-modernity to shake up clannish attitudes, exclusivity in social affiliations, and daily unexamined assumptions. I am waiting for the marvelous potentials of the digital age to start to permeate our hierarchical, almost medieval social structures. And yes, it also would be nice to be able to buy a bra that fit.

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