May 31, 2014

Size Creep

When I was pregnant, I started wearing men's T-shirts over skirts of which the waist had ferocious stretch. After all, my waist was going through a ferocious stretch. It was very comfortable to wear clothes that matched that.

By the time I was ready to buy new clothes again, it was a decade later, and I had all but forgotten what my size was. A store assistant sized me up and said, "You'd be a six, ma'am. Maybe a four."

From the way she turned away from me I could tell that my face was set to maximum incredulity. It was all I could do to keep myself from saying, "You're out of your mind. Before the babies I was a ten. I'm sure I'm a twelve now. There is no. bloomin'. way. that I'm a six."

I tried on a few things.

I'm a six.

[Original painting: The Abduction of Deianeira by the Centaur Nessus (ca. 1640) by Peter Paul Rubens, the painter of all those "rubenesque" ladies.]

I went home and rifled through my old stuff. Sure enough: a decade has passed, and now six is the new twelve. This size creep is downright creepy, if you ask me. I don't like to have my perceptions manipulated, thanks very much.

So this is how people get overweight and then obese: there's no feedback when we go clothes shopping. In fact, we all get lulled in a comfortable but false sense of security that we're still the same size as back when we were in high school.

Until, that is, you try on some real-sized clothing. Like Icebreaker woollens, made in New Zealand: Medium is still medium. Oops, nasty surprise, better order that LARGE. And -umm- "Large" is the largest size they carry. And it's on the small side of US Medium.

The same holds for cars. If you live in North America you can be forgiven to think that a Ford Focus is a tiny car, and a Honda Accord is a "regular" size. But try this exercise: Just for fun, pretend you're renting a car in, say, Great Britain. Go to avis.co.uk, and put in some dates.

When I did that, for a ten-day rental in the beautiful southwest of England, Avis came up with a menu of choices, much like avis.com would do for a rental in New England. But check out the classification of these cars.

The Mini is called "Small": okay, I get that. It's a standard Mini, not a Monster Mini. The Renault Clio (just a touch larger than a Toyota Yaris) is also called "Small". That's okay too: in Europe this class is called a Supermini.

The Ford Focus is called a "compact". We recognise that, it has the same designation in the US. But "Medium"? Oh wait: they mean, on the small side of medium. A Volkswagen Golf is also in the "Medium" class; apparently Avis has theirs appointed with more than average luxury, hence the "executive" modifier. It has air conditioning. Maybe even power windows.

Note it still has manual transmission. Also called "standard": because automatic transmission still adds $1000-2000 to a car's sticker price, and tends to have lower fuel efficiency to boot. It's a luxury item, really. As are large cars.

What Europeans call "Large" encompasses such cars as the Volkswagen Passat and the Audi A4. These "large family cars" are what in the US fall in the "mid-size" class. The A4 is pretty luxurious, as is clear from the "Saloon" designation; hey, it even comes with automatic transmission.

Its rental rate is also more than three times higher than that of the Medium sized cars, beaten only by a Mercedes E Class sedan with the "Luxury Automatic" designation. While the lineup includes a 7-seat minivan, a Citroën C4 Picasso, it contains no SUVs.

No wonder Brits think Americans drive bungalows with wind shields.

Interestingly, the size creep for all cars in the US means that luxury cars don't stand out as much. The epithet that most often goes with BMWs on the European continent is "fat". This goes for any BMW that's not part of the 1 or 3 series. On European roads, larger BMWs actually look fat; they tend to spill over the sides of parking spots, for instance. But on American roads they look like "regular" cars, nothing special about them.

Let's not fool ourselves into thinking that we, nor our cars, are smaller than we/they really are. Let's call a spade a spade. And let's call SUVs "Oversize", and large SUVs like the Cadillac Escalade "T-rex Oversize". Because they are dinosaurs.



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  1. Sadly, this thinking extends then to real estate where we have to tear old houses down because the old (even double) garage doesn't fit the family's 4 oversize cars.... The creep is everywhere. When I go home to Germany, the fridge in my mom's house makes me feel like I'm camping :-) It really is all about the perception of 'normal', based on what one sees every day. Footprint aside, a field trip to Europe would help put many a perspective in proportion...

    1. I know what you mean! I was bone-headed and replaced our old fridge with a new one of the same size: 33". But the current "standard" size is 42" (where do you _put_ a monster like that?) and the 33" are distinctly lower quality, unless you go with the expensive European brands.

      There is hope: millennials are giving up on the energy hogging McMansions in favour of a compact place in the city - where they don't need a car.


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