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Cut Down to Size By a Cloak of Deception


You'll have to excuse me.

I really did intend for this to be my annual foray into the world of bathing suits, to report back to you on what designers had come up with this year to make us pay $100 for a few square inches of ridiculous fabric that leaves us feeling utterly humiliated and disheartened.

But I just couldn't go through with it.

I walked past the racks of new offerings in The Oaks Mall in Thousand Oaks--some had tags guaranteeing that the stretchy material would instantly make its wearer look a size smaller--and realized that the dressing room ordeal would be too much for me.

After a week of what a kind person would call not eating properly or exercising regularly, slipping into a bikini seemed a bit like putting a G-string on a blowfish.

So I took the escalator upstairs instead, wandered into a brightly lit store and picked up a pair of designer-label pants.

And that's when the strangest of events, the miracle of miracles, happened to me.

The size I've worn for the last couple of years--more or less, anyway--hung like a sack on me. I left the dressing room and grabbed the next smaller size, thinking there'd been some mistake.

Weird but true, the same thing happened again.

It wasn't until the third trip--and having put on a size I last wore in the sixth grade--that I found a pair that fit.

I was elated. This was wonderful. Trotting up to the cashier, I was already picturing how my best-selling book would begin.

"You've probably been on every diet and nothing worked. But so was I . . . until I discovered COMPLETELY BY ACCIDENT how I could lie on the sofa all weekend, eat chocolate truffles and drop two sizes . . . instantly!!"

Everything seemed perfect, except for one little thing.

When I got home, I realized my bathroom scale would have to be replaced. It told me I was no thinner than before.

Later, to my chagrin, I learned the awful truth: The bathroom scale had nothing to do with it.

"Women who are paying designer prices would rather be a Size 8 than a Size 10," says Greg Lutchko, a Los Angeles public relations executive who counts among his clients several high-end designers.

"So if the label says it's a Size 8--even if it's really a 10--that could be the deciding factor in whether they buy or not. It's a psychological thing."

Beyond my experience the other day, I know this to be true. When I asked a beautifully dressed friend of mine if she's ever been swayed by a garment's size, her eyes widened as if I'd read her mind.

"I just bought a pair of pants over the weekend because they were a Size 6," she said. "I didn't even like them that much. But I couldn't believe I could get into them."

Couture designers, of course, have known this for years and have cut their thousand-dollar clothes larger to flatter the woman with money to burn. But now the practice is reaching everyone else.

And what that means to you is that, whether you're trying on a Donna Karan suit or a pair of L. L. Bean pants, chances are good it'll be in a size that's smaller than you're used to.

"I've gained weight, and I know it's really depressing when you go out and say you're a Size 8 and the Size 8 doesn't fit," says Los Angeles designer Maggie Barry, who doesn't alter her sizes because her mostly stretchy fabrics naturally allow women the illusion of fitting into smaller sizes. Still, she says, she understands the motivation.

"We've had people get so upset when we say they should wear a medium, and they insist on squeezing into a small," she says. "The fact is, a lot of women are not going to buy in a size they don't want to be."

A lot of those women, it turns out, are just like me: baby boomers whose bodies are succumbing to the greatest enemy, gravity. And it's not just happening to a few.

University studies have shown that even older women who have a Stairmaster as their Significant Other--and who watch what they eat--are seeing the effects of aging and gravity: thicker waists, flatter rears and broader backs. Depressing to be sure.

But do we panic? Of course not. Better to call in that old standby of self-deception.

It's the modern answer to an age-old problem, a perfect way to win the battle of the bulge forever.

And it works too.

Just don't go near the bathing suits.

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