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Everything's Bigger--but Is That Better?

August 25, 2000|CRAIG STOLTZ | WASHINGTON POST

I think I've figured out why everything has gotten so big.

First, I should define my terms. By "everything," I mean, well, pretty much everything. And by "big," I mean really, really big.

Take, for instance: TV screens (last week's special at Best Buy measured 61 inches); American adults (25% bigger than the 1990 version, by weight); coffee (no "small" at Starbucks, only "tall"); women's shoes (30% are size 9 or more, up from 12% in 1986); cruise ships (averaging 800 passengers in 1990, 3,000 last year!); and bottles of soda in vending machines (20 ounces, not 12). Or consider computer screens (15 and 17 inches, up from 13 in 1997); kids (an inch taller and 30% heavier, compared with 20 years ago).

The biggest malls are now so big, they have to build hotels nearby. Kmart has been converting its stores into--you guessed it--Big Kmarts. The biggest professional athletes regularly knock middling 250-pounders into early retirement with a single collision. Though family size has shrunk over the last 20 years, houses have gotten bigger, with more rooms, bigger closets and yards, and more space for those big TVs, big refrigerators, big couches and the inevitable SUVs.

Bigness has overwhelmed the smallest, too, with one improbably huge hype wave after another cascading over our children: Beanie Babies. Pokemon. Harry Potter No. 4, the biggest publishing event ever, was 734 pages big!

Burger King recently super-sized its kids' meals, offering adult portions with the obligatory cheap toy and calling them Big Kid Meals. Restaurants, catering to patrons who consume an average 350 calories per day more than they did 15 years ago, offer bigger portions and menu items, which only makes the patrons bigger on their next visit.

At Domino's, there is no such thing as a "small" pizza. An entry-level pie is "medium." Pizza Hut's hot seller? The Big New Yorker, so big they had to design bigger delivery pouches and cutting boards. Last time my wife and I went to a restaurant, our "grande" margaritas were in glasses the size of birdbaths, served by a waitress wearing platform shoes as big as toasters.

The easy explanation is the techno-economic one: We're "enjoying" a time of unprecedented economic prosperity, and that wily New Economy we're always hearing about can swiftly deliver what we want and can afford. We have the means, we have the mechanism, and what do we have? Big stuff. It's as if we've been granted a single wish here in debut de siecle America, and our wish was: SuperSize Me.

Happily, every trend carries the seeds of its counter-trend, and there are already some sprouts. There are those anti-globalist, anti-corporate rebels bull-horning the thought into the American brain that big is bad. After giving the nod to several mergers that begat Brobdingnagian corporate entities in the 1990s, the Justice Department is choking on merger proposals and has even tried to cleave the Microsoft city-state in two.

I'm starting to itch for, well, some downsizing. My family and I went to a new restaurant and the hamburgers were as big as the kids' faces. We waddled out, our doggy bags at our sides.

Next time, we decided, we'll split an entree. It felt kind of good just to think about it.

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