September 22nd, 2019


Thankfully, skirt size doesn't actually cause cancer

Gina Barreca

By Gina Barreca

Published Oct. 14, 2014

Thankfully, skirt size doesn't actually cause cancer
When I hear "British Medical Journal" I get down on one knee: That's how in awe I've always been of the work published by this most distinguished of professional publications — that is, until the BMJ published a recent study conducted by researchers at University College London titled "Association of skirt size and post menopausal breast cancer risk in older women."

The study uses the term "CSS" — "Change of Skirt Size" — as a technical measurement throughout, arguing that if a woman goes up more than two skirt sizes between age 25 and age 50, then she is at a greater risk for certain kinds of cancer.

This is, what, a discovery? Women already feel like we're fat if we can't wear the clothes we wore in high school. Men, in contrast, only start to feel fat when they can no longer fit into a foreign car.

Don't get me wrong: I know we should all eat well, move around, and not carry corn dogs in our handbags.

And I've got a horse in this race, too: I lost my mother to cancer when she was 47 and I was 16. When I go for regular tests and explain that five of the women on my mother's side died of various forms of cancer, compassionate medical professionals inevitably look at me as if to say, "Honey, don't buy any green bananas."

I say this by way of explaining that I've spent my life with cancer as a shadow and take research on the subject seriously.

However, in reading this piece in the BMJ, I was struck by what I felt was its patronizing and paternalistic skew. I doubt there's are many middle-aged women — at least the ones privileged enough to be addressed by a study assuming they have control over their circumstances — built like lunar modules who go through life not knowing they're overweight and oblivious to the effect on their health.

It was "Skirt Size" that got my knickers in a twist: SKIRT size? Why not just go way back, past 1986 (which is the last time any woman over 30 deliberately bought a skirt unless she was part of a religious order or procuring a kilt to be used in the senior citizen's production of "Riverdance") and call it "Hosiery Size"? Speaking of which, did the researchers establish skirt size after the use of Spanx, duct tape or really deep breaths?

And only two skirt sizes? Really? After all those dinner parties and factoring in that some women have given birth to actual human beings?

How could the female researchers on the team not reject the term "Skirt Size"? They would have known that the more women spend on our clothes, the smaller the size we can be.

I, for one, can now afford to buy (on sale, with coupons, and if buttons are missing) designer garments. In an Armani, I'm a 12. When I was half my age and could only afford a polyester suit from Sassy Sally's, I was an 18W. I weighed about 20 pounds less than I do now; so did my purse.

Maybe that's what researchers need to factor in: The rich have less of a chance of getting sick and dying of every miserable kind of disease because all kinds of care, awareness, tests and options are available — including more choices concerning what kinds of food to eat, where to live and how to move around. It's not so much about skirt size, is it?

If a woman wants a glass of wine and a piece of Camembert followed by an entire brisket, I say leave her alone. It offers her pleasure and satisfaction. Do you believe the sense of deprivation she'd feel forgoing this epicurean indulgence is better for her than the endorphins released into her system because she's happy?

They tell us the two things that will make us live longer are diet and exercise. Ah, but two of life's rewards for making it past 50 are sitting down with your friends and eating whatever you want.

So don't overdo the tiramisu. Take a walk. And if you must buy a skirt, remember the BMJ and make sure it has an elastic waistband.

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Gina Barreca is a columnist for The Hartford Courant.