Today, I weighed in at 218 pounds. Dropping about 18 pounds since I earnestly started my quest to shed excess weight and get fit meant that I needed new pants, as my old ones had been stretched to the very limits of their endurance and held there so long that the very molecular bonds of my waistband were about to shatter and unleash destruction upon mankind. They were nuclear pants.
I waddled off to Kohl's to pick up a couple of new pairs of jeans and some business casual pants for client meetings. Jeans first, as I live in those things. Since I carry a disproportionate amount of weight in my belly, it's important to me to have pants that fit well without essentially acting as a push-up bra for my belly blubber, forcing it upward and outward, causing people to wonder if maybe I'd had belly implants to enhance my natural rotundness.
I settled on a couple of pairs of Lee jeans. They fit well, were inexpensive, and didn't accentuate my belly. I'm easy to please. Best of all, these jeans were 36 inches in the waist, down from the 38 inches of the nuclear pants. In the Levi's Dockers pants I picked up for business casual situations, the 36" was a little tight, but the 38" fit well. This struck me as a little weird, but hey, I was down a size in my jeans, so I was happy.
Back at home, I had a pair of dress pants I've kept around for a while that measure 36 inches in the waist. I figured since I was in that neighborhood now, I might as well give them a try. As I slid my legs into them, I could tell that even if by some miracle I could even zip the things up, the very act of doing so would force my belly fat up my rib cage with such force that my head would explode.
You thought I was going to use the image from Scanners, didn't you?
That seemed strange, but I couldn't get too concerned about one errant pair of dress pants that had been following me around for years. Maybe they shrunk on their own, like how a slice of orange will shrivel up when left out on the counter because you were going to eat it, but then you remembered it was a real orange and not yummy candy orange slices, so you went to the store to get a gallon tub of those.
It wasn't until I signed up for the premium version of Lose It! that I discovered something was amiss. In the app, you can set some custom goals in addition to your weight goal. I remember that back when I was right at my target weight of 160 pounds, I wore 32" jeans, so I went to set that as my goal in the app. First, though, it asked me for my current waist size. I almost typed in 36 inches, since I was wearing 36 inch jeans at the time. Reasonable, eh? But then there were the 38 inch Dockers and my supposedly 36 inch shrinking dress pants. When I thought about this, none of it added up at all.
I thought back to the last time I'd ever actually had my waist measured, and that was years ago by a tailor. He never actually told me my measurements, just went went off and tailored my suit pants with that information. All this time, I've been working under the assumption that I have about a 36 inch waist because my pants say so. Unlike women's sizes, which seem to be based on random, though mostly even, numbers, men's pants are straightforward. 36 inches can't mean anything other than 36 inches, right?
Wrong. So, so wrong. I had a cloth measuring tape sitting next to me so went to settle which of the 30-some-odd inches my waist really was. I spent the next 10 minutes looking confused at the tape, re-measuring, searching the Internet for terms like "how to measure your own waist", "how to measure pants", and "seriously, what the hell, pants?" and just generally being incredulous at what I was seeing.
The cloth tape came up with the same answer every time: 42 inches.
Now, it's been a lot of years since I took Partial Differential Equations in college (I was a math major for a while), but as a veteran pants wearer, I was certain the math didn't pencil out on this. There's no way that a 42-inch waist was going to comfortably compress into 36 or 38 inches of pants. My eyes should have been bugging out of my head while weeping adipose tears of discomfort.
See image above.
That's when I found out that my pants are filthy liars. Determined to sort out why all these inches in my pants weren't matching up with reality (for the interested student: Come up with your own jokes about men, pants, things measured in inches, and lies.), I buttoned up a pair of jeans just out of the dryer and measured the inner circumference: 38 inches.
Totally not kidding.
Fresh out of the dryer, these Lee jeans are already stretching the definition of "36 inches". But even stuffing myself into 38 inch jeans seemed like it would be uncomfortable with a 42 inch waist. What gives? The waist of the jeans, that's what gives. I hadn't noticed at the time, but these jeans have a waist that is designed to stretch 3 full inches up to a total of 41 inches. No wonder they fit just great. Good ole Henry David Lee is giving me 5 inches more than he claimed.
I demand satisfaction, sir.
Those 38 inch Dockers? 39 inches on the inside, with a couple of inches of stretch to them.
All these pants are such liars, they should actually be on fire.
It seems the same vanity sizing that's been present in women's clothing for years, illustrated well by Christopher Ingraham at the Washington Post, has now moved over to men's clothing to help us feel better about our growing waistlines. Why tell a guy he's got to buy 42 inch jeans, when you can keep them at 36 and just make 36 bigger? Nigel Tufnel would not be impressed.
I'm really angry about this. I'm willing to wager that the average guy in the US only knows his waist size by the size of his pants. For years I've actually thought, "Well, I've put on some weight and I'm not happy about it, but it's not too much, because my waist hasn't ballooned out to 40 inches yet." Mentally, that was a line I never wanted to cross, and I did so because I trusted that clothing manufacturers that sell their clothes in specific standard units of measurement are telling the damn truth.
Why does this matter? Well, it turns out that waist size actually is an indicator of your risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. According to the NIH, this "risk goes up with a waist size that is greater than 35 inches for women or greater than 40 inches for men". Even though the waist size measurement the NIH describes is the measurement taken between your belly button and your rib cage, rather than where your pants normally sit (unless you're one of those guys who likes to wear his pants up over his belly button), those two measurements can be remarkably close. For me, they're exactly the same.
Now I know, though, and I can measure my waist in actual inches, not "pants company" inches. I'm going to go in search of a pants company that doesn't make filthy lying pants, but I'll probably wait to make any purchases until I'm a 38. Maybe a 36. Until then, I might keep living the lie, because it does make me feel a little better.1