The Debate – Is The Zero Our Size Hero?

Jade Burke investigates the consistent trend of the size zero infecting one of the most powerful industries in the world, Fashion

size zero

The fashion industry has just been catapulted into a new phenomenon, the use of fuller-figured dummies. The new mannequins were unveiled in a Swedish store, Ahlens’, in 2010 yet it is only now that the image has gone viral, changing everyone’s perspective on the tiny models that dominate shop windows all over the UK. Charity B-Eat, for eating disorders, said to Pick and Mix that they: “Have also long campaigned for a bigger diversity of models and mannequins, to reflect the diversity of shapes and sizes of mankind.” This unique twist on a store mannequin has helped to improve our outlook on the unachievable image of a size zero, which we are often exposed to.

The size zero is an American size, equivalent to our tiny UK size four, which has been developed within the fashion industry. Many young children; aged 14 and 15, that walk along the runaways are already this size as their bodies have not yet matured properly. Due to this, there are many models that strive to look like this, as it is arguably the ideal size within the industry. This has however, resulted in grisly circumstances. For example, Brazilian fashion model, Ana Carolina Reston, died as a result of her illness, anorexia nervosa. She developed anorexia after her first casting in China where she was allegedly informed that she was ‘too fat,’ which consequently led her to lose weight on a diet that consisted of only tomatoes and apples. At just the age of 21 she lost her life, which shows us just how ferocious this working environment is.

This caused a huge amount of media backlash, as it is estimated 1.6 million people in the UK are suffering with an eating disorder, 10 per cent of which suffer from anorexia. This has led to various celebrities, such as Dawn Porter and Louise Redknapp, taking on a starvation diet to gain a greater understanding into the gruesome reality many women and young girls put themselves through to reach this unrealistic weight. The effect these diets had on these celebrities has certainly made more people aware of the dangers, which has helped to portray the harmful image of the size zero.

It seems that although various designers and high street stores have addressed this issue within the fashion industry, by using plus size models to showcase new designs on and off the catwalk, the argument is still prominent. It is as if there is a stigma attached with the idea of working in the fashion industry, that you must be stick thin to be able to succeed. This is undoubtedly represented in and around the high street with various high street chains, in most cases, using size four and six mannequins in their window displays.

Lauren Smolar, from the National Eating Disorders charity, commented on this saying: “The clothes are easy to make in that size and people report clothes selling more from advertisements meeting these (size zero) qualifications.” There seems to be a pre-conceived conception that clothes only look good on slender frames, hence why these high street stores use such mannequins to entice their customers into their stores. However, this is miss-leading and does not represent the average size female, who are the customers that trust these stores to provide them with clothes that will suit every female body shape.

There is no doubt that this unhealthy size has stemmed from the way designers create their clothes, to suit those women with a shockingly low BMI weight of 17.6, bearing in mind a healthy BMI is generally above 19, depending on height and weight. Rebecca Field, a Media Representative for B-Eat, said that: “Research has shown us that designers and high street stores use very slim models and mannequins because they say clothes hang better.” This begs the question, is there even a sufficient purpose for a mannequin in the first place?

tape measure

Due to this sizing, models are to be thin, with a bust measuring at just 32 inches, their waist at 24 and their hips at 35 inches, who often feature jutting bones, skeletal knees and hollow cheekbones. However, this seems to represent the most sought after model within the industry for some designers. This has now led to an increase in women and young girls being admitted to hospital with anorexia, as statistics show in 2008 there was a dramatic increase of 11 per cent being admitted compared to the previous year.

On the other hand, plus size models are becoming more evident within fashion shows. For example the British Plus Size Fashion Weekend that took place at Shoreditch Hall in London last month showcased this new breed of models. Demonstrating that models and women do not need to be size zero clones of one another.

Models such as Katie Green have also decided to speak out against the idea of the size zero. She was to become the new face of Wonderbra in 2008, a high street lingerie store; however she was put under intense pressure to lose two stone, despite being a healthy size 12, as she did not conform to Wanderbra’s ideal weight. This in turn made her ill, due to the strain her body was under which resulted in her leaving her modelling career. Consequently, Katie Green created the ‘Say No To Size Zero’ petition which has helped to raise awareness all around the country, informing those that a size zero is not an aspirational size. In a press release from July 2009 Katie stated: “The models who work for major brands should mirror what real women look like instead of making us feel like we should be starving ourselves to look supposedly ‘good’.”

The power the fashion industry has to influence and enforce those to conform to its ridiculous ideologies is not going to disappear overnight, as Rebecca Field emphasises: “We call on them (the fashion industry) to recognise the responsibility they have to use this influence in positive, life enhancing ways.” However, it seems that although the industry has tried to change its unhealthy image, there is still an insatiable need for models to fit into the stereotypical category of what a model should look like. Which begs the question; will the size zero ever be eradicated?

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