Saturday, January 1, 2011

Feature Story

Size Zero Goes Out of Fashion

by Geeta Ariani

There’s a certain novelty value in fashion when having a totally starved look. There’s no denying that many models don’t mind starving themselves and suffering from severe hunger pangs just to appear on the runways and succeed in the modelling world; hence a want of a few Big Macs. Taken to extremes, this kind of behaviour can be dangerous and fatal.

A new study by the Model Health Inquiry, part of an investigation by the Baroness Kingsmill for the British Fashion Council, reports that one out of four models is coping with hidden eating disorders. The purpose of this study is to investigate the pressure on models to be size zero with “waif-like” body types, perhaps the most famous of these being Kate Moss, who becomes the same byword for “stick-thin” models as Twiggy from the 1960s. “The model population is classed at risk,” says Dr Adrienne Key, a psychiatrist who was involved in the report. “My assumption is that 20 per cent to 40 per cent are suffering from some kind of eating disorder or disordered eating.”

Zero-sized models have been in the limelight for being underweight before many of them are banned from catwalks. In that event, there is an air of expectation that the ban will change attitudes towards extreme model size requirements.

“Size-Zero” Victims

The deaths of three South American models, attributed to malnutrition and anorexia nervosa, sparked a heated debate on underweight “size zero” models around the world. In August 2006, 22-year-old Uruguayan model Luisel Ramos died from heart failure after she had been on a strict diet of green leaves and diet Coke for three months. It was rumoured that her modelling agency told her she could have won excessive fame if she had lost a tremendous amount of weight. However, it didn’t seem an earth-shattering achievement. She had collapsed on the catwalk during a fashion show in the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo before she could catch the pleasant sweet smell of success.

Six months later, her sister Eliana Ramos, 18, also died of suspected anorexia and malnutrition. She had worked as a model for an Argentine modelling agency beforehand. A similar case also happened to Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston, 21, who had worked for Giorgio Armani. The model hit the headlines not only with her success in modelling but also with her controversial death, linked to complications from anorexia after sticking to a diet of just tomatoes and apples.

The photographs and stories of these fashion models consequently were splashed across the front pages of both online and print media around the globe. In the wake of their deaths, the World Health Organisation, doctors and designers started speaking out against the size zero fashion trend.

Size Zero in Women’s Measurement and the BMI Controversy

Size 0 is a women’s clothing size in the US catalogue sizes system. The measurement is equivalent to a modern UK size 4 — 31.5 inches (80cm) in bust, 23 inches (60cm) in waist and 34 inches (86cm) in hips. With a little imagination, you could turn the waist measurement into the average girth of a British eight-year-old girl.

When it comes to a question about size, there is always a question about health. Indeed, a measure of fashion model weight today raises several health issues. A body mass index (BMI) of 18.5 or lower is deemed “half-starved” or “underweight” by the World Health Organisation. This means a model measuring around 5ft 9in tall (170 centimetres) has to weigh a minimum 8st 11lb (52 kilograms) to be classed as healthy.

In the case of Reston, her BMI was believed to be below the critical 16 mark. She was 172cm tall and weighed only 38kg. According to a nutritionist and endocrinologist at Madrid’s fashion week Susana Monereo, a BMI of 16 was deemed “extremely low” that could make models look like stick figures draped in designer clothes.

A Ban on Ultra-Thin Models from Catwalks

A turning point in the debate on the size zero trend seemed more real. Prompted by the scandal of some models’ deaths, models with a body mass index (BMI) of less than 18 were barred from a major Madrid fashion show in September 2006 for being “excessively skinny”. Also, several large Italian designer brands such as Prada, Versace and Armani were in agreement about the ban on “size zero” models from their catwalks.

For some super-skinny supermodels such as Lily Cole, Erin O’Connor, Alek Wek and Eva Herzigova, banning “size zero” models could really mean taking the cake. They could possibly face a ban from the catwalk unless they started feeding themselves.

A spokesman for designer Allegra Hicks said, “A ban on the size zero model should be compulsory across the fashion industry. Size zero is not feminine and not healthy.” Nonetheless, the London Fashion Show seemed to prefer urging fashion designers to use healthy-looking women to following the lead taken by Madrid in a ban on “size zero” models from its catwalk.

The deaths of the Uruguayan and Brazilian models might come as a wake-up call to the fashion industry and designers to stop using sickly-thin women on the catwalks and start promoting a healthy body image by using women with a realistic size and weight. The World Health Organisation, doctors and women’s groups totally agree on the use of more healthy-looking women in fashion, as they believe that ultra-thin models can put pressure on teenage girls to be as skinny as them and try as hard as possible to get down to the lowest size.

The Fantasy

The notion of beauty today seems all about size. The amount of girls wants to die for being as skinny as their favourite celebrities. To put this into context, let me remind you of the global fantasy – Hollywood.

There are many Hollywood stars that have all admitted eating disorders, including Mary-Kate Olsen, Nicole Richie and Lindsay Lohan. The media cannot stop splashing their photographs over the front cover, accentuating their shoulder bones and knee joints. They even call them “trendsetters”. Celebrity magazines somehow publish juicy quotes, criticising podgy celebrities wearing too-tight latex leggings. In this situation, the media are not too probable to blame for pressuring celebrities into committing the skeletal trend.

Size Zero is No Hero

As the media idolise skinny starlets, a leading British expert on eating disorders warns that the women’s obsessions with size-zero lead them to suffer from “famine then feast” eating disorder. Professor Janet Treasure from the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, says the super-skeletal trend is an eating disorder time bomb for both the general public and models. He also defines “famine then feast” as eating disorder where a cycle is set up when a diet is broken by the attraction of highly palatable food, and a pattern known as “binge priming” begins.

Anorexia nervosa also has reasons which are linked to the size-zero trend. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it is estimated that 0.5% to 3.7%t of women will suffer from anorexia in their life; 1.1% to 4.2% for bulimia and 2% to 5% for binge eating disorder. Anorexia is a very dangerous illness which takes hundreds of women’s lives. Therefore, size zero is no hero at all.

What Do We Do Now?

Malnutrition, heart failure, and psychological complexes are all very real consequences of being underweight. This is why the fashion industry needs to stop their obsession with “size-zero” models by hiring more healthy-looking women on the catwalks, or perhaps making fashionable clothes for full-figured women. This can change attitudes towards the perception of beauty which is always constructed in terms of outward appearance and body size.

The zero-sized isn’t attractive; the obsession is not healthy at all. Girls should stop having a mental image of their body, always seeing themselves as fat and starving themselves. We had no choice when we were born to be fat, but we do have a choice to look naturally beautiful and healthy.

Starving to death is really uncool. So — think again, sistas!

P.S. Feature was written by Geeta for the sole purpose of a college assignment. And the picture was taken from