To be told you are not perfect enough can kill a young woman inside. Even more disturbing is the internal torture on a woman physically. Being ‘fat’ is becoming an epidemic in the UK. Although there is a small minority who are unheard and being shadowed by those who are being provided lifesaving treatment by the NHS. Eating disorders take a terrible toll on internal organs but also fertility and most importantly mental health. This is a result of the ‘Size Zero’ name tag being placed on a woman’s shoulders. Why a ‘0’? A zero is round. So why does the fashion industry relate this to a transparent skeletal frame?
Anorexia and Bulimia are the most common eating disorders in the UK and are the cause of ‘Size Zero’ phenomenon. Bulimia – known medically as Bulimia Nervosa – is an eating disorder marked by cycles of binge eating of excessive quantities of food, followed by purging using self-induced vomiting and laxatives. The result of excessive vomiting can be of the burning of the oesophagus and also cause dehydration and chemical imbalances in the blood. Controversy surrounding the deadly actuality of size zero has escalated intensely in the past decade, bringing a whole new generation of new young women that are victims of this phenomenon.
The burden of being thin on a woman’s shoulders is a heavy one, especially in the modelling industry. It is a row the fashion industry hoped had gone away. Tragedies including the death of 28-year-old model Isabelle Caro in November – who had posed nude for an anti-anorexia campaign – prompted many designers to stop using size zero models. But the demand for waifs is still widespread. In the 90s, super-skinny sizes zero figure (UK size 4) became the benchmark for aspiring models. It has since been blamed for sparking extreme dieting, eating disorders and even fatalities.
In August 2006, Uruguayan model Luisel Ramos, 22, died after living on Diet Coke and lettuce for three months – her sister Eliana, 18, died of malnutrition the following February – while in November, Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston, 21, died of anorexia. The World Health Organisation said underweight models sent out dangerous signals to impressionable girls. Prada, Versace and Armani banned size zero catwalk models, but in 2007 the British Fashion Council refused to do the same at London Fashion Week – despite a report showing 40% of models could have an eating disorder.
Two years ago, Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman attacked fashion houses for pushing ever thinner models into magazines by providing “minuscule” garments for shoots that only fit models with “jutting bones and no breasts or hips”. Young women seeking a sense of self-esteem, self-identity and confident femininity are more vulnerable to society’s seductive messages suggesting that in order to be worthy, sexy, successful, powerful and happy they must pursue the perfect body at all costs. They look up to and emulate female role models for direction about how to live as a woman in our society.
Mothers also provide powerful role models for their daughters and their personal attitudes and behaviours regarding body shape and eating patterns can have a huge influence for better or worse. Acquiring a healthy self-esteem which is not based predominantly on body shape and weight is critical for lasting emotional and physical health. Any childhood experience such as bullying, repeated harsh criticism or sexual abuse can damage growing self-esteem and increases a young person’s vulnerability to developing an eating problem and trying to use it as a way to boost their low self-worth and regain a sense of control over their lives.
Leading designers have defended themselves against accusations that they force excessively skinny models on to the pages of fashion magazines by supplying clothes for photo shoots that are too small for “normal” women. The claims, made by Vogue’s editor, Alexandra Shulman, have been hailed as a “turning point” in the controversial “size zero” debate, which has cast a shadow over the catwalk industry since the deaths of three models from complications related to malnutrition. As they sashay along the catwalks for the beginning of London Fashion Week today, stick-thin models will be the centre of attention.
Yet not all will be women: boys are now under pressure to achieve “size zero” figures, too. Health experts are warning of more men developing eating disorders. Janet Treasure, director of the eating disorders unit and professor of psychiatry at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’ medical school in London, said that images of male models had an effect on men that was comparable with the size-zero fads among women. Fashion models and stylish Hollywood starlets have become notorious for bad girl, diva behaviour while charitable works and humanitarian ventures have catapulted others to fame.
Dress size has yet to tarnish a fashion icon’s reputation. Until this year, when emaciated young actresses and fashion models began to appear in increasing numbers in fashion events and the tabloid press. But eating disorders show up in lots of industries. Modelling isn’t the only one. Sports such as ballet and figure skating are among the most common for anorexia to be present. As the media continues to debate the prevalence of emaciated models, another size zero culture continues silently behind velvet curtains.
And it’s not only in Russia. You only have to glance at photographs of ballet dancers in companies around the world to see that the problem of eating disorders is deeply embedded. Directors of ballet schools and companies, like modelling agencies and designers, are now better versed in what they should be saying when confronted with the issue, but this doesn’t mean that the problem has gone away. It is estimated that 1. 1 million people in the UK have eating disorders. The majority are young women between 12 and 24 years old.
Nil by mouth seems to have become the motto by a growing army of girls and this needs to stop. What happens on a runway is only a sliver of the problem. Better parenting and better nurturing could counsel these girls into better states of mind. Also more importantly a more sympathetic and responsible media could help to save the physical and physiological health of a generation of young women. We should be grateful for who we are – individual and unique. No one is perfect or is going to ever be perfect so why should anyone care? Word Count: 1167