Size Zero

What is size zero?

Size zero is an American clothes size for women, the equivalent of a British size 4. The average woman in the UK is at least four sizes bigger than this, wearing a size 14-16. A size zero woman has a waist-size of 22 inches, the same as a typical eight year old.

The ‘size zero debate’ focuses on the fact that a number of catwalk models and some celebrities are, or strive to be, a size zero. The debate has attracted lots of media attention in recent times, due in part to the deaths of two catwalk models from eating disorders in 2006.

Models with a BMI (body mass index) of below 18 were banned from Madrid fashion week in 2006. BMI is a measurement used to determine whether someone is a healthy weight for their height. A healthy BMI should be between 18.5 and 24.9 and anything much above or below this range can indicate health risks (although professional athletes can sometimes have very low BMIs and remain healthy).

Since the ban, other designers and fashion houses have either followed Madrid fashion week’s example or faced criticism for continuing to use size zero models.

Size zero is so controversial because for most people it is only achievable by very extreme dieting and exercising, which can lead to full-blown eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. Eating disorders can lead to a whole host of serious health problems and even death.

Dying to be fashionable?

Uruguayan model Luisel Ramos died of heart failure in 2006 aged 22 after a catwalk show, following a period of starving herself in a bid to become a more successful model. Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston died a few months later aged 21, after suffering from anorexia. A year later Luisel’s 18 year old sister, Eliana, also a model, died from suspected malnutrition.

It’s not just the fashion world that has come under fire for promoting the size zero look, Hollywood celebrities have faced criticism too.

Simple Life star Nicole Ritchie has often shocked with her super-skinny appearance and British actress Keira Knightley’s waif-like frame has meant she has had to deny rumours that she suffers from an eating disorder on more than one occasion. Mischa Barton, Kate Bosworth and Lindsay Lohan are other young Hollywood stars who often attract media speculation about their ultra-thin bodies.

Some critics of size zero argue that the designers and modelling agencies who continue to use size zero models are encouraging eating disorders and putting the models’ health at risk as well the wider public’s, who are influenced by what they see on the catwalk and in magazines.

The other side of the argument is that some girls are simply naturally tall and slim and it is these people who become supermodels – they should not be punished for it. The British Fashion Council refused to ban size zero models from London Fashion week in 2006 but wrote to the designers involved asking them to use only healthy looking models in their shows.

The risks of size zero

There are many risks involved in forcing your body to become a size zero if you are not naturally skinny.

By following any kind of extreme dieting or exercise plan you risk becoming obsessed and developing a full-blown eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia, which come with their own set of dangerous risks to your health, including the real possibility of death.

Even if things never get this far, yo-yo dieting (dieting intensively for bursts of time to lose weight and then going back to normal) can mess up your metabolism and make it more difficult for you to lose weight in the future. There is even some evidence to suggest that dieting in this way can increase the risk of cancer.

Obesity is a growing problem in the UK but trying to achieve an unrealistically low body weight by comparing yourself to a handful of supermodels will only cause heartache, anxiety and maybe even serious illness.

The best bet is to maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating a balanced diet, taking some regular exercise and focusing on keeping your mind healthy and happy!

Who can help?

You can find out your BMI (body mass index) by visiting the NHS Direct website here: www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk/magazine/interactive/bmi/index.aspx and entering your weight and height.

If you think you might have an eating disorder, or know someone else who has, you can visit beat (‘beating eating disorders’) at www.b-eat.co.uk/Home for advice and information.

You can also call their youth helpline on 0845 634 7650 or email help@b-eat.co.uk.

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