By SEAN POULTER, The Daily Mail, 3rd February 2007
The Asda fashion label 'George' has triggered outrage with a decision to stock size zero clothes for women and teenage girls.
The move flies in the face of warnings from the Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, and doctors that the promotion of such tiny sizes is linked to eating disorders such as anorexia.
The "G-21" range is the first mainstream collection to include clothes which go down to UK size 4 - the equivalent of size zero in the USA.
The store says the collection is inspired by the latest catwalk designs and is both "cutting-edge" and "very trendy".
The fact that such a major retailer has decided to sell size zero clothes for both adult women and teenagers at 194 outlets supports the idea that this is normal and natural.
However, the typical waist measurement on a size zero skirt or dress is just 22inches, which is the average for an eight year old girl.
The evidence from the catwalk is that the young women who model size zero clothes are often barely more than skin and bone.
Professor Janet Treasure of the Eating Disorders Service and Research Unit at King's College London, described Asda's decision as "crazy". "I am sure that size zero is unhealthy. It is totally unrealistic," she said.
"The promotion of size zero as something to aspire to is very worrying. The idea of offering such a small size seems crazy, it is so unnatural and outside the norm.
"This is a negative step. There is a danger that young women and girls will strive to try and fit into this size, which would be very bad news for their health."
The size zero phenomenon began in the United States and is being fuelled by a select group of fashion labels which insist on running catwalk collections that can only be worn by ultra-thin models such as Lily Cole.
Separately, Victoria Beckham, together with Mischa Barton, Kate Bosworth and Nicole Richie are seen as poster girls for the size zero culture.
Lily Cole says it is wrong to categorise her as a size zero. Speaking in the latest edition of Vogue magazine she rejects claims that she is less than eight stone as "rubbish" and "ridiculous".
However, it is clear that a number of young models are risking their health to slim down.
The size zero model, Luisel Ramos(correct), aged 22, died from a heart attack after stepping off the catwalk during the Uruguayan Fashion Week in August last year. Brazilian model, Carolina Reston, aged 21, died in November due to complications associated with anorexia.
Dr Dee Dawson, one of the UK's leading experts on eating disorders, described Asda's decision as "an outrage".
She said: "Asda needs to know that the only grown up people who can wear this size are people who are ill. It is not natural.
"I am appalled. This is for ridiculously thin people like Victoria Beckham."
She said: "Asda and George seem to be jumping on the bandwaggon that says thin equals beautiful. It seems to me they don't care at all that promoting the size zero culture is not good for our women and children.
"Eating disorders are a growing problem.
"Our children are going to find it more and more difficult to come to terms with puberty and change of body shape when they see there are these sizes available that they cannot get into. It will panic people."
Dr Dawson said: "When you have the equivalent of a size zero on the racks, that normalises this idea of being ultra-thin. It suggests this is something to aspire to.
"We have people who are very insecure about the way they look. They want to be in the smallest size possible. Now Asda have created a new smallest size. "These people are ill, but there are an awful lot of them. They feel that if there are other people out there wearing a size four then they should be one of them."
Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, condemned the cult of size zero as recently as last week.
She said: "Fashion and the tyranny of thinness can undermine the self-confidence of young women. Low self-esteem is reinforced by this idealised body image as represented by size zero models.
"This is not simply about the fashion industry and ensuring that girls are not exploited. There are also wider social consequences like the impact of the culture of thinness on the wellbeing and aspirations of teenage girls."
Mother-of-three Sally Gravenor described Asda's decision to stock size zero - UK size 4 - clothes as "sickening".
The 38-year-old film-maker, of Harwich, Essex, found out about the supermarket giant's decision through her 15-year-old daughter Alice.
"My daughter was quite shocked after one of her friends told her she had seen size 4 clothes on sale in George at Asda," she said.
"I couldn't believe what I was hearing and picked up the phone and rang one of our local branches to see if it was true.
"The assistant told me that it was indeed correct and that size 4 had just gone on sale. I told her I was shocked because size 4 is absolutely tiny.
"I was told that they had scrapped teenage sizes and decided to make adult clothes in smaller sizes so they would fit young girls.
"I think it is absolutely sickening because all it does is send out the completely wrong messages to young girls to strive to be skinny and waif-like.
"I know some of Alice's friends have already been up to Asda to see if they can squeeze themselves into a size 4. All this is going to do is encourage children to be even more worried about their apperance and weight.
"I thought Asda would have had a bit more sense and taken notice of the controversy surrounding size zero.
"Not only that but what is wrong with selling a range of clothes for teenagers instead of getting them to wear miniature adult clothes."
The decision by Asda provides further evidence that the fashion industry has no intention of bowing to concerns that they are pushing a belief that beauty equates to being artificially thin. The organisers of London Fashion Week recently announced that - unlike other major fashion events in New York and Madrid - they will not be banning size zero models from the catwalk. As an alternative, the British Fashion Council is setting up a taskforce to promote a healthy body image. Size zero models viewed as "healthy" by fashion houses will be allowed to take to the catwalk.
Dr Dawson, of London's Rhodes Farm Clinic, described this idea as "absurd". "You can't tell whether a model has a problem just by looking at her. I would need to weigh her, measure her and see her without her clothes on to see if she has got muscle wasting,' she said.
"To say that we are going to leave decisions like this up to people's consciences is ridiculous and absurd." New research commissioned by the Campaign for Real Beauty reveals that size-zero models and clothes, together with ultra-thin actresses and pop stars, have a profound effect in shaping attitudes.
Some 74 per cent of girls aged 8-12 are so dissatisfied with their bodies that they would like to change something about their appearance.
The figure rises to 92 per cent for those aged 15-17.
Thirty per cent wanted to be slimmer, making weight-loss the number one priority for change among this group. Prof Susie Orbach, an expert on diet and body image, who compiled the research, said: "In our image conscious society looking good is tied up with self worth. We imagine that if our own appearance can reflect the images that are all around us, we will feel good.
"This search for self-esteem turns into a frantic and relentless scramble to transform our bodies and our eating.
"No-one wants to believe that their daughter, their sistere, their mother or their friend, suffers. But they do and it is serious and we need to address it." Prof Orbach, a one-time confidante of Princess Diana, said: "Mothers tell us unequivocally that unless the images young girls and women see extend beyond the tall, blonde, thin, digitally enhanced pictures that surround them, their efforts to provide a positive role model will be hampered and their daughters' desires will be clipped, their self-esteem wounded and they will worry about their bodies and their eating.
The research found the 77 per cent of teachers believe the unattainable role models in the beauty and fashion industry contribute to low body image among girls. Asda's decision to offer UK size 4 appears to be at odds with its stated public policy, which is opposed to using models of this size to promote its clothes.
A spokesman said it had introduced the size four following a decision to merge its teenage range into the G-21 collection. The company suggested other stores are planning their own size four ranges.
"The DNA of that range is that it is very very fashion conscious, very now. It is inspired by catwalks and goes straight into store. It is for teenagers and young customers,' he said.
"It is designed to appeal to 13, 14 and 15 year olds at one end of the scale through to younger adults."
Asda said that, as a company, it does not use size zero models. While the size zero clothes are restricted to the G-21 collection.
A spokesman said: "From a corporate point of view, we refuse point blank to use size zero models to promote any of our clothing.
"In fact we cast someone to do some modelling for our clothes about eight weeks ago, but when she came up to the shoot she had lost about a stone. She was too thin and she was sent home. "We think the use of size zero models promotes a negative body image. It is something that many women will want to aspire to, but it simply not achievable. "That is why we don't have it in any other ranges and why we won't use size zero models to promote George."
The main face of the George brand is Wayne Rooney's fiance Coleen McLoughlin.
The Asda spokesman said: "One of the reasons why we have a relationship with Coleen is that she is aspirational, but her look is more easily achievable."
Asda said G-21 - which is offered up to size 18 -is similar in look to the clothes offered by Topshop and H&M. Both these stores offer size zero clothes, however these are restricted to their petite ranges for shorter women and girls.