Search AnyBody:

AnyBody Articles:
« TESCO now selling body hatred | Main | Anorexia is not a necessary part of growing up »

Blame it on Size Zero

Image C. Elise Slater
Ottawa Citizen, Friday, October 26, 2007
By Anybody member, Ben Barry

Montreal Fashion Week 2007 made headlines around the globe last week. It wasn't trendsetting creations generating the fashion frenzy. The buzz was all about Montreal's leadership as the first Fashion Week in North America to impose a minimum weight and age limit on models.

Designers were warned that any models under 16 years old and with an unhealthy body mass index would be removed from the runways and redirected to medical professionals.

Montreal's move follows similar efforts in Madrid, Milan, and London this past year, instigated by public outcry after four models died from malnutrition.

Progressive, you might think. But I have to ask: Does regulating models actually create a healthier fashion industry?

Not if you ask me, and I'm a renegade modelling agent: I represent models of all ages, sizes, colours and abilities. Sure, imposing new size limits will keep models from dying on the catwalk. But it also blames the models for being too thin when, in fact, it is not their fault; it is the designers who invented size zero and perpetuate it as the standard.

So, I say, hold designers responsible.

Fashion shows are all about the sample size. The runways we see on Fashion Television are only the end result of long process. Size zero took root the moment the budding designer entered fashion school.

Last year, I attended the graduation show of a Toronto-based fashion college. During the reception afterwards, one new graduate told me, "I wanted to design a collection that my friends could wear after the show, and me, too. But everyone said that I'd never pass if I did."

Fashion students are taught to create clothes for a standard sample size and are required to submit assignments in that size, and that size is ultra thin. Anything larger gets squelched with a failing grade.

These are our future Stellas and Karls. Teaching them to design for one tiny size limits their skill, creativity and vision. Ambitious new talents head out into the fashion world not to challenge the status quo but to uphold it -- petite gets cut in stone.

When I began my agency, I was told that my models were "too big" to fit into samples. So I'd go to the stores in question, flip through the racks and find everything I needed in a zero to 18-plus. I'd go back to pitch meetings holding up hangers full of normal apparel. More "no, no, no" Those clothes were strictly for retail, not the runway. Making samples in any other size than zero was "impossible."

Why impossible? Sample sizes don't appear out of thin air; they are designed, cut and stitched. Can't they can be designed, cut and stitched in something other than a teeny?

I don't want to do away with glamour. I love glamour. I don't want to see dowdy mug shots. Keep the fantastic clothes and the fabulous styling; just make looks attainable for a range of women.

The businessman in me understands that it would be highly inefficient -- and costly -- to create samples in every size. Instead, I propose that samples be standardized in three sizes: zero, six, and 14. If consumers can see themselves in the clothes, they will be better able to determine what the clothes will look like on them. The result, trust me: increased sales.

Canadian fashion educators should encourage students to submit assignments in a variety of sizes. Government funding for design schools should depend on size diversity in curriculums.

However, the industry can step up to the runway first. This week is Toronto's L'Oréal Fashion Week, organized by the Fashion Design Council of Canada. Why can't the FDCC publicly encourage designers to showcase a variety of sizes and offer subsidies to designers who do?

Fashion labels are only in business because of your dollars at work. Consider buying your fashions from designers who showcase diversity on the catwalk. Write to firms who stick to skinny. Without you, fashion is out of business.

I'm going to keep trying to take size diversity all the way from the rolling racks to the runways. In 10 years I know that's going to be what's truly fashionable.

Ottawa native 24-year old Ben Barry is CEO of the Ben Barry Agency, a model consultancy, and author of Fashioning Reality (Key Porter). He is currently conducting doctoral research on beauty at Cambridge University. He can be reached at

Reader Comments (32)

I just wanted to let you know how much I love your blog and love all that your site stands for!

Thank you!

October 31, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMarna Goldstein
I think it's great, that people like you is making a fuzz about this. I mean, think about it! Size zero is actually very ironic. They all want to be a size nothing? Because, by being a 'nothing' you can be somebody? That's just dumb!
We need to embrase our selfs, and celebreate the something we are, because I will definetly not like to be 'nothing'..
November 27, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMary E.
These guys have some cool T-shirts for those of us who are not (and don’t want to be) size 0!
December 4, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterChris
Man...I think I could really dig this blog...but honestly, the background is giving me a headache and making it impossible to concentrate on the actual articles! Am I the only one??
December 9, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterzombie z
I used to be 38.24.36 now aged early 50`s am far from that.Congrats for helping the average female bodies. Well done.
December 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterSexyoldlady
Am I the only one that feels sorry for size zero models??? Sounds like alot of them are gonna be out of a job!

The title of the article is "Blame it on Size Zero". Blame what on size zero? I guess its probably that a alot of women unfortunately hold it as a ideal body image.

I don't actually know how thin size zero actually is, but atleast some percentage of size zero models must be naturally that thin. For that reason I don't think they should be discriminated against and banned. But if the fashion industry holds size zero as the ideal for everyone that is extremely unfortunate.

Though, I think it is a wider social problem. Honestly is beauty the size of your belly or the amount of plastic surgery you have had? Its the inside that can only ever be beautiful, and until society realizes that, most of us are gonna be fighting a battle, we simply can not win.

Sorry if I've gone abit off topic but I have a question for you. If you could only pick one, would you rather be thinner or healthier???????

stumbleupon roxs ^^
December 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterRanvir Singh Bassi
I have major issues with the whole size activist/body image thing on the internet. Almost all, and yes, I mean ALMOST ALL websites and social networking groups cater to those who are size 14 or larger. What about those of us who are tiny? Especially those of us who are SHORT and TINY? We have the same clothing issues (no, tailoring doesn't work. You'll have to pay a lot of money to have the outfit completely restructured for it to fit almost properly. It's a lot easier for clothes to fit almost properly if you're, say, 5'5". Simple alterations will do.) Actually, we have clothing issues and the issue of people not taking us seriously, or even ignoring us. Not to mention all the "WHAT?? You wear size 0?" or the "ewwww! 100 lb? That's soo gross" comments we constantly hear. 100 lb is NOT too thin if you're 5'2". It's on the light side for that height, but NOT SICK, thank you very much.
January 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCynthia C
I think the problem with putting limits on things like the show is that it's still giving an unrealistic look at how womens' bodies actually are. I don't like that some shows are exclusive and refuse to show models who are large, but limiting models who are thin too (whether they have an eating disorder or are naturally skinny is a whole other issue, really) is not realistic. When I go outside and walk around I see women of all different shapes and sizes, and yes, some are very thin.
January 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLindsey
I like the points you have in this article, but I want you to remember that some people are born thin (I'm a size 0, 5'6, and I eat everything I want... I never diet) so instead of promoting only larger bodies people should promote diversity. Rap videos have already caused such things as padded jeans & underwear, and padded bras are now the norm, so promoting a curvy body can also have negative effects on us vertically challenged women. The point is to say that women can be whatever size they want, not that "fat is the new thin." I find quotes like "real women have curves" to be disrespectful, because I feel just as much as a real women anyone else... And promoting one size to demean another is no different than putting skinny models on the runway. Otherwise I think your argument is good and I hope you can work to promote diversity in fashion.
February 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCrystal
I really have to agree with crystal. I'm 5'8 & depending on the cut of clothing I fit in size 0-2. I eat everything i want, & i do not excerise. (i do yoga for mind though). Growing up i felt very insecure by the notion that thin is disgusting, that curves is the way to look like a woman. I tried to gain weight because of it, & had no luck. I hated my flat chest, & small hips, & wore baggy clothing to give the illusion that I am not so thin.

Although I am secure with my body now, reading size zero bashing really makes me sad because i know some people can't help it & they should not feel boyish & harrassed for it.

I agree though, that students shouldn't be restricted to a size zero, I think that should be totally left up to the designer. If they want size zero models, let them. If they want 3,4, 5 whatever let them. I've heard the argument that designers look for size zero woman because they just want the clothing to be the center of focus, not the sexiness, & curves of a woman.
February 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJess
Yeah you should be careful how you word things like this. Because it is also offensive to me. Im 5'5, 105 lbs and I wear size 0-1 depending on the pants. But I have always been skinny. I eat whatever I want too, and I dont look anorexic at all. I am pretty average size. Just because you wear a small size in pants, doesnt mean your anorexic. And I dont go around preaching that im skinny, so you cant blame us for people with the eating disorders. Yes I think its a terrible thing, but dont call us out on it when alot of us are just born with good genes. Its insulting.
March 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNikki
Hi, altho I support your effort, I think it's great to try and put out some diversity out there, not just for the sake of it but because I truly believe that there is something to gain from it, but the runway is a very close-minded part of fashion. It's almost like a sport a sad sport where you'd judge one' ability by the number of calorie they can skip in one lunch, it'd be fun if the commenter also disclosed what the models had to eat the day of the runway
"And here comes the model with the latest ensemble from Calvin Klein
"Yes quite a performance, today she had 2tbsp of vegetarian soup
"Oh but I'm afraid she's going to have to turn that down if she wants to try for the gold medal" :p
March 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRagarnok
Personally, I have a problem with the weight limit, only because I know that some relatively healthy people might feel undue pressure from it, but using generally less thin models is a good thing (or just allowing more size variation), and the age limit is a very good idea.
April 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterK B
Now, I like your proposition, because it addresses the issue in a way that's hard to refute with the business side of the fashion industry. It also fails to label women who wear size twelve or above (but really, in appearance, 6 or above...) as "plus size" as though they're a different species, a different caliber...
April 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterK B
The sentiments here are beautiful... Give all sizes a fair showing and give all women the chance for body confidence.

Oh and in my opinion "size zero" goes one worse than "little girls should be seen and not heard" by basically saying "females should be HARDLY seen and DEFINITELY not heard".
September 22, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterVic
Most women will never be a size zero. I'm battling anorexia, and my BMI is 17 - that means scary thin, no breasts, very weak. I can count my ribs thru my t-shirt, and even I know that this thin is ugly.

I'm also a UK size 8 (US 6). My bone-structure, like that of many women, is such that size zero is impossible. My hips are too broad, my shoulders too wide, my ribcage too deep. My bones are too large for size zero to ever be attainable.

The fashion industry promotes the idea that anyone can have that figure, if they diet. The truth is, 80% of us can't. Ever. It would be a lot more sensible to promote size 10.
October 13, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermarr
Most of the above posts apply to myself. At 54 years of age I am (much to my duress, lol) still 5'2" and I weight 95 lbs. I am very small boned. I eat, I EAT! I've never starved myself and I've never been bulemic. I couldn't make myself vomit if I tried! I always wore a zero which used to cost a fortune in my day, and that was if you could find them or I wore a size 12 in little girls and they were too short. I have an extremely high metabolism and I burn calories just thinking (0;
December 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDD
as far as size zero goes, a lot of it depends on brand, for example in the cheepy jeans i wear a size zero, then in the name brand jeans i wear a size SEVEN! thats a big difference for the exact same measurements. how is anyone capable of being a size zero in those? i cant even imagine being that small i'd fall over and die of starvation!
February 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersarah
Some women are actually naturally size 0s. I', 5'1, 125 pounds, and well, have muscle and curves, but smallish hip bones. I eat plenty of food, a good 2000 calories per day(And my doctor says that for my height, I should eat 1800!), tons of fruits and veggies, and exercise as much as I feel healthy doing to help with my heart and prevent illnesses. Tons of walking, a bit of weight training, nothing that burns calories like crazy, or that hurts my body... Somehow, I have to wear size 0s or 00s, when in vintage fashion I'd be a size 4 or so. I think models are too thin, but blaming it on size 0 is silly.Size inflation has happened. Marilyn Monroe is not a modern size 12, she's about a modern size 2-3 or even a 4 depending on the brand. The Average American woman is overweight, and her size is a 12. That's not healthy. Being too thin has health problems, as does being obese. Not every mildly overweight woman will become obese, but some will, and most obese people don't get enough exercise(nor do most "normal" or thin people), or eat a very healthy diet. This leads to health problems. I object to the fact there is no normal shown in media. The celebrities are VERY thin, the models are thinner than Holocaust survivors and the average woman is overweight and 1/3 are obese, which is what all the diet ads show. Curves are great, and a healthy part of a woman, but curves do not mean obese. An older woman may be healthy being mildly overweight, and mildly being overweight has few health risks compared to being obese or extremely thin. I hate how the media shows obese women as "curvy" and pretends that you're either thin and "pretty" or a sphere with no womanly curves, but simply extremely obese. A real woman has breasts, hips and a waist, to various degrees, and most people are naturally slim, eating the proper amount of calories. Very few people are naturally obese, and generally they have medical problem causing that. Men have the same issue, but they generally care less about their looks. Pro obesity websites are sad, as they pretend that the natural state of a woman is to be heavy. Most humans over history were more like Nicole Riche due to famine than Ruby, the heavy Barbie doll. Not all humans were, and it isn't good for their health to be so thin. There's a range of weight for optimal health, and people have no clue what it looks like. They think it's healthy to be overweight. Overall, I like your site, but it's important to emphasise that there is a healthy weight that is not overweight, but the BMI of 18-24, and to be safe, I'll say a BMI of 16-26 for people do have different bodies, and this is for non athletes(people who weight lift and run more than 20 hours per week.), and people do have different muscles. A person in this weight range may have a little stomach(But look flat in many shirts, just not if you saw her naked.), and will not look like a model, but she or he will look healthy and be healthy with proper diet, and it's very unlikely for her to be seen by anyone but the media as overweight. Men do like curvy women, but by that they mean they like women who are on the slim side of healthy, but with boobs and wide boned hips as opposed to a stick straight figure. There is a huge difference between liking that, and liking a morbidly obese woman who is in denial and calls herself curvy. Men can't call themselves curvy when they get pudgy, and they generally don't try to delude themselves into thinking their stomach is seductive. The models are too thin, yes, but the average woman(and man) is too fat. I'd suggest showing healthy weight women with muscle(to encourage exercise) and curves as models, not obese women or dangerously thin women. I do believe that most women suffer to some degree with emotional eating, and well, that is likely a problem with our obesity crisis. Exercise is a far better stress relief and better for the body than eating a gallon of ice cream...
July 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAna
You give "fashion" a good definition. I can feel what you write in heart.
September 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.