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Cast your mind back to 2006. It was the summer of the World Cup, WAGs – and, as exclusively reported in Grazia, size double zero. Hollywood was full of pin-thin party girls who were exercising and dieting themselves to reach the next step on from size zero... size double zero.
Eight years on, another World Cup has started and Hollywood is full, once again, of the pin thin. Only this time, they’re heading towards size triple zero. For a while, it seemed the size zero phenomenon was over after the introduction of ‘strong is the new skinny’ – a celebration, if you like, of a more balanced and healthy attitude to body shapes. So why the return? ‘Right now it’s in to be thin in Hollywood,’ an LA source told Grazia last week. ‘Although there are thankfully curvier role models out there, from Kim Kardashian to Beyoncé, it’s a cut-throat industry and it’s no secret that stars can make headlines out of being scarily skinny. It’s not about size zero anymore. These days, double- zero sizes don’t cut it either. Size triple zero is the number-one goal here.’
The original American size zero is the equivalent of a UK size four. A double zero is a UK two. A triple zero is a UK zero–a whole five sizes smaller than a UK size 10. To put it in context: a size zero measures 25 inches around the waist; a triple zero is 23 inches – the same as the waistband on a six-to-eight-year-old girl’s skirt.
Technically, an American triple zero does not exist on the high street in the UK. But there are some US brands you can buy here, such as Abercrombie & Fitch, who use this size in their labelling. Both UK and American labels vary wildly in their size charts and there are no standardised guidelines that they have to adhere to. This has led to the rise of ‘vanity and alpha sizing’ in order to flatter the consumer into making a purchase (see bottom of story).
Along with vanity sizing, health experts also blame the recent boom in social media for the worrying rise in triple zero, and the pressures associated with the relentless phenomenon of selfie posting on Twitter and Instagram so beloved by models, actresses and It girls.
‘The selfie craze in particular has intensified this, and celebrities know that if they post a picture of themselves looking skinny, with ribs on show, they’ll get attention,’ says A-list trainer James Duigan. ‘But it isn’t always real – sometimes they’re breathing in and sometimes the angle makes them look thinner than they really are.'
‘Their weight struggles become their story. To be honest, I’ve seen this thing from a distance because the people I work with are focused on health and not being skinny, which is why they look good and feel good. When you lose weight too quickly or too severely, it just doesn’t work. The public may look at these women and see thinness, but they don’t see the injury, pain and hunger.’
A crop of girls including Alexa Chung, 30, model Langley Fox Hemingway, 24, Mary Charteris, 26, and Millie Mackintosh, 24, are particularly high-profile on social media. All fans of the selfie, their slight frames often prompt concern.
Kate Bosworth, 31, is another actress who appears to have dropped in size in recent months. And Nicole Richie, 32, the original poster girl for size zero back in the day, has been looking thinner than ever of late. ‘Nicole’s dangerously thin right now and she can apparently fit into her sons’ T-shirts,’ says our source. ‘[Her husband] Joel has been slowly sent crazy with worry while he’s been in Australia working on The Voice, but he’s back next week and hopes to monitor her eating. She just forgets and skips meals. Often she’ll go through a whole day with nothing but a bowl of cereal and piece of fruit in her. She’s well under size double zero and really struggles to find everyday wear. She insists she leads a healthy life, but you wouldn’t know it looking at her.’
Even those whose star is on the rise aren’t immune: Julie Bowen, 44, who plays Claire in the multi-award winning TV show Modern Family is becoming noticeably thinner as the series goes on, and admitted at last year’s Emmys that she starved herself to get into her dress. She caused a storm after the awards last year, with one headline asking, ‘Is skeleton the new skinny?’
Another actress, Denise Richards, 43, has been slowly shrinking before our eyes as she goes through bitter alimony battles with ex-husband Charlie Sheen. ‘Denise always stops eating when she’s going through a personal drama and her huge clash with Charlie and being thrown out of her home has taken its toll,’ says our source.
And it’s not just celebrity selfies that are blurring the (size) lines. Several high-profile bloggers now use the new ‘skinny apps’ to slim their pictures for Instagram. SkinneePix, for example, is designed to reduce selfies by ‘five to 15lbs’ within seconds, while Plump&Skinny Booth boosts your chest while whittling your waist. Add that to the widespread use of Photoshop across all platforms, social media, which started out as a more ‘body real’ realm, has become just as distorted, with unobtainable body shapes as traditional media.
So, what’s the health cost of this new sub-size? ‘Quite simply, being underweight is just as unhealthy as being overweight,’ says doctor and nutritionist Dr Adam Carey. ‘When your BMI [Body Mass Index – a calculation of your height and weight to determine if you’re a healthy weight] drops below 18.5, you’re deemed underweight. When you start to fall too far below this – as certain celebrities do – your body fat starts to reduce, which leads to irregular periods. This means they’re not ovulating on each cycle, which stops hormones being produced by your ovaries. Women need to produce the hormone oestrogen to protect their bone health, so being underweight puts you at a far greater risk of the brittle bone disease osteoporosis.
‘Secondly, when you crash-diet, you start to lose muscle mass instead of fat. This is the engine in your body that burns fuel; without it you start to get that wasted-away look. It also slows your metabolism, so eating the same amount of food causes weight gain and you have to eat less and less as time goes on. It also reduces your fitness levels, no matter how much exercise you do. Perhaps most frightening of all, chronic underfeeding causes you to lose heart muscle, which puts you at a greater risk of a heart attack.’
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that women are more likely to buy a dress if it’s in a size that flatters their ego. Retail research proves that we are far more likely to leave a frock behind if it’s too small for us than seek out a larger size. The famous example of the results of vanity sizing is taken from the US department store Sears. In 1937, a 32in bust registered a size 14, but by 1967, the same measurement was transformed into an 8. By 2011, it was a 0.
Many high-end designers have also decided to go in for ‘alpha-sizing’: the practice of reducing size ranges to only four variants: 1-4 or XS-L.
The result of the lack of standardisation of sizes is complete chaos. Compare three different brand’s size 10: at Zara, you need measurements of bust/waist/hip 35.4in/27.5in/38.6in. At Asos, it’s 34in/26.75in/36.75in – a difference of nearly 2in at the hip. Designer clothes often offer smaller cuts – Carven’s size 10 bust measurement comes in at a weeny 32.25in.
Such shifts are reflective of a growing (outwards) population. On average, women’s measurements are larger than ever, which has led to demand for new, larger cuts as shoppers still wish to wear ‘standard’ – usually up to a 16 – sizes. Conversely, this has sized smaller women out of the market, leading to the rise of the triple zero. However, when size is the benchmark for self-worth, these extreme negative sizes are leading to women aspiring to be a shape that could be dangerously unhealthy for their frame.
Size confused? We are too. Check back tomorrow for a full debate on the politics of sizing. Plus pick up Grazia tomorrow to see on the page just how small a 000 is...
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