Hermione Eyre: Women are too savvy to be fooled by size 'zero'

It is easy to blame fashion trends and actresses for eating disorders. The causes are more deep-seated

Share

High street shops are stocking clothes so small they are labelled size "zero", it emerged last week. Cue great concern from the British Dietetics Association, which thinks that the tiny size is something young women, already bombarded with images of glamorous stick-thin actresses and models, "may start trying to achieve". And cue horror from commentators such as former Cosmopolitan editor Marcelle D'Argy Smith, who said this represented "the death of the grown up woman".

I can't share her alarm, myself. I find the whole idea that women's pretty little heads are about to be scrambled by the arrival of size "zero" rather noxious. Women shoppers are more savvy than that. They know that the size "zero" comes from the American scale of sizing and that it is therefore not five whole sizes smaller than a UK 10. It is, in fact, equivalent to a British size four. All the "US size zero" clothes I have seen in shops in this country have also had, in parallel, on the label "UK size four", just to make this plain.

Now, size four has long been available in the UK, but when you rename it "zero" you suddenly have a headline-grabber - a size that seems to connote nothingness and invisibility, as if the woman wearing it has dieted herself out of existence. Are British women really going to start deleting themselves like this? This idea is far more dramatic and compelling than the truth - that size four is available in Topshop's special "Petite" range, that is marketed to 12-14 year old girls, and that it accounts for just 2 per cent of sales in the Petite range.

We seem addicted to the idea that women are nervous, unstable creatures who, if presented with a new label size, will start starving themselves to fit into it. The news that the Hollywood actress Eva Longoria takes an even smaller size - "double zero" - has been taken as further proof that women in this country are about to down utensils and admit nil by mouth.

Women are much less suggestible than that. Yes, many do have eating disorders, but this has more to do with deep-seated psychological causes than something they read in a magazine. Yes, women internalise pain and are far more likely to do harm to themselves than to someone else - but they are not so doltish and impressionable that they set off on a crusade of over-exercise because they hear that a woman in LA is spending four hours a day at the gym. Granted, this kind of information can be a trigger to an underlying problem, but it is not in itself a reason to become anorexic.

I know because I have had plenty of experience of friends with eating disorders. It is a distressing condition to see first hand. While I was at university, I regularly felt almost sub-female because I was the only one round the dinner table who was actually ordering food while everyone else was waving the waiter away, crunching the ice in their drink as if it were a delicious snack and lying through their teeth about the enormous amount they had eaten at lunch.

But that kind of behaviour died away when they got older and realised there was no way you could starve yourself and hold down a good job, go out in the evenings or do anything worthwhile: my friends, thank heaven, chose life rather than a state of emaciated inertia. This is the route most women follow, but the media fixation with the ones who don't - the LA models whose lives are so abnormal that they can spend a large percentage of their time lifting dumbbells - reinforces the image of women as victims, as freaks, as slaves to vanity.

We are taught from an early age to believe that women are like this. Just look at the story of Cinderella. The ugly sisters are so desperate to fit their feet into the slipper that they saw off their own toes and hack their heels into bloody stumps. This is the kind of freak show that we seem to believe says something intrinsic about the state of femininity. But in real life, women are far from like this. They are much too generous in the way they live - supporting families and friends - to spend all their energy thinking about themselves and their figures.

The women who put their lives on hold to fit into a size four or a size zero are absolute anomalies. They are either ill, or famous (and possibly both). My friends and I have a sure-fire way of spotting a celebrity. If you see someone in a bar whom you think you recognise ("Could that be Anna Friel sitting on the banquette over there?"), you then size them up. Are they more petite than is natural? Are they slimmer than everyone else in the joint? If so, they probably are the famous person you took them for. If there's a natural spread about the thighs, a whisper of bulkiness in the hips, chances are they are simply a lookalike.

It is easy to blame fashion trends and actresses for eating disorders. In truth, the causes are more deep-seated and more disturbing: the fact that girls are still brought up to believe that what they look like is more important than what they have to say; the fact that they live in a culture that values its women so little they are still paid 20 per cent less than men for the same work; the way women's reproductive choices are still patrolled by male-run institutions such as the Catholic Church.

There are plenty of real causes of female desperation out there. A new label on an old pair of denim jeans isn't going to tip us over the edge: please, give us that much credit.

h.eyre@independent.co.uk

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
Harvey Proctor's home was raided by the Met under a warrant investigating historical child sexual abuse  

Harvey Proctor: A gay sex ring in Westminster? I don't believe it

Harvey Proctor
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk