Madrid Fashion Week, 2006, felt like a bit of a landmark.
Following the death of model Luisel Ramos, the result of heart failure brought on by anorexia, the fashion world promised lessons would be learnt. That summer, size zero models were banned from Madrid’s catwalks and Milan also announced it would be turning away models with a body mass index (BMI) of 18 or below.
It wasn’t totally an empty gesture – as a result, five models were banned from taking part in the Italian shows, but the truth was little changed. In fact they may be about to get worse.
While the British Fashion Council promoted the creation of a task force to establish guidelines for the industry and urged designers to use healthy models, the genie was already out of the bottle.
Now American retailers have gone one step further and are selling clothes five times smaller than a UK size 10. While the waistbands are the same as those on dresses designed for six to eight-year-old girls, it’s also satisfying a demand.
The magazine Grazia claims an LA source assured them: “Right now it’s in to be thin in Hollywood. Although there are thankfully curvier role models out there, 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 any more. Size triple zero is the number one goal here.”
In vanity sizing, a 23-inch waist measurement is now coveted and the days of being able to boast about slimming down to a size eight or 10 long gone.
“The images published of these very thin celebrities are not healthy, and will not help the unfortunate young women who have eating disorders and who obsess over shape, weight and appearance,” warns Andrew Hill, a professor of medical psychology at Leeds University.
He has been researching the psychological issues relating to body image, obesity and eating disorders. “It’s obnoxious,” he says.
He points out that there are some naturally very thin people, and there are also some very unnaturally thin people, who have altered their eating behaviour and increased their exercise levels to maintain a skeletal thinness.
“At the opposite end, there are some really obese people as well,” he says. “We recognise that those are extremes, but why we would celebrate this most extreme thinness, yet revile the most extreme fatness? It bemuses me.”
While being naturally thin isn’t necessarily bad for your health, restricting food and over-exercising can alter ovulation patterns, which can in turn affect the production of oestrogen, which is important for bone health.
“Being very underweight stores up problems,” says Professor Hill. “It’s characteristically associated with bone mineral problems, and a risk of osteoporosis – things that can’t be easily repaired. The effort of getting to such a low weight and maintaining it can also be damaging psychologically.”
He says there have been similar “thin is in” cycles before, with the stick-thin Twiggy modelling in the 1960s, “heroin chic” and the “waif look” appearing 15 to 20 years ago, then eight years ago came the dreaded double zero size – a UK size two.
And while triple zero isn’t an official UK size, American brands that use the size are sold in this country.
“These generally young women are not what anyone would regard as a healthy weight,” points out Professor Hill. “They won’t all be guaranteed to have an eating disorder, but to maintain that extreme thinness, the majority will be restricting their eating.Why on earth would anyone want to look like that?”
It might be baffling for a university academic, but fashion’s obsession with being thin won’t go away.