Research Paper: Should Underweight Model Size 0 Be Used for Fashion Show and Magazine Ads

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Size Zero Debate

The size zero and subzero body image is an enduring image that has pervaded the media off and on since the 1960s, with the popularity of the size zero (maybe even subzero) model and actress Twiggy. The debate regarding using such women, in a natural state or not, meaning they are simply small by nature or they work very hard and some would say live unhealthy to maintain it, is a debate that has endured since the 1960s as well. The current trend in fashion to seek a way to be more ethical about model choices, trying to choose healthy models over the age of 16, has again sparked the debate, as some organizations and companies have even gone so far as banning size zeros from runway shows and fashion shoots (Poulter 11) (Pavia) while others like the London Fashion Week event sponsors have been reluctant to institute a size zero ban (Derbyshire). The development of this debate was sparked by many experts in health and eating disorders speaking out about continuing to allow a very small segment of the natural population to serve as the iconic and ideal image of the female human body. Though some experts acknowledge that there is a segment of the population that is naturally small they are definitely in the minority and seeking them out to use them as the ideal is destructive to women and girls everywhere.

The proportions needed to squeeze into a size zero are a 31.5-inch bust, 23-inch waist and 34-inch hips. But the average UK size for a woman is a size 16, with 40-inch bust, 31-inch waist and 41-inch hips. Size zero has been slammed by doctors and nutritionists and some experts have said a woman would have to survive on 500 calories a day to maintain it - it is recommended women eat 2,000 calories a day. ("Size Zero Debate…" 8)

According to body image expert Grogan, in western cultures the ideal body image for women is slim, we as a culture associate such an image with youth, happiness, social acceptability and even success, while the opposite is true of overweight as this image is seen as lazy, being out of control and having an utter lack of willpower, for men it is much the same but there is also an added expectation for a moderate amount of muscle. (6) Some contend that there is nothing wrong with this ideal, as it supports a healthy lifestyle and yet the reality is that this ideal has begun to go to an extreme that is, for the majority of women extremely unhealthy. This work will discuss this debate, arguing in favor of restricting size zero representation in fashion and demanding that fashion and the media begin to realize the ideal of size diversity and the promotion of real rather than manufactured ideals of health.

The Size Zero Debate

There is probably no greater example anywhere in media with regard to how youth is affected than that which is found in the fashion and beauty industry and relates to the ideal body image as being a perfect size zero. The development of unrealistic body images is a clear threat to youth, as young women perceive themselves as to fat or not pretty enough if they do not look the same as ultrathin, blemish free models, with perfect hair and perfect style. While young men assume that the image provided by the media is not only a possible body image for a woman to obtain but that anyone who is not close to that image is not attractive. It is often only with maturation and exposure that youth partly relinquish these expectations of self and others and it is clear from later research and anecdotal evidence that at least part of these "perfect" messages are retained by the individual, especially with regard to self-image. (Wolf 1) One of the first people to publically debate this issue was Naomi Wolf in the 1990's book the Beauty Myth, yet almost 20 years later the situation is not necessarily better, and may even be worse.

The development of the controversy has heated but the images are still driving fundamental identity issues among young people. Wolf states in her introduction to the 2002 10-year anniversary rerelease of the Beauty Myth that in the time she spent touring the nation with her book in the 1990s she spoke to thousands of women, who had only one thing in common, that they had to some degree absorbed the beauty myth;

There was no common thread that united these women in terms of their appearance; women both young and old told me of the fear of aging; slim women and heavy ones spoke of the suffering caused by trying to meet the demands of the thin ideal; black, brown, and white women-women who looked like fashion models-admitted to knowing, from the time they could first consciously think, that the ideal was someone tall, thin, white, and blond, a face without pours, asymmetry, or flaws, someone wholly "prefect," and someone whom they felt, in one way or another, they were not. (Wolf 1)

The development of this unrealistic "beauty myth" has been long in coming. As soon as the technology was available to do so still pictures and filmed images of actors and actresses were altered to make them look more beautiful and most importantly thinner. Iconic actresses had riders in their contracts that stated that any image taken of them required filtering. Even in silent films filters were used to soften the image of the actors.

The perfect modern example of just how skewed the visual imagery of the popular media is at present, takes a simple internet search for a before and after shot of an airbrushed model. The model who is stunning in the before picture but who comes out looking absolutely perfect in the after shot, has achieved through technology an unachievable reflection. The photographer or tech has used technology to airbrush all the flaws out of the photo. The model now has perfect skin, no cellulite, no veins or blotchiness to her skin and is what you might easily find in any magazine ad of the modern era, advertizing contextual products like fashion items or completely no-contextual items like a car or a men's razor. The implication of this type of advertizing is that the airbrushed "after shot" likely, "play[s] a major role in perpetuating an "unachievable aesthetic…" ("Warning: Airbrushing Kills") There is no sense from the after shot if it is provided, alone, which it almost always is that the image has been retouched or that the woman in the shot does not really look like the later image, but instead has a very natural looking pallor to her skin and a few blotches of discoloration. In this shot there is a clear sense that the model is still bone thin, but the later image is even unachievable for her in real life.

Despite the controversy surrounding images like this, doctoring images to create an over the top image is absolutely commonplace in the marketplace today. The "beauty myth" is alive and kicking. Outside still shots there are also fundamental and basic demands for runway and print models to be unrealistically thin, so even this segment of the population is discriminated against and then become iconic images of the ideal for millions of others. The problem is in fact so extreme that it has been directly causally linked to health issues in young people. Many experts on the issues of eating disorders and other socially disturbing trends regarding body image have been saying for years that the media has created an almost advocacy like approach to eating disorders, at the very least unhealthy eating to stay or become thin.

A sociocultural model emphasizes that the current societal standard for thinness, as well as other difficult-to-achieve standards of beauty for women, is omnipresent and, without resorting to extreme and maladaptive behaviors, all but impossible to achieve for the average woman (Fallon, 1990; Heinberg, 1996). (Thompson & Heinberg 339)

There is a clear sense that unattainable body images teach young people that not only are they not good enough but that those around them are not good enough, not trying hard enough or simply lazy. While there is a marked population in the world that is a size zero by nature who argue that the need for clothes that fit them outweighs many other issues when it comes to fashion and that they often find themselves paying higher prices and buying designer clothes just to make it more possible for them not to have to look like teens all the time. Some of these naturally size zero women are frustrated by a universal ban on their body size but they are also quick to point out that first they don't have to work to be that size and second anyone who does so is probably not living a healthy lifestyle. Jennifer Archer… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Should Underweight Model Size 0 Be Used for Fashion Show and Magazine Ads.  (2010, November 30).  Retrieved July 17, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/underweight-model-size-0-used-fashion/5404

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"Should Underweight Model Size 0 Be Used for Fashion Show and Magazine Ads."  Essaytown.com.  November 30, 2010.  Accessed July 17, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/underweight-model-size-0-used-fashion/5404.