In Defense of Size Zero

Among the backlash to the pointed remarks on size bias from the Abercrombie & Fitch CEO, was this contribution, from Ellen DeGeneres.


It’s cute.

Except, there is nothing wrong with being a size zero.

That is my daughter’s size.  She’s a petite, curvy, muscular, perfectly proportioned healthy girl.

She’s neither skinny nor fat.  Any “ideal weight” formula you use, she’s close to ideal.

As much fat-bashing as I read and see online, there are equal numbers of people who openly disparage those who are naturally small.  It’s just as wrong.

Ideal Beauty, 1920's:  When will we leave the "ideal" behind and embrace beauty in all sizes?My daughter, and girls like her, don’t need to hear people talking about Size Zero as if it indicates an eating disorder or an un-feminine body type.

Or, worse, be told they are “not a real woman,” as if real woman all share the same body type.  Real women are big and small, petite and tall, bigger on the bottom and bigger on top, curvy and straight.  You don’t have to be under a certain weight or over it to be real.

My girl’s not invisible or trying to be.  She has a normal, healthy appetite and a good metabolism.

The truth is, size Zero does not exist because girls are getting skinnier.  There is a size Zero because as a society, we are getting heavier.

What size would Marilyn Monroe be today?  Why does it matter?Vanity Sizing, as it is often called, means that the size 14 of today is not the size 14 Marilyn Monroe reportedly wore.

I like to look at vintage dresses online.  Because the sizes are so different, sellers list the actual garment measurements.  Waists are typically 24-28 inches, with bustlines of 32-36.

Granted, many women wore waist nippers, but today we have spanx to reform our midriffs.  People were, on average, thinner then.  Not better, not prettier, just thinner.

You don’t have to go back to the 1950’s to notice the change.  Looking at today’s Levi’s measurements chart, I would have worn a size 4 before my sons were born, and a size 6 afterward.  In the early 90’s, I wore a size 8 before and a 10/12 after.

I do not blame designers and brands for adjusting the sizing scale.  They are in business to sell clothes, and if they sell more things labeled 10 than 16, why wouldn’t they change the numbers?  If that means that those on the small side now wear a size double zero, so be it.  The point is to sell dresses and jeans.

Personally, I wish designers would do away with the arbitrary numbers and put actual measurements on their garments as they do with menswear.  I wish women could accept those numbers and not be lured into spending money with the flattery of smaller sizes.  I’m not holding my breath for that to happen.

I won’t even hold my breath waiting for women to stop bashing each other.  To stop comparing and disparaging.  To accept that real women come in a variety of sizes, and none of us are lifted up by putting others down.

Whether we are a size 00 or 22, we are real women, with feelings, and we are more than the number in our waistband.

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26 thoughts on “In Defense of Size Zero

  1. You are so right about vanity sizing. I have a skirt that I’ve owned since the early 80s. I kept hoping I’d get back into it, but I’ve finally given up. It’s a size 8, but the waist is TINY. My daughter who usually wears 4s can’t zip it up. It would probably be a size 0 or 00 today.

    I wish that we’d all quit talking about sizes and instead focus on health. I’ve seen size 0s who look healthy and size 0s who look like they are about to starve to death. I’ve also seen size 14s who look healthy and size 14s who really need to lose weight. The number on the tag or even on the scale doesn’t matter nearly as much as living a healthy lifestyle.

  2. Yes to measurement-based sizing! Men can buy pants with a waist and an inseam measurement. I think they don’t do this for us because the range would be much wider to accommodate our shape, and also need to incorporate a measurement for hips.
    Still, it’s ridiculous that they can number a pair of pants “10”, expect it to fit every woman about that size, and WE are the ones who feel bad when it doesn’t look good.

  3. Great points made all around, Jennifer…..we don’t need to be stereotyping all “skinny” girls or women, it just furthers the unhealthy idea all-too many females already have about themselves.

  4. Touche!! Touche!! Who needs sizes? We should not, ever, measure who we are by an arbitrary number given to us by fashion designers. Ok, so I’d ideally like to be a size 10 again, but dream on, Cath! I am who I am. Whether we are size 0 or 22, we are beautiful! Your daughter included, of course. Wonderful post. P.S. Where do you get your pics from? I’d love to learn more how to get better ones!!!! Alwaye learning.

    • Cathy, I am with you. In my dreams, I’d like to be a size 10 again, but I don’t need to be a certain size to be happy and healthy. (I’ll send you a note about the pictures.)

    • I know. My husband is always perplexed that I have to take three sizes of each garment into a dressing room. The part that perplexes me is when none of those three actually fit.

  5. I agree with the idea of using measurements instead of sizes. I personally have got a size limit stuck in my head, and if I can’t fit into it, I won’t buy it, even though, rationally, I know that sizes vary from designer to designer. It’s just the negative body image coming into play. I recently had to order some dresses to try on, and I bit the bullet and measured myself and tried to ignore the size label and go by the fit charts. I’m still trying to recover…

    Having said that, I think Ellen’s point is not that people in size 0 are unhealthy: it’s unhealthy that instead of having standardized sizes, we vanity size, so people (like me, I suppose) can feel that they are still wearing the smaller size they wore when they were adolescents.

    • It’s difficult for many women to accept that sizes are just arbitrary numbers, like you, they simply will not buy the size the fits because they don’t like the number in the label. Do you think it would be easier to accept actual measurements instead of number sizes?

      • I do think it would be easier, Ginger. I’m not suggesting it would solve the body image problem, but it would lighten the load. People won’t have to remember, oh, I’m a 10 in Talbots and a 12 in Gap, but a 4 in Calvin Klein – to throw out random numbers and brands.

  6. Pingback: In Defense of Size Zero - Generation Fabulous

  7. I remember when Shirley Feeney said she was a size 10 and Laverne DeFazio was lamenting about being “big.” It cinched it for me – to be “normal” was to be a size 10. The closest I got was at age 16 and I was a 12. One of my classmates was a size 0, but she was petite to begin with and healthy. That and the Dudley Moore/Bo Derek movie. Then during the early or mid-80s Vanna White proudly announced she was a perfect size 6. Holy cow, you mean I’m twice as big as I’m supposed to be? Sizing shifted down again by 2 sizes, I think, at some point. So a 14 became a 10 and a 4 became a 0. I didn’t know this, though. So my “ideal” size became wholly unattainable and I thought all was lost. I gave up. I’m 5′ 9″, by the way, so a 10 or a single digit is probably not realistic for me, anyway.

    I think in the effort to shift focus from runway models to what average really is girls/women who are naturally small get lost in the shuffle, and it’s a dang shame. It just goes to show it doesn’t matter what size you are, we all feel pressure and body image is an issue for a wider variety of shapes than we’ve ever really considered.

    • This is such a good illustration of the skewed thinking that results from the arbitrary number sizes. Size 12 isn’t twice as big as size 6, but it sure sounds that way. It would be easier to use inches. 31 inches v. 28 inches doesn’t sound nearly as far off.

  8. Quite agree about size not being any sort of measurement of health! I, like Hope, interpreted Ellen’s comment to refer to the vanity sizing issue and not a disparaging one toward any woman wearing a size 0. Plus, she was criticizing A&F’s definition of “cool” according to one’s body size… the smaller the better or more beautiful! But your point is very well made! Thanks.

  9. Very Interesting! I had never really thought of how the sizes of clothes have changed through the years but it totally makes sense. I would also love to see measurement sizing simply to make shopping easier. I hate that one size in one brand fits you nowhere near how another brand makes the same size!

    • My daughter and I were shopping this week. She was trying on dresses. In the same brand, she found a size 2 that was way too big and a size 4 that fit perfectly. There is no consistency.

  10. What an excellent point you make! Thanks! I do feel that we all can be so hard on ourselves and in turn so hard on those who are “different” whether larger or smaller. I love your point about the sizing being different too. I find that my daughter can range from a 2 to a 4 to even a 6 depending on what designer or brand it is yet my sons are a waist size and a length. Thanks again!! 🙂

  11. Really appreciate this article for its rare perspective. I’m just like your daughter and it sucks having people think there is something wrong with you when they find out you’re a 0. They think you’re healthy, fine, not bony, etc before, but oh no as soon as the dress size enters the picture…

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