Clothing fosters women’s ongoing self-image problems

Adam Griffiths

From the outside, Sidonie looked like the typical, popular American high school girl. She sported Abercrombie and Hollister daily. She ate little for lunch everyday. She partied hard on the weekends. She went out to Steak ‘n Shake with her friends – and with me – on a regular basis and always ordered a fried chicken salad with extra honey mustard dressing.

The fall of her freshman year, Sidonie weighed around 210 pounds.

Three years later, when I spoke with her for a story I was writing for a self-image package my high school newspaper was compiling, she weighed less than 140.

Sidonie had bulimia. And she isn’t alone. According to the Academy for Eating Disorders, 10 percent or more of late adolescent and adult women report symptoms of eating disorders.

If self-image wasn’t enough of a problem in the United States with rising obesity rates, designer Nicole Miller announced this past fall she would be introducing a “subzero” size for women with 23-inch waists. Banana Republic already offers a similar “00” size on its Web site.

Granted, some women are actually this small. The changing demographics of our country require designers to produce a wider (no pun intended) range of sizes to suit the needs of their consumers. There’s also a slew of celebrities who could possibly fit into “subzero” sizes. Kate Bosworth, Nicole Ritchie (who is known for her struggle with her body), the Olsen twins and former Posh Spice, Victoria Beckham, are all rumored to have minus-sized weights.

But there’s a fine line between being able to find clothes small enough to properly fit a petite-figured woman and reinforcing the belief that the thinner you are, the better. For those in the latter category those like Sidonie the number on the tag sewn inside their jeans is more important than anything else.

This is where the real concern arises. As Stanley Tucci’s character said in the recent The Devil Wears Prada, “Two became four, and zero became the new two.” Ask any woman what size pants she wears, and you’ll get a rather complicated response that involves different sizes at different stores from different parts of the globe. Add this to an ever-present self-image concern, and you’ve got the perfect conditions for eating disorders and other mental conditions to develop.

The idea of “subzero” sized clothing seems to face controversy from within the same fashion industry from whence it came. Last fall brought a ban on models with a body mass index of less than 18 runways in Madrid, Spain. While fashion designers protested, the death of 21-year-old Brazilian supermodel Ana Carolina in November 2006 only solidified the fashion capital’s new decision.

Carolina weighed only 88 pounds when she died after struggling with anorexia – struggling to stay alive in a competitive field. In accepting “subzero” clothing, we’re telling the fashion industry it’s all right to promote an unhealthy body image.

It tells women around the world that thin really is in, that destroying their bodies to slip into smaller and smaller clothing will make them happier in the long run.

Today, Sidonie’s overcome her struggle with bulimia. She wears a size 8, but she doesn’t necessarily feel that’s good enough. She accepts herself how she is, but there are still times that she, like everyone else, stands in front of a mirror and questions her reflection.

But when I asked her permission to use her story as an example in this column, she brought up a typically ignored side to this debate.

“It’s kind of awkward how one of the most overweight countries puts such an emphasis on being thin.”

Adam Griffiths is a freshman magazine journalism major and an ALL correspondent for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].