Junkfood Science: The growing popularity of subzeros

December 13, 2006

The growing popularity of subzeros

The perception of what is a natural body for a woman has become far removed from reality. Most American women have weighed around 145-155 pounds for generations, but that is now considered fat. Marilyn Monroe, at size 12-14, once epitomized the “ideal” figure. Now, the “ideal” figure is size zero or less. Today’s young women are striving to reach increasingly tinier dress sizes, as this fashion article notes:

How low can you go?

Could subzero become the next status symbol for size-conscious women?

The ideal women's size has been shrinking for years, and now more designers and retailers are introducing a less-than-zero size, sometimes called "subzero" or 00. Designer Nicole Miller plans to introduce the size in next fall's line, and last spring Banana Republic started selling size 00 online.

But some experts worry that the proliferation of such a tiny size could cause eating disorders as some women aspire to shrink to subzero.

"They love the size zero," Tony Paulson, clinical director for Summit Eating Disorders and Outreach Programs in Sacramento, Calif., says about some women he treats. "For some reason, that's almost a badge of honor to them, to reach a size zero. Now they have another goal, to reach this sub-size zero."

If this decade's ideal body type is superskinny, a glance down the fashion timeline is a reminder that it wasn't always this way.

In the 1950s, a size 12 Marilyn Monroe wrote the body-type rules....And in the 1990s, Pamela Anderson summed up the ideal: impossibly slender with impossibly large breasts.

"What happens is that the beauty ideal keeps on changing, and you have a lot of adolescent girls who are striving for that," Mr. Paulson said. "Unfortunately, for most of the girls, it's completely unrealistic."

Most women just aren't built that way. The average American woman is 5-foot-4, weighs about 155 pounds and wears size 14.

The average model? She stands at 5-foot-9, weighs 110 pounds and wears a 0 or a 2, according to the Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford, England.

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