Sunday, December 04, 2011

Why Size Zero Is Nothing New - 05/03/07

From the depths of 2007 so a bit dated, but still ranty enough to make a point. Somewhere.

Why Size Zero Is Nothing New

We used to know Lollipop Ladies as the kindly, apple-cheeked OAPs who’d help us across the road in their white coats, thrusting their large lollipop shaped stop sign at approaching cars to ensure our safe passage to the other side.

These days, the Lollipop Ladies are something else entirely.

No apple cheeks here, simply shrunken, pre-teen bodies dangling from disproportionately large adult heads. Usually accompanied by a spray on tan, titanium white teeth, alien-eye sunglasses, and jewellery that hangs from wrists and clavicles like she’s playing dress up with Mum’s stuff.

But they’re not playing dress up – these women are in their twenties and thirties and some are mothers themselves (although surely in more robust times, when their bodies could support a reproductive cycle). They are Hollywood’s coolest kids on the blocks and they are dying to be thinner than a teenage crack whore.

These are the newly christened Size Zeros. Because that’s their dress size.

Zero. Like: nothing. Like Zip. Nadda. Zero.

In scientific reasoning, these women simply don't exist.

And yet... And yet, there they are: packing out the pages of our celebrity magazines with their sinew snaked arms and famine-glazed eyes, dresses gloopy on featherweight frames. Caught mid-burger chomp through a window, the Whooper Jnr looking supersized in teeny tiny paws, or dwarfed by the SUV's steering wheel as mid-dash from an AA meeting, or tottering down Rodeo Drive with giant bags full of frippery and small dogs.

It's unavoidable and so, inevitably, we're all talking about them. Or more specifically, we're talking about Size Zero. All of us. From broadsheet to the tattiest gossip rag, we’ve all got something to say about the concerning trend amongst young actresses and … what are Paris and Nicole? … to become the thinnest person on the earth who can still down three apple martinis and dance the macarenna on the bar without keeling over.

BUT WHO CARES?

I mean, really?

At what point do we say: you know what? It’s their lives. If they want to starve themselves to nothing, let their family sort them out. It’s not like Now magazine or Heat are organising an intervention for Kate Bosworth – they’re too busy highlighting her clearly delineated vertebrae with comments on how gross she is.

And of course, this disgust is voiced right after they've name Nicole Ritchie as super-stylish and run a double page spread on how to copy her style – style which relies heavily on the fact that she has carved a formerly beautiful, petitely curvaceous body into the shell of a ten year old girl so think hot-pants masquerading as Bermuda shorts and vests, plus the obligatory oversized bag and bangles that rattle around toothpick forearms like an easy game of hooplah.

Which makes it clear that Size Zero is clearly of great national and international importance.

Why?

Oh, it’s that age old thing again of objectification with a bit of the classic male manipulation thrown in of course.

It’s been going on for years: from oxygen starving corsets to sozzled flappers; Twiggy to heroin chic; the branding of feminists in such a way by the (male dominated) media that very few teenage girls and women in their twenties and thirties would actually admit to being a feminist.

How does Size Zero connect in this? See: men in Hollywood are notoriously scared of women coming in and taking over. But if they can keep them obsessed with something OTHER than empowerment, hell, the boys have got another twenty years without worrying about their bony asses coming in and ruining the show.

By creating, encouraging and heralding women who are incapable of accepting their womanly form, these same women become nothing more than vain and silly and in no way threatening or powerful. Vain and silly. Aren’t those the typical female constructs of the nineteenth century? Aren’t we simply talking about a whole generation of Lydia Bennetts? In 2007?

Reciting Hollywood’s terrible treatment of women over the past century is moot. Even now, excepting the excellent work being done in the independent and ‘foreign’ film industry, the general purpose of the female lead in Hollywood is to bring something light and distracting to a scene, rather like a pot-plant who’s been cleverly trained to speak on cue.

We have many amazing, inspiring women out there who can bring something to a film that’s more than translucent beauty; more than full lips and smouldering eyes; more than the perfect foil. These women are the elite of Hollywood and the Entertainment Business (this isn’t just about film). I’m talking about Streep and Sarandon, Blanchett, Oprah’s in there, as is producer Kathleen Kennedy and Gail Berman over at Paramount and Amy Pascal, Co-Chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment. These women are Big Cheeses.

But what about the rest? The girls who should be preparing to come in and take their jobs and their roles when these women are off buying the ranch?

The only ones we can see are wafting around in the sunny breeze of LA, tumbling from hot-spots and checking in and out of rehab. They are pot-plants on an already rather crowded table of aspidistras and geraniums, doing nothing with any integrity or goal apart from being desperately thin.

And yet we talk about them endlessly. We pull apart their bodies and their eating habits. We try out their amazing new diets which promises to lose us pounds in hours. We mock them and we want to be them.

We’re back at that point again where women aren’t discussed because of what they’ve achieved for the greater good. We’re back to women being discussed because they’re stupid. Silly and Vain. Look at the way we slag off these Size Zero girls: we slate them for being too thin, we call them shallow and dumb, we scoff at their attempts at AA and NA, we are joyously disgusted as they stumble out of another nightclub, flashing gussets or (cross yourself) secret gardens. And we love it.

The next time you read a celebrity magazine (and don’t pretend you don’t know what they are), count how many pages are dedicated to pointing out the hideousness of some unfortunate male celeb’s body?

How many pages each week are dedicated to highlighting the obesity of the loveable Johnny Vegas, or the bloat-shrink-bloat-shrink of Russell Crow? Or the terrifying decent into middle-age of most of our childhood crushes? Brad Pitt crinkling into his 40s a’la David Dickinson. Pages, not the odd photo. Pages. Because that’s what these poor girls get. Ulrika Johnsson’s rope-neck got three pages in one and a personal discussion in her trashy column.

However, the fact that these girls are Size Zero really isn’t the point. These girls are victims of a very cruel money train.

I met a twice Oscar nominated actress a few years ago who told me that she was finding it difficult to get work in Hollywood because her upper arms were too fat. She was a size 10.

Who’s telling these women their upper arms are too fat? Personal Trainers who get paid vast retainers to keep everything firm and pointing up? Dieticians, nutritionists, Food Doctors who go everywhere with their employer and manage their food intake? Armies of Plastic Surgeons. None of them are going to give up the cash-cow easily.

And then there’s the casting agents. Plenty of those are women but who’s commissioning the agents? The Directors? The Producers. Who are they? In Martha Lauzen, a professor at San Diego State University,’s study “The Celluloid Ceiling, 2003”:

“Men directed more than 90% of the 250 top-grossing films released in 2003, and 20% of the films employed no women directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers or editors.”

The sad thing remains: so long as women are obsessed with Size Zero they will never be in a position to dictate anything different.

And so long as we continue to talk about it, berate it, laugh at it, secretly wish we could do it, and ultimately, raise it to an aspirational status, nothing will ever change. We will never fully embrace a gaggle of girls with regular women-shaped bodies in roles that challenge, defy and warm, if we continue to support the view that ultra-thin is ultra-cool, which we are each time we talk about how awful Size Zero is.

Discussing it and campaigning against it simply makes it visible. It means nothing.

Let’s ignore the Size Zero issue. Stop giving credence to repressed femininity and these girls will realise that the best way to get noticed is by doing something greater than cutting out everything but nicotine and Haribo.

And that will be the biggest two fingers up the industry can get.

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