A concept that originated in the US, ‘Size Zero’ refers to extremely thin individuals, or trends associated with them. Quoting the Washington Post, “Models are as thin as twigs because that’s what a vast number of designers and fashion editors want…if models want to work, they have to fit the clothes. They lose weight. The samples get smaller, they lose more weight.” This clearly depicts a growing trend to be thin as a form of social acceptance. On one side, the fashion industry requires models to be thin and lean but on the other side, there are models who exhibit different viewpoints. Leeannah Alexander, aged 20, a student and model working with Sparkle Talents in Mumbai, “I know many people think modelling is quite easy; you just have to be tall and thin and that’s about it. We actually have to have a sort of discipline and plan because we don’t know when or where we get our assignments. I was asked to maintain a very lean figure but since I am still a college student, for the better half I did maintain a sort of plan but I could not stick to it because the stress got to me.” However, individuals especially teenagers, who are easily influenced by popular culture and fashion trends do not realise the degree to which their minds are manipulated towards the negative body image that they perceive to be ideal.
Teenage/adolescence is one of the most nerve-wracking phases in a person’s life. During this phase, an individual begins to explore himself/herself, yearns to be free-spirited and at the same time, is in desperate need of peer acceptance. They also start developing a strong attitude towards their own appearance. The human body develops in a swift manner during this phase and this development is accompanied by hormonal changes, emotional spurts and sexual maturity. Most teens develop a sense of fear that these overt changes are permanent in nature but in reality, they occur for a specific period of time after which their bodies stabilise to a natural set point. We live in a society where charm, beauty and slim waist figures are highly valued and appreciated. Teens today aspire to reach a high level of perfection in physical appearance because as social beings they want to fit into the world of glam and glitz. This in turn has a very negative impact on the minds of youngsters. Shona Prabhu, a well acclaimed sports and exercise nutritionist and the founder of Nutrify My Diet, comments, “I have encountered a lot of teenagers in my day-to-day practice who are unsure of their bodies because of the drastic changes they go through. Not only teenagers but children at the age of 5, 6 and 7 years are also conscious.”
Gyms and fitness centres today are packed with boys and girls aspiring to attain the ideal body and protein shakes sell like hot cakes. Nevertheless, it is important to note that going to a fitness centre to keep oneself fit and healthy is a positive step but overdoing it can lead to a different path itself. Size zero is a concept in which the measurement of chest-stomach-hips varies from 30-22-32 inches to 33-25-35 inches. It instigates young boys and girls to adopt a noxious eating pattern that is collectively termed as eating disorders. The most commons forms of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating, rumination disorder, orthorexia and so on. Additionally, Shona says, “Eating disorders are present at different levels and the peaks for the disorders range from person-to-person. There are several aspects involved to identifying whether an individual is on the road to unhealthy eating habits for example, completely restricting food groups, being structured in how they eat and what they eat and so on.”
The American Psychological Association defines Anorexia nervosa as “people who have a distorted body image that causes them to see themselves as overweight even when they are dangerously thin. Often refusing to eat, exercising compulsively, and developing unusual habits such as refusing to eat in front of others, they lose large amounts of weight and may even starve to death.” On the contrary, bulimia nervosa is a potentially life-threatening eating disorder which is characterised by “a cycle of binging and compensatory behaviours such as self-induced vomiting designed to undo or compensate for the effects of binge eating”. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-5, Rumination disorder involves “the regular regurgitation of food that occurs for at least one month and the regurgitated food may be re-chewed, re-swallowed, or spit out”. Another eating disorder although not formally recognised in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-5, awareness about orthorexia is up swinging. This eating disorder means “an obsession and fixation with proper or ‘healthful’ eating”.
However, recent advancements are bringing about a change in people’s attitude. Be it Amazon, Shein or Koovs; the online shopping market has innovatively promoted “plus size” figures. Evidently, it is no more required that women must be zero sized in order to feel beautiful. Model Leeannah Alexander says, “I am very happy to see representation from every type of women whether it is women belonging to plus sizes, black or albino representations and given the inclusion, this makes the fashion industry friendlier with the masses and that we should all work together, regardless of anything. The fashion industry isn’t what it was 20 years ago and indeed changes have been brought evidently.”
Dieting, fasting, compelling to be thin, and body dissatisfaction are noxious actions and principles that are often communicated to us and internalised from an adolescent age. Once this internalisation occurs we may unconsciously propagate this fatal cycle by passing those same principles onto others. Nutritionists emphasise on precision in the procedure of fasting. “Fasting can be used as means of cleansing your system, to remove toxins from your body. There is a lot of science behind this, but the way people are using it is by bringing down their entire calorie intake and moreover, underfeeding or starving themselves. Even before performing such habits, it is essential for people to do a little introspection. They need to think about reasons for the causes of their actions, for instance, is it because of societal pressure or to feel healthier. I always tell my clients that when you eat healthy, dropping the weight is merely a side effect,” says Shona.
“I don’t restrict myself because I realised that it doesn’t work when you force yourself to starve. I have begun eating healthy where a majority is of raw vegetables as my snacks. I have swapped the usual snacks with these vegetables and I feel so much cleaner,” affirms Leeannah. Our negative body image cannot turn into a positive body image over a span of one night, but healthier ways of looking at yourself and your body can be the start to the change. The more you train yourself towards thinking in these new patterns, the more it helps in self-acceptance.