In her 1991 classic, The Beauty Myth, author Naomi Wolf warns, "a cultural fixation on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty but an obsession about female obedience."
Without resorting to too many food imagery clichés, popular culture's spoon-feeding of weight insecurity to women hasn't changed much since Wolf's book, despite the nearly 25 years we've had to pull our heads out of the sand, understand that we're being manipulated, and put a stop to it.
The Beauty Myth may have struck a powerful chord in 1991 because it came out in tandem with -- and partly, in response to -- the heroin-chic, waif-as-ideal image of women monopolizing fashion spreads and dictating clothing trends. The waifs -- and the entire grunge scene it sat on the periphery of -- were a response to the previous generation of big -- big, Amazonian models with big '80s hair and the sense of big '80s indulgence and big '80s consumption. And of course the culture, fashion and attitude of the '80s was a response to the political and fashion crimes of the '70s.
But we never really had a backlash to the cultural ideology of the '90s. Yes, that's simplifying the case, as we've had some huge financial, environmental, political, and social shifts since the turn of the century, but where is the post-feminist dogma when it comes to fashion? The models have remained skeletally-thin, we fetishize pregnant celebrities, but fetishize their rapid post-pregnancy weight loss even more, and the fashion and beauty industry practically flaunt business models stating the sad, undisputed fact that the more insecure a woman is, the more money she will spend.
Which is why Abercrombie & Fitch had to be publicly shamed into offering clothing larger than a size 12, and why J-Crew doesn't think it's a problem to reduce it's smallest women's clothing size to 000.
It's a problem.
Claiming that they are just trying to accommodate their tiniest adult clientele -- who are mostly Asian, they say, and don't even get me started on the generalization of an entire culture as too diminutive for regular sizing -- the triple zero is just the next installment of a natural descent in waist sizes. Down to twenty-three inches, in this case.
J-Crew doesn't want us to think that this is vanity sizing. But if it's not, and if it's not a dangerous new goal for women and girls with eating disorders, then it's still a huge misrepresentation of the average woman's size, and still a method to pathologize healthy body shapes. Here's why -- if a 000 could also be represented by XXXS or 23", then using J-Crew's own sizing, and assuming a variation of approximately 2" per size, moving up the chart, an XXL -- the largest size you can order at J-Crew -- would be a size 20, or a woman with a 37" waist.
A woman with a 37" waist may be at risk for a myriad of health issues (or she may not be), but there's no guarantee that all those 23" waisters are any healthier. But that's not at all the issue, if we listen to J-Crew. The issue is accommodation, and they want to accommodate their teeniest, tiniest customers. I wonder just how many of those customers there are. I'd love to see some sales data in the near future.
And I wonder how many women with a waist size greater than 37" wouldn't mind the choice of shopping at J-Crew?
But like Abercrombie and a host of other retailers whose sizing changes rapidly and arbitrarily, this is not about keeping women happy at their true, current size. It is about manufacturing an unreal landscape where small is now four sizes bigger than smallest and who knows how much more we will be told we should shrink if we want to look good in J-Crew's clothes.
I hear the groans coming from the tiny women, the Asian women, the women like the commenter on Jezebel who states that at a natural, culturally-determined 5'0" and 100 lbs, the triple naught will be perfect for her, fuck-you-haters-very-much. And I bet it will fit her perfectly, and why should we get upset with a customer for wearing the correct size? We shouldn't of course, but consider this: in 2002 I got married. I weighed 98 lbs at my wedding, and I stand 5'1" tall. I bought a gorgeous brown column dress at Jacob (RIP) to take on my honeymoon. It fit me perfectly, and it was a size 2. Size 2 is teeny tiny, but it's a good three sizes larger than the smallest size J-Crew now makes. The size that the woman pretty much exactly the same size that I was in 2002, now wears.
I'm going to hazard a guess that the women not shaking their heads at this ridiculousness are the women that will be proudly fitting into -- and to J-Crew's delight, buying -- a size triple zero.
Women have not gotten smaller, but women's sizes sure as hell have, keeping pace only with our plummeting self-esteem and our complete refusal to acknowledge that we're being played. Hard.
Naomi Wolf knew this in 1991. We know it now, but we ignore it. HBC recently came under fire for putting a t-shirt on the shelves touting a pro-ana mantra made famous by the original waif herself, Kate Moss.
The shirt disappeared quickly because we're not supposed to admit that girls feel that way. J-Crew announces a new small four sizes smaller than small and we won't admit that we have just discovered a heady new goal for the chronically insecure. A new goal that even Kate Moss would no longer be able to reach.