Debunking the Myth of Size Zero

Above: A McCall's pattern from 1961 shows the dimensions of dress sizes 10-20 that would be replaced by much smaller numbers today.

Hello, my name is Casey McKinnon and I'm a size 0. Heck, sometimes I'm even a size 00 as my body measurements are 32-23-33 and I'm 5'1". So, it goes without saying that when I hear people dissing my dress size, I get a little offended because it doesn't make any sense. How is it that I can fit perfectly in my mother's dresses from the 1960s, but the US fashion industry had to invent a size in the past ten years just to fit me?!

Recently I've seen a lot of photos being shared by my friends that affirm larger body images with slogans and quotes. There's nothing wrong with that, but it does become hurtful when they start making fun of smaller sizes as if they are "unhealthy." Sure, it would be rather unhealthy if you were 6' tall, but the average American woman is 5'4". With this in mind, I feel it's important for my fellow females to understand the history of sizes 00-0 and why they exist in our stores today.

When it comes to body image, one of the most popular tropes in the world is the myth of Marilyn Monroe's dress size. It is famously said that 'Marilyn Monroe wore a size 16 dress." This may have been true in the 1950s and 1960s, but not by today's standards. If you've ever tried to purchase a vintage dress, you'll know that the sizes are completely different from modern sizes. In 2009, British journalist Sara Buys had the opportunity to try on Marilyn's dresses and had this to say about her size:

Contrary to received wisdom, she was not a voluptuous size 16 – quite the opposite. While she was undeniably voluptuous – in possession of an ample bosom and a bottom that would look at home gyrating in a J-Lo video – for most of the early part of her career, she was a size 8 and even in her plumper stages, was no more than a 10. I can tell you this from experience because a few weeks ago, I tried to try on her clothes.

In fact, Monroe's waist size was 22-23 inches. The same, if not smaller, size as me! So how can this be? Thanks to a little thing called vanity sizing.

Also referred to as size inflation, vanity sizing refers to the fact that the US fashion industry inflated the size of their garments to deal with the expanding population of consumers. As America grew outwards, so did the clothes... yet the numbers remained the same. In this New York Times article, journalist Stephanie Clifford has done some really interesting research and has this to say about my 32" bust size:

A woman with a 32-inch bust would have worn a Size 14 in Sears’s 1937 catalog. By 1967, she would have worn an 8 [...] Today, she would wear a zero.

So why exactly would the US fashion industry succumb so overwhelmingly to vanity sizing?

The CDC reports that the percentage of adults with obesity has been growing since 1980. Last year they reported that, in 2009–2010, 35.7% of U.S. adults were obese. Given that number doesn't even include overweight individuals, it just proves how large a demographic we're looking at. It's no wonder that the fashion industry felt the need to adapt and cater to their growing clientele.

Eventually, however, the industry would learn a very potent lesson: you can increase the size of clothes all you want, but you'll end up screwing over the petite ladies that still exist in the US!

No matter what your size, it's always difficult to find the right fit for your body type. In my case, being petite before the invention of sizes 0 and 00 meant shopping in the juniors' section and dressing like a teenager. It also meant that I couldn't for the life of me find a store that sold business suits in my size! I was over the moon when I finally took a trip to Vancouver and discovered a magical land called Aritzia... a store that had business suits that were TOO SMALL for me! They carried sizes as small as 000 and XXXS, and their clientele included many beautiful petite Asian ladies that I would not consider "unhealthy" in any way.

Sadly, some stores that carry such small sizes get flack. Last year it was revealed that Zara has had some difficulty in the US because its sizes were "too small" for Americans. Ironically, everything I try on at Zara is still too big for me. :/

The key in today's world is to find the stores that are right for you and your body shape. We're all different and we needn't get upset and blame opposing body types just because our clothes don't fit right. "Normal" and "healthy" come in a variety of shapes and sizes and it might be hard for us to find the right clothes, but it's equally as hard on the merchants to decide how many sizes of a garment they need to make to have optimal sales. Sure, it's frustrating not to find your size in every store, but that's what seamstresses are for. And to bring it back to Marilyn Monroe; if she were alive today, she would probably have to buy a larger dress size and take it in at the waist because, again, we're all unique and she had a bangin' hourglass figure!

When it all comes down to it, I love and respect my fellow ladies at any size... as long as they love Star Trek. ;)

PersonalCasey McKinnon