Topshop Reignites the ‘Size Zero Debate’

Ilona Burton

SNN1314BB 280 1343780a Topshop Reignites the Size Zero DebateThis image, which appeared on the front page of Topshop’s website and features 18-year old model Codie Young, has been taken down as a result of complaints that it portrays a “painfully thin” girl, someone who looks ill and should not be used on a page visited by hundreds of thousands of young, impressionable females every day as it could “encourage Anorexia”.

Tut tut to Topshop or whichever editor selected this specific shot, which a spokesperson for the store admitted: “accentuated Codie’s proportions making her head look bigger and neck longer in proportion to her body.”

Kudos, however, for the way they responded to allegations of being irresponsible and to blame for girls developing or relapsing back into Eating Disorders.

Last night, Topshop replaced the image – not with a healthier-looking or even ‘curvy’ model – but with a different image of the same model from the same set of photographs.

Now, unless the model in question managed to shovel enough pies down her whilst changing outfits during the shoot, the compromise shot shows the same girl, at the same weight, the same size, the same teeny boobs and waist and as ever, the same blank expression.

Quite cleverly, Topshop reacted to complaints from worried parents and so-called professionals. By refusing to scrap the lookbook of Codie Young – who they say (and I believe) is naturally skinny due to having very tall, lean parents – they are making an important point: that lighting, camera angles, the model’s pose and the sample size in comparison to the model’s size all play a staggering part in accentuating the overall ‘look’. Trickery or accentuation or somewhere in between, it really is more than bones in a bag. We just love to moan.

I am not condoning the use of this image – there is no denying that she looks emaciated – but it aggravates me how quick we are to show our collective fury when we see a skinny model in a photoshoot or a twig-legged zombie on the runway at Erdem. Get over it. I am all for variety and believe that models should come in all shapes and sizes, but if we seriously think there will come a day when we don’t see 6ft beanpoles modelling the season’s new arrivals, we’re going to be bitterly disappointed.

What maddens me further is that people see this girl and immediately jump to the conclusion that she MUST be anorexic and this WILL encourage girls who see her tiny waist and gangly arms and think, ‘Ooh, she looks good, I think I’ll be anorexic so I can also look prepubescent. Prepubescent is really hot right now.’ My guess is that the people who follow such thought patterns wouldn’t know anorexia if it slapped them in the face.

I find it insulting that so many people automatically associate anorexia with vanity; a quest to look perfect, a selfish desire to appear impossibly thin like the models that bombard us with all their gorgeousness and gorgeosity.

It simply is not the case that images of underweight models encourage or cause Eating Disorders. The complexities would overwhelm anyone who has ever told a skinny girl in the street that she needs a burger. No time for that now.

Clearly, shots like this one are not helpful in the slightest to people either suffering with or recovering from an Eating Disorder, but as I touched upon earlier, they are never going to disappear; they will never all be banned.

We need to stop being so wrapped up in and worried about the negative impact that the fashion world could have on our hoards of young, vulnerable ladies. Instead, we need to realise (as most recovered anorexics I know have learnt to) that that is an entirely different world. What we see in magazines is polished to the maximum and IS NOT REAL. More than that, we need to stop wasting our time being anal about how harmful this picture or that phrase might be and just learn to hold our own heads up and have the confidence to just not let it bother us.

If we constantly look for something to be scared of, another spark for the same old “debate”, we’ll find it.

Rise above it and everything will be much prettier, happier and healthier.

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  • websitesit

    Great post. Thank you very much for the info!

  • stonedwolf

    She looks like an eight year old with cancer dressing in her mother’s clothes.

  • Eric Smith

    I am really shocked at your irresponsible article! The girl in this photo clearly looks malnourished and far too thin to just be “naturally skinny.” Even if she is, she is a massive exception to human anatomy. This was clearly chosen by Topshop as a provocative image intended to portray a particular brand image. I believe that there is a difference between designer clothes and their models and those that cater to the mass public. They are not mainstream, the clothes that they wear and the images that they portray are not of your “typical girl” or boy for that matter. Topshop is not a designer, exclusive brand, offering something characterised as being unusual and edgy. It is a high street brand which caters to, in the whole, young adults and teenagers, it is what most people will wear on a normal basis and seeing an image like that is certainly not healthy or positive to associate with that. I am not a huge whiner about models that are perceived as being too skinny but come on taking an attitude like “Get over it” and that people think “prepubescent is so hot right now” is shameful and is doing just what you are ranting against in your article. Namely not taking any time to actually research this disease and find out about the impact that these images may have but instead just ignoring the problem and trying to rationalise it away, by interpreting it in a way that makes sense to you, someone who works in the fashion industry. Why shouldn’t we ban 6ft beanpoles from being in adverts for clothes aimed at the mass market if it has been repeatedly suggested that it has a damaging effect on young and even mature women and men subconsciously as well as consciously, rather than just treating this disease as something to just “get over”. I really am surprised that you can write such callous things for such a reputable newspaper. 

  • Digitaldarling

    Couldn’t agree more!  When I was this model’s age, I was 5′11″ and weighed about 110 pounds and was skinny as a rail.  I didn’t try to be skinny.  In fact, I ate so much that my sister, who was in nursing school at the time and studying food and nutrition, would watch me eat and remark about the number of calories I could consume at a meal. 

    I HATED being skinny!  I wanted to have boobs!  My mother and sister both had enviable hour-glass figures. 

    But I have learned to love my shape.  Although I’ve gained a little weight over the years, I am still very thin.  (And I’d still love to have boobs.  But not so much that I’d have surgery.)

    Really, it is all about learning to love the shape you’re in, and being healthy.  Girls and women need to be able to recognize that people come in all shapes and sizes.  There is no perfect shape or size.  Skinny girls can be just as self-conscious as bigger girls when it comes to their weight and shape. 

  • Maya Markov

    You are telling people who, due to continuous sensitization to such images as this, may get body dysmorphia or a belief that to be beautiful (which, correct me if I’m wrong, is something Topshop is selling- or at least I’m sure they’re not directly trying to sell ugliness) is to look something like the girl in the image. Or to put it more simply: be thinner than they are, because the next stage of thinness from this is probably death. The fact that the girl in the image is naturally thin is irrelevant; she is a model representation of the brand, of a style, of the fashion. To tell impressionable minds to ‘rise above it’ is as ignorant as the people you reference who ‘wouldn’t know anorexia if it slapped them in the face.’ By your pattern of thought, we should all just give ourselves a lobotomy because that is the only way we’ll be able to remain unaffected by our surroundings, ‘and everything will be much prettier, happier and healthier.’Seriously, I’m a little shocked that this would be featured by a reputable newspaper, blog or not.

  • Sanabitur Anima Mea

    You clearly don’t believe that eating disorders are illnesses – you think they are some kind of a phase caused by fashion. Well, they’re not. They’re mental illnesses, as real as depression or bipolar or schizophrenia. Eating disorders exist and existed in times and places when fat was in fashion.

    If fashion models caused eating disorders, every woman would have one, but most women don’t. If what you said was true – all anorexics and bulimics would have dysmorphia and think they are fat, yet many do not think they are fat and still have a compulsion to starve or purge as a form of self-punishment.  If what you said was true, there would be no male anorexia – there is. If what you said was true there would be no Binge Eating Disorder (at least among western women) yet there is and it can be immobilising or even fatal.

    By your “logic”, naturally skinny people, and people with emaciation-causing diseases like Chron’s should be prohibited from being seen in public, because just looking at a thin person would somehow infect our minds with EDs.

  • Sanabitur Anima Mea

    That’s just as bad as taking the mickey out of a fat person.

  • Maya Markov

    If you read my comment properly you may notice that nowhere in it do I say that this image or images like it cause eating disorders. I said ‘ may get body dysmorphia or a belief that to be beautiful… is to look something like the girl in the image.’ Eating disorders are a wholly different issue altogether, as is body dysmorphia which isn’t just a symptom or cause of them. In fact ‘what [I] said is true’ is nothing of what you said I say is true, and I was careful to make sure of it. What I said, and I quote (again) is: ‘The fact that the girl in the image is naturally thin is irrelevant; she is a model representation of the brand, of a style, of the fashion.’

    Topshop is not advertising eating disorders, male anorexics, Binge Eating Disorder, naturally skinny people, and people with emaciation-causing diseases like Chron’s, and the fact that these are the issues that you’ve addressed in reply to my comment and this image is a prime example. What I AM saying is that Topshop has chosen to market a size zero model as a representation of their brand, which affects the personality and identity they convey, and associations that come with it under attitudes, thoughts, perceptions, feelings, beliefs and so on. These become the characteristics and qualities of the Topshop model to the consumer. Now, in relation to all of the above, I’m not naive enough to expect images of  such models to change in the fashion industry. What I do disagree with is the blogger’s dismissal of their impact on young (and even old) minds when it comes to body image by simply telling them ‘to stop wasting [their] time being anal about how harmful this picture or that phrase might be and just learn to hold [their] own heads up and have the confidence to just not let it bother us’; if everything were that simple then we’d all be ‘much prettier, happier and healthier.’ None of the issues addressed should be treated so patronisingly.

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