THE BLOG
05/17/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Abominable Zero: How We Demonize Size

America is obsessed with numbers. As such, numbers have loaded meanings, and on a larger scale, imply image. In terms of body image, most of us want to be thin, and so our definition of thinness rests in the form of the number that we may read on a scale or on the tags of our clothing.

In many ways, numbers seem to characterize and even control our lives and our minds. Calories per day. Grams of fat. Money. Numbers can also measure our progress as well as our regress. We even measure our intelligence by them in the form of standardized testing and percentages. Without a doubt, they lend us a gauge and a way to know where we are, how far we've come from, and where we're going.

In terms of human appeal, numbers have become especially important, even though personal trainers the world over know that attractiveness, fitness and health have more to do with muscle and proper proportions in appearance than weight and tag. Still, they are useful markers when employed for practical purposes -- such as fitting clothes, reaching healthy goals, and creating general order in various spheres of living.

Still, numbers can also generate disorder and dissatisfaction, especially when we define our success and appeal by numerical measurement alone. Similarly, clothing sizes become especially salient when conceptualizing worth and beauty.

Size zero (a recently made-up size to market clothing ~ see Vanity Sizing: How Do False Flattering Numbers Affect Women?) in particular has come under special scrutiny as the ultimate pant-size goal of many women. Yet, as society becomes increasingly conscious of body image issues and eating disorders of those who aspire to fit into 'skinny jeans', a simple size zero has simultaneously become stigmatized as wrong, diseased, and narcissistic.

Consequently, when various media figures attempt to empower women by speaking out against various body types and their corresponding sizes with hopes to free us from oppression, we find ourselves in a peculiar state of progress.

For example, a plus-sized model by the name of Crystal Renn has taken such a social-political position, having once sported an emaciated size zero during the height of her anorexia in pursuit of a modeling career in high fashion. Eventually abandoning her goal of maintaining extreme thinness, she graduated to a size twelve only to do what she loved nonetheless -- modeling, but for an audience of larger women.

Reading a short interview with Renn on Style List, we find that her story is both interesting and heart-rending as she recounts accommodating the largely unrealistic high fashion status quo. Writing about her experience in what may be a sadly redundant piece (namely due to the fact that so many women have already told similar tales) she titles her book 'Hungry.' Telling the progression of her struggle and her empowerment, one can imagine that her overall message will be for women to embrace curves instead of bones.

In light of the epidemic of eating disorders, her perspective will probably contain some invaluable advice for women and men as she points out that trends of appeal have fluctuated over time between larger and smaller women. Indeed, her book and others like it will doubtless make most of us feel a little bit better about our bodies.

But what about those who are naturally tiny? Those who effortlessly (and genetically) fit into a size zero pair of jeans? Though most of them are probably under 5' 3", the question remains: what about the taller women who happen to be extremely slender? Without starving themselves? Should they be made to feel wrong, diseased, and inadequate by comparison to 'healthy' notions of femininity?

They may be sparse in comparison to the rest of the population, but they do exist. All kinds of body types exist naturally. Moreover, women from all categories of size and shape can miraculously appear beautiful and sexy. What gives?

How to remedy the confusion ... Should we praise the size twelve and not the size zero? Should we congratulate the size four and six because they signify moderation and balance? Which women are right and which ones are wrong?

You see where I'm going with this.

Size is not the problem or the solution. It's our approach to size, weight, and numbers that make the distinction between what is actually progressive or maladaptive.

In other words: In what fashion do we achieve our precious numbers and maintain them? Do we work hard for them or do they come easily? And if we work hard, are we working hard in the right ways? The most healthful, nurturing ways?

Moreover, is there a way to transform these crucial numbers so that they become the by-products of success rather than the originators of success? Or do we define our love for ourselves by numbers and self-flagellate for the sake of an illusive integer?

Perhaps when we can perceive beauty and worth individually rather than numerically, we'll have a better understanding of what a size zero truly means . . . not much!