What in the Devil Is A Size 6?

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The New York Sun

When Michelle Garcia walked out of the summer blockbuster “The Devil Wears Prada,” one line from the movie replayed itself in her mind: Size 6 is the new size 14.

The decree, spoken by the creative director of the film’s fictional fashion magazine, sparked outrage and a modicum of self-doubt in Ms. Garcia, a trim and toned 32-year-old who works as a fashion director for Sears Holdings Corp. in Lower Manhattan. “I’m a size 8,” she said. “If 6 is the new 14, what does that make me?”

By the time the film’s young protagonist triumphantly transforms herself into a size 4 at the end of the movie, viewers like Ms. Garcia may be pondering their own waistlines. Given that size 14 is widely viewed as the gateway to the plus-size stratosphere, many “Devil” worshippers said they wondered whether size 6 really is pushing the limits of overweight.


The notion of “perfect size 6” went out about a decade ago, a 35-year-old former model, Robin Hazelwood, said. “New York society today makes the social X-rays of the Tom Wolfe era seem positively Rubenesque,” Ms. Hazelwood, the New York-based author of the recently released novel “Model Student,” said. “Since the mid-1990s, when the waif look and heroin chic took hold, the pendulum never went back fully. The trend has dovetailed nicely with advances in cosmetic surgery.”

Especially in the fashion industry, in Hollywood, and in aspirational social circles, size — above all — matters, Ms. Hazelwood, who spent 13 years walking the runway and posing for print advertisements, said. “The upper limit is a 6, and that’s only acceptable, if you’re tall enough to stretch the weight out,” she said. “In New York boutiques, if you ask a salesperson to try on an 8, you can hear her gasping in horror.”

By contrast, outside of the New York-Los Angeles axis of emaciated, size 14 is the new size 6, according to Ms. Hazelwood, speaking by phone from Milwaukee — her hometown, and a stop on her book tour. “The average size here is probably the average size of America: 14 or 16.”


In large swaths of Middle America, women wearing smaller sizes, she said, are considered downright slender. So, for some women, insecurities arise only when they leave their non-coastal hometowns. Since moving to New York from Jackson, Miss., three years ago, a 26-year-old sales associate for fashion designer Cynthia Steffe, Caroline Scott, said she sometimes looks in the mirror and wishes she weighed less. “When I go home to Mississippi, where more people are overweight, I’m tiny and petite,” Ms. Scott, who wears a size 2, said. “When I come back here, I don’t feel as thin.”

She said the size line in “Devil” made her laugh. “It’s so true,” Ms. Scott said. “It’s so warped, and I don’t think it’s just in the fashion industry. I think every man and woman in that movie theater could understand what it meant.”

A public relations specialist, Sara Fox, said she longs for the days when society appreciated curvaceous figures à la Marilyn Monroe, instead of skinny ones à la Nicole Richie and Lindsay Lohan. “I’m a size 6,” she said. “If that’s considered overweight, it’s sad.”


While statistics show that more than half of Americans are heavier than is healthy, most size-6 women are not, by a long shot, overweight. And not all New York women take their cues from “Devil,” or from “Desperate Housewives,” the ABC hit in which one woman starves herself to fit into a size 00 Dolce & Gabbana dress — while she is pregnant, no less. Women’s apparel retailers like Ashley Stewart, Lane Bryant, and Avenue have built successful businesses catering to plus-size customers. And guess what? They all have multiple stores in New York City.

A founding editor of the feminist magazine Ms., Letty Cottin Pogrebin, 67, surmised that the size complex was generational. Referring to a “Devil” character, a young woman who gives up eating before she is scheduled to leave for Paris’s fashion week, Ms. Pogrebin said: “I don’t think anyone over 50 would do that, unless they were pathological, or had to walk down the aisle as the mother-of-the-bride. They’re not agonizing over whether or not they’re a size 14.”

Younger women seem to care more, according to Ms. Pogrebin. “There’s an enormous cultural force emanating from supermodels, actresses, and socialites,” she said. “These women might not have enough to compete about. They should be competing to find solutions to environmental crises, or to the conflict in the Middle East — not who can fit into a size 0.”

This preoccupation has led some retailers put smaller sizes on ever-larger garments, a trend that’s been dubbed “vanity sizing.” In recent years, without gaining or losing a significant amount of weight, Ms. Pogrebin said her dress size has gone from a size 6 to a size 4. “Maybe it’s merciful,” she said. “Maybe they’re trying to shut us up, calm us down, and say, ‘It’s only a number.'”

The New York Sun

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