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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And if you want to do some celebrity spotting of your own in the next few days, you'd best head to New York, where it is fashion week. The front rows of the shows are crammed with movie stars, pop music princesses, and women of various ages with the last names of Trump and Hilton. And then, of course, there are the clothes. The big names showing today include Betsey Johnson, Derrick Lamb and Monique Lhuillier. They're showing their spring lines, a preview of what will be in the stores in 2007.

Commentator Lori Gottlieb says that when you go shopping for those light jackets and little dresses at your local mall, you'd better be prepared to do a lot of trying on to figure out which size will fit you.

Ms. LORI GOTTLIEB (Author): It may seem like most things these days are getting bigger. Extra tall grande lattes, oil prices. But one thing, at least, is getting progressively smaller. Women's clothing sizes. Don't get me wrong. The average American woman's body is getting larger. But as the numbers on her scale go up, the numbers on her garment tags go down. Confused? So am I.

Twenty years ago, when I was a teenager, I wore a size four. But when I bought my first work clothes after college, something odd happened. Size four was suddenly too big, and a new size, a size two appeared in stores. By the time I got my first promotion, the twos were too big, and I was wearing something called a size zero.

I used to think being a zero made you a loser, but now it seemed cool to get down to nothing. To be - as the number zero implied - weightless. The only thing that changed, though, were the clothing labels - not the dimensions. As grey became the new black of the nineties, size zero became the new four. And in the past few years, even more codes for I aspire to be anorexic cropped up. XS for extra small, or P for petite. Sometimes, there would even a XXS for extra, extra, small. And when that got too big for women like me who used to -I remind you - wear a regular size four, numbers and letters were combined into what became the smallest of the small. An OP, or a zero petite.

If we keep this up, soon there will be a size in the negative numbers. Maybe we can even use imaginary numbers like we did in calculus. Hey, I'm no longer a zero petite, but the positive square root of negative one. What size will I wear next? Size physically impossible? I have no idea what size I wear anymore. And how could I? I wore a bigger size when I was an anorexic teenager than when I was pregnant last year. Let's do the math. I got bigger, but my clothing size got smaller. No wonder so many young women today see-saw between the extremes of binging and starving, binging and starving. Sure, we may feel better about ourselves if we rejigger the system to appeal to our cultural confusion. But if we don't get our size 14 insanity into a size four soon, women of all sizes will continue to be fat with conflict and anxiety when they look in the mirror.

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SIEGEL: Lori Gottlieb is the author of the books Stick Figure and I Love You, Nice to Meet You.

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