Hoty off the press: Fashionably healthy

Adrian Northrup

It’s that time of year again – the starvation-ravaged, who-are-you-wearing spectacle of Fashion Week is upon us. As the beautiful people flock to major cities worldwide, waifs in Madrid are flocking to the buffet table.

That’s because Community of Madrid President Esperanza Aguirre has banned super-skinny models from taking the runway in the city’s Fashion Week shows, which started Monday.
Under the ban, models with a body mass index lower than 18 are not allowed to take the stage. That means a model 5 feet 9 inches tall must weigh at least 122 pounds.

Frankly, I think it’s about damn time.
I can’t argue that every fashion show around the world should have to ban underweight models immediately. The British Fashion Council refused to do so in London, on the grounds that it cannot tell their designers how to sell their clothes. New York wouldn’t touch such a ban for fear of discrimination lawsuits.

Madrid’s fashion show is state-sponsored, leaving Aguirre within her rights to pass such a ban. The mayor of Milan, Italy, Letizia Moratti, plans to follow suit.
Back to this side of the pond for a moment. Discrimination lawsuits from skinny models should be the least of fashion show organizers’ worries. What about the models pressured to take dramatic steps to be thin in order to get work? Or the girls in the audience who suffer from anorexia or bulimia in part because they subscribe to the super-skinny ideal that high fashion propagates?
Frankly, I’m disappointed in Americans’ failure to refuse to take responsibility for their own suffering. It’s almost unprecedented. We’ve sued fast-food companies for selling food that makes us fat. We’ve sued the tobacco industry for selling products that give us cancer. We’ve sued video game companies for making games that promote violence. Where are the lawsuits against the fashion industry for selling emaciated beauty to adolescent girls, contributing to the eating disorder epidemic? Come on, America, you’re dropping the ball.

That’s not to mention what fashion models put themselves through, under such intense pressure to be thin. You could argue that models choose their profession, that they know what they’re getting themselves into, that extreme dieting is an occupational hazard for many. But what other occupation gives employers the same liberty to look the other way at hazards – or even to promote them?

Take Luisel Ramos, an up-and-coming, 22-year-old Uruguayan fashion model. Her modeling agency reportedly told her she could “make it big” if she lost a lot of weight. And she went on to capture headlines – when she fell over dead, just after her runway walk, of heart failure following three months of extreme dieting.

Giving the fashion industry a healthy makeover would, indeed, require a huge, difficult transformation. It would take new business philosophies from models, agents and designers alike. Plenty of Spanish designers were put off by the inconvenience of having to re-work entire shows, firing some of their biggest-name stars at the last minute. But some, such as designer Antonio Pernas, thought it was a good move to make.

“I had to change the whole lot in one day,” he told the British press. “Eighteen models. It gave us problems, but look, this industry sets an example to young women. We want to project a healthy image, so I’m not against the measures.”

According to The Evening Standard, a London newspaper, fashion show director Leonor Perez-Pita said that in last year’s show, some models “really were too thin.”

“I think it’s fantastic. They look beautiful. I don’t want skeletons on the catwalk. Clothes look much better on a lovely girl than on a clothes hanger,” she told the paper.

A transformation won’t happen overnight. And maybe excluding models below a certain body mass index isn’t the best way to regulate the industry, since it wouldn’t be fair to the few lucky people born with that body type. But high fashion has power over the broader culture, and it has a chance to use this opportunity not just as a publicity stunt but as a real chance to affect positive change.

Like every season’s fashion trends, a new attitude in the upper echelons of the fashion world would ripple down to the rest of us. It’s time for the emaciated stick-girl trend to go the way of pleather pants.