By  on February 6, 2007

NEW YORK — All the experts in the world couldn't have crystallized the controversy of fashion's role in eating disorders better than model Natalia Vodianova.

At Monday's Council of Fashion Designers of America health initiative panel discussion, Vodianova was responsible for the most revealing and touching moments, offering insights into the psychological impact being a model can have.

"Oscar Wilde once said that to love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance," she told the audience of health experts, designers and editors. "But I hope you would agree with me that no relationship comes that easy. Perhaps the trickiest and most complex relationship is the one between you and yourself, your body and your mind. Sometimes it's even possible to be crueler to yourself than you would be to your worst enemy."

Designers like Donna Karan, Gilles Mendel, Tory Burch, Reed Krakoff, Daniel Silver of Duckie Brown, Carlos Falchi and Stan Herman came to the Bryant Park tents to hear the CFDA's strategy in the fight against eating disorders. In addition to guidelines for designers' use of models proposed late last month, the panel — which consisted of Renfrew Center's Susan Ice, KCD's Nian Fish, trainer David Kirsch and nutritionist Joy Bauer — disclosed it was planning several seminars in the next 12 months to educate the industry.

Some audience members from the health field expressed their disappointment that the guidelines didn't go far enough, and Karan raised the heat a little when she suggested the modeling agencies shouldn't be sending models to castings if they are too young or show signs of an eating disorder.

"It is important that we project health as part of beauty and do not encourage unhealthy behaviors," said CFDA president Diane von Furstenberg. "The fashion industry cannot take the blame for eating disorder diseases, but by being aware and sensitive to it, we can change a lot of things

Vodianova, who is the face of Calvin Klein, charted her course from her poor upbringing in Russia, where she viewed food as a necessity rather than an extravagance. Her weight was never something she obsessed about until she arrived in Paris in 2000 to model.

"I was meeting other models and our conversations, more often than not, revolved around diet, gym and weight, which was then totally alien to me," she recalled. "At first, I kind of sneered, thinking this would never affect me, but as I began working, modeling and trying on clothes, I began to pay attention to my body shape for the first time and to compare myself to other models."

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