By  on March 13, 2008

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Designer Bradley Bayou came to Harvard Tuesday night to talk about "the worst day of my life" — when his eldest daughter collapsed from anorexia — and said the fashion industry must share in the blame.

Bayou criticized fashion editors for featuring dangerously thin women and said the Council of Fashion Designers of America is turning a blind eye to dangerous practices, fearful of antagonizing the press for failing to deliver certain aesthetics.

"There is an elite group that doesn't get enough of the blame and that is fashion editors," he said. "We have girls getting very sick because they can't beat the system and look like what's on the cover of the magazine....I'm here today because it's got to stop."

Bayou's remarks were among the personal stories shared with an audience that included Harvard students and researchers. Designer Paige Adams-Geller of Paige Premium Denim and Miss America Kirsten Haglund also spoke about their struggles with anorexia.

The CFDA issued a series of guidelines in January 2007 listing the early signs of eating disorders and calling for models who have been diagnosed to seek treatment.

Responding to Bayou, CFDA executive director Steven Kolb said Wednesday the organization's education and awareness efforts are causing a culture shift. "There is no question there has been movement," he said. "I see it already on the runways. I'm getting calls from designers and casting agents who are not using girls who don't meet our criteria for health....Getting involved in the complexity of a standardized law [regarding a mandatory minimum body mass index] is not the answer."

During the forum hosted by the Harris Center for Education and Advocacy in Eating Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital, Bayou recalled arriving at a hospital in 2005 and hearing his daughter tell him she wanted to die.

"It is the worst thing you can hear as a parent," he said. "We got her therapy....And what I learned was that I, and my industry, were a big part of the problem."

Bayou said his daughter felt inadequate for years because she couldn't fit into his tiny sample sizes. She's doing better, he said, but her ordeal has changed the ways he operates.He won't hire a size zero or size 2 model, and tries to intervene when he sees someone who appears dangerously thin. At a recent Dallas casting call, Bayou said he watched a girl that he estimated was 5 feet 10 inches and 95 pounds stumble in front of him. He told her he was concerned about her health. She told him he was the first person to mention it.

Bayou contended that virtually no one is a natural size zero, which has become a standard model size.

"There are two ways to become a size zero," he said. "Starve yourself or take drugs. Or both. And yes, they all do it."

Adams-Geller and Bayou, a former Halston creative director, said pressure runs through all levels of the industry. Retailers want hip brands to exclude large sizes and create tiny sample sizes that have more hanger appeal than a size 8.

"I was told by retailers if I added size 34 [jeans], my brand would be less cool," said Adams-Geller, who described the depression, weakness and constant headaches that came with years of starvation.

Bayou called for the U.S. to adopt mandatory health exams, or a body mass index guide, like Spain and Italy recently did. In Italy, the minimum BMI is 18.5. In Spain, he said, 30 percent of models were not allowed to model this season for failing to meet a sufficient BMI.

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