By  on June 12, 2008

NEW YORK — "Be considerate, be compassionate and please remember how powerful your words can be and use them to make a positive change."

Model Coco Rocha's words struck a note with the audience at Wednesday's Council of Fashion Designers of America event, where CFDA president Diane von Furstenberg, Michael Kors and the model led a discussion on "The Beauty of Health: How the Fashion Industry Can Make a Difference."

Illustrating a day in the life of a model, Rocha said: "She wakes up in the morning, goes to the bathroom to take a shower and runs by the full-length mirror because she can't bare to look at herself naked. She only weighs 104 pounds, but all she can think is, I need to be thinner. She hurries to her first show, where she promises herself she'll eat a few grapes. But when she gets there, there's nothing but pastries. First looks are called, she puts on her dress and it takes three people to zip her up. The dresser makes a joke, 'We almost had to call the agency and tell them you didn't fit.' All the girl can think is, I better not eat until tomorrow."

The pressure to stay thin is immense and even Rocha wasn't immune. The advice she got from industry types didn't help.

"They said, 'You need to lose more weight — the look this year is anorexia, and although we don't want you to be anorexic, we want you to look it,'" she recalled. "My question is, how do you look anorexic unless you actually are?"

The model and some of her colleagues came up with four suggestions, including the importance of increased awareness of the impact dieting and eating disorders can have, from heart failure to osteoporosis; encouraging agencies to work closely with nutritionists, trainers and doctors to give models the resources for help, healthier food options at the shows and hiring bigger fit models.

"I can't tell you how many times I've heard, 'Don't worry, Coco, it's not you, it's our fit model. She's so skinny,'" Rocha said. "That's where the problem starts. And if that's the case, then maybe we could do something about it."Kors said it is not a question of thinness, but how it can be achieved healthily. "Being thin, we know, is about genetics, sleep, a healthy diet and exercise and hopefully not about starvation, bulimia, too many cigarettes or dressing a preadolescent girl up to look like an adult," he said.

Kors had several suggestions of his own to improve a model's well-being. "You have to treat these girls as individuals, not mannequins," he said. "Engage them in conversation when you meet them."

The audience included designers Donna Karan, Francisco Costa, Derek Lam, Marchesa's Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig, Doo-Ri Chung, Phillip Lim, Richard Chai and Michael Vollbracht.

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