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Skinny Model Furor: Not All Fashion’s Fault, Say Designers, Editors

Don't tell me what to do. That is the general mantra of the freedom-loving fashion industry as it struggles to cope with the superskinny model controversy.

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Don’t tell me what to do.

That is the general mantra of the freedom-loving fashion industry as it struggles to cope with the superskinny model controversy. With New York Fashion Week just 72 hours away, to be followed rapidly by London, Milan and Paris, the issue is increasing the pressure on designers.

And many don’t like it. Karl Lagerfeld labeled the effort to regulate models “politically correct fascism.”

Everyone agrees anorexia and eating disorders are serious issues, but most point out the problem isn’t restricted to the fashion industry. Hollywood is equally to blame, according to many designers and magazine editors. “It’s not even attractive to see a grown woman looking like less than 100 pounds,” said Janice Min, editor in chief of Us Weekly. “Nicole Richie is a celebrity because she lost weight.” That doesn’t mean fashion is blameless. Vera Wang recalls a model passing out in her showroom because she hadn’t eaten enough (the designer didn’t cast her). Meanwhile, Nicole Miller has taken to weighing models backstage to make sure they aren’t undernourished. So as the fall runway shows kick off, WWD canvassed designers, editors, modeling agencies, advertising executives and health professionals to get their views on an issue sure to be debated throughout the season.

Designers: no big changes
That is the main consensus of fashion designers, who, for the most part, say they are not going to make any dramatic switches in the type of models they’re hiring to walk their fall runways. And they don’t want to be dictated to by their respective fashion organizations.

“The idea of ‘regulation’ is revolting, but so much today,” said Karl Lagerfeld. “Models are about looks, not about weight. For me, it’s not even an issue; it’s part of this new politically correct fascism.”

While the focus seems to be firmly planted on models, designers believe the fashion industry is being singled out unfairly, and that Hollywood bears equal responsibility for promoting the images of superskinny women.

Carolina Herrera noted anorexia is prevalent among ballet dancers and students, as well as actresses.

“We have a big responsibility with this disease because it can be found everywhere — it’s not only seen in fashion,” she said.

This story first appeared in the January 30, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

In recent weeks, fashion’s governing bodies have issued guidelines for the hiring of models. The Council of Fashion Designers of America has devised healthy model guidelines that are about creating awareness of eating disorders, rather than policing. Milan’s stricter rules require models to have a license and a body mass index above 18.5, and to be at least 16 years old. In Paris, Didier Grumbach, who heads the Chambre Syndicale, said it would not issue any ultimatums to regulate models, since the country was already subject to strict rules. “In France, we already have extreme regulation….All models under 16 must have frequent medical visits to make sure they are physically and psychologically fine. The system in France is not broken. It doesn’t need to be fixed,” said Grumbach.

Still, Lagerfeld suggested the weight furor was centered on the wrong end of the scale.

“There are more fat people in the world than too-skinny ones, and the fat ones have big, big problems. Nobody cares; they are not glamorous,” he continued. “We are designers, not doctors who have to care about ‘eating disorders.'”

Lagerfeld said his criteria for a model were “the right look, the touch of the moment, a personal style and a memorable face. I have never had other criteria. Age is also unimportant, from 15 to 40 and more. It’s all about style and modernity, and not weight. If a new girl, like Kate Moss but ‘big,’ would show up, she could create a new style, a new look — but that may not happen tomorrow.

“Ultimately, the responsibility for models with eating disorders is their parents, the doctors who treat them and modeling agencies,” Lagerfeld said. “The agencies are the people who do the pre-casting; [they] can look at that. That is their job,” he added.

Lagerfeld’s stance was echoed by many American designers.

At Donna Karan International, there is always an extensive spread of food in the design studio during castings, models are not kept waiting, castings don’t last past midnight and there’s even a masseuse on hand to help the models relax and rejuvenate — all a reflection of Karan’s overall philosophy of well-being. “I look at a girl and want her to be healthy,” said Karan.

Vera Wang said what she finds upsetting is the fact that fashion standards are being embraced by civilians. Wang said she had seen a few models, whom she declined to name, faint in her showroom from undereating. Needless to say, they were not selected to walk in her show. Wang said she did not choose models based on their weight. “Part of what I look for is a model’s line in movement, how she holds her neck. I don’t particularly cast a model because she’s skinny. I like a certain sense of a modern girl, who might look like students or girls off the street.”

Bill Blass designer Michael Vollbracht said last season he turned away a few models who looked too gaunt. While talking about the issue was productive, he said, he was not expecting any immediate results. “I don’t think it will be rectified this season,” he said. “Some guidelines are better than no guidelines. But the agencies have to monitor these girls. Someone has to guide these children.”

Having grown up in the days of Twiggy, he noted that ultrathin is nothing new and added, “Everyone’s idol, Audrey Hepburn, was painfully thin at times.”

Vollbracht said there was nothing wrong with thin — unhealthy is the problem.

At Nicole Miller, models are weighed on a scale in the showroom and their heights are recorded. Chairman and chief executive officer Bud Konheim said, “We then have a database of what all the 5-foot-10 models weigh and a norm or an average. A model that falls below the norm is then suspect and we pay attention to her.

“The main message we are sending is that we’re serious about eating disorders. Nothing is foolproof, but this is a step to say that we endorse ‘healthy’ lifestyles,” he said.

Miller said the CFDA’s guidelines may influence many people not to use girls who are so young that their bodies are still developing. “Girls’ body shapes change so drastically between the ages of 14 and 17,” she said. “I’ve never used really skinny girls. Their heads are too big for their bodies.”

Miller said the problem was that photographers and casting agents “put all this pressure to get these girls out [in the public eye] at 14. Why should a model’s career be over at 21? A career should be starting at 17 or 18.”

Dana Buchman, who is a CFDA board member, firmly supports the guidelines and gave copies of them to every employee in her showroom. “It’s more of an awareness, and just all this hoopla is going to do a world of good,” she said. “We started having whole-grain snacks and raisins backstage so that it’s not the big bagel and cream cheese or that sugar boost, but something more nutritious. I am very proud of the fashion industry for making a move.”

Designer-cum-stylist Victoria Bartlett observed, “I don’t work with models who are anorexic. However, there’s a difference between girls who are naturally skinny and ones who are sick.” She said she didn’t think it was fair for girls who are naturally thin to be scrutinized the way they have been.

As the stylist behind the shows for Miss Sixty and Ter et Tantine, as well as her own ready-to-wear line, VPL, Bartlett doubted the debate would affect castings for advertising. “For campaigns, where you are advertising someone’s product, you usually want a healthy-looking girl,” said Bartlett. “I haven’t seen many super-skinny girls in campaigns recently.”

Peter Som said it was still too soon to gauge how much would change. “Because New York is the first to show, the industry will be looking to us for our response and reaction to the situation,” Som said.

The designer said the fashion industry was as much to blame for the ultrathin trend as Hollywood and its actresses, who are equally influential role models to women. “I think it has become the trend and has reached a point where the pendulum needs to swing the other way and we will soon begin to see a change,” he said. “We are all responsible in some way for this current trend and need to make a conscious effort to make a change.”

While many Italian designers agreed, they also were resistant to being told what type of models they should hire.

“Nothing is going to change for us; actually, I think this whole business is simply a big political move,” said Stefano Gabbana. “Ethically, we always try to avoid super-young girls or minors in general, though if a model is 15 and comes with her mom for a week, there’s nothing wrong. Secondly, skinny doesn’t necessarily mean anorexic, a problem that is very psychological, but could be the consequence of a good metabolism….Again, my stance is that fashion has nothing to do with anorexia because models have always been skinny.”

Robert Triefus, a spokesman for Giorgio Armani, said he would use the “same casting approach as always.”

Angela Missoni noted, “Granted that I’ve never used models under 16, I find unsettling the brevity of the government’s answers to such dangerous and serious problems of our times. Problems of insecurity, unhappiness and discomfort certainly don’t stem from a model’s body, but should imply an analysis of our whole society and lifestyle. Since the Forties, models have always been tall and thin because professions that imply the use of your body apply different rules — from the training of astronauts to the bodies of sumo fighters.

“These forms of censorship or control are really a bit ridiculous,” continued Missoni. “It’s like closing a ship’s leak with a cork. Anorexia is an illness that needs to be studied and, as much as it can be worsened by cultural and moral reasons, the answer certainly isn’t forbidding this and that.”

Anna Molinari for Blumarine added, “I don’t need to veer toward less-skinny girls because I’ve always opted for romantic women that don’t belong to the skinny fashion icons. The proof is Bette Franke, who we used for the fall ad campaign shot by Craig McDean and who typifies sweetness, a strong personality and harmonious curves.”

In Paris, designer Loulou de la Falaise said, “I’ve always worked with an attractive woman’s figure as an outline, and never actively sought out skinny girls. I prefer models that look like women as opposed to girls.

“These days, models begin working at 14, and so they are naturally very thin,” de la Falaise continued. “And it’s easier to fit a slim body type, but clothes fitted on skinny girls never allow room for feminine curves.

“Perhaps the agencies should be more careful of which models they suggest to designers, and which models they send to castings. I show my collections to the press by private appointment, on models that are very attractive but not superskinny — but then I don’t do catwalk shows,” she said.

In London, designer Giles Deacon said he was not making any changes in his model selection.

“This season, I’m using the same casting principles I’ve always used: If the girl is right, we cast her. And we’ve always looked for a diverse mix of healthy girls. There are certain girls out there who are naturally thin, and there is nothing wrong with that. I think everyone has to be responsible in this — of course, I would never cast a girl who looked ill or poorly.”

Jean-Jacques Picart, a Paris industry consultant, said he thought the issue was overblown.

“Everything is already so regulated in fashion; everything is so formatted. Please give a bit of freedom to people,” he said. “Don’t blame the designer.

“Honestly, not so many successful models are too skinny….All the professionals I know, when they like a model, it’s not because she’s skinny, but because she fits with the times. We pay more attention to their personality and their character than their weight.”

In Picart’s estimation, wanton cosmetic surgery and Botox treatments are a bigger concern than too-skinny models. In any case, he suggested agencies, who recruit, train and coach models, should be at the forefront of efforts to deal with unhealthy body weights.

The Editors
Could fashion magazines have some changes in the works?

French Vogue editor in chief Carine Roitfeld said the cover of the magazine’s new issue reflects a “new style of girls.”

That means gone are the days of the superskinny waif. Instead, Roitfeld said, “We prefer skinny but healthy girls.”

The editor said the issue of anorexia should be taken seriously and that no one should “die” to be a model, but she also said she would not take extreme measures in casting. “You know I’m not going to weigh a model before they go on a catwalk. This is ridiculous. I like the model [and that’s enough].”

While Vogue Italia’s Franca Sozzani said she would be open to casting a different kind of girl, she said she had yet to see modeling agencies pushing new body types. “I don’t think it will affect casting,” Sozzani said. “Yes, surely, modeling agencies will have to propose girls that aren’t sick, but I don’t think it will change the aesthetic of a model.

“I think maybe now [the industry] will avoid certain errors that were made in the past and not [employ] girls that are sick. We’ll have to see. I really do believe [anorexia] is a problem, but I don’t think it’s something that should be or can be resolved in the pages of a magazine.”

With the overuse of underweight models, and skinny images continually promoted in Hollywood, magazine editors have been taken to task for constantly featuring those photos in their magazines.

“It’s hard,” said Janice Min, editor of US Weekly. “The fact is, weight is an all-consuming subject for women; they are interested. What I find interesting and a strange thing is the discussion of who has an eating disorder is like a spectator sport for young women. When we cover thin celebrities, we try to highlight the fact that this could be problematic.

“One of the things I feel is responsible is the quantity of media that projects images of women and beauty 24/7. To be the thinnest, blondest, or prettiest has its rewards. Even editing photos from the Golden Globes, it’s remarkable to me how emaciated the actresses looked. We were joking in the office, ‘They looked downright hungry,'” said Min.

She said US Weekly ran a story on five actresses headlined, “They Called Me Fat,” and none of the actresses was fat. “We had Jennifer Hudson, Sara Ramirez….What women want is to find some healthy examples. For women to find regular-looking women still being celebrated is a huge relief to them. One of the interesting things about extreme fitness is that it’s contagious.

“We were doing year-end photos, and I came across the photos of Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie that shocked everyone.…It’s not even attractive to see a grown woman looking like less than 100 pounds. Nicole Richie is a celebrity because she lost weight,” said Min.

Whether the CFDA’s new guidelines are enough to reverse the trend of using too-thin models is debatable.

“People will take a second look at the models. What people will try to avoid is the shock value, the people who you see on the runway that make people gasp and nudge the person next to them and say, ‘What is going on there?’ Through the years, it’s been shocking to see how grotesque the models are running down the runway,” said Min.

Kate White, editor in chief of Cosmopolitan, believes the CFDA guidelines are helpful to a degree.

“I thought they were a very good start. I don’t think you can set restrictions and tell designers you can’t use certain models based on their body fat.”

She said the magazine doesn’t run diet stories or pieces on plastic surgery. She said she wants Cosmo readers to know that guys like their bodies and are much more forgiving.

“What we’ve done is said to modeling agencies, ‘We want to look at girls who look on the healthier side.’ With fashion models, it’s tough to get anyone who’s a size 8, but we look at the girls who aren’t skinny,” said White.

“Ultimately, the only way it’s going to decrease is if the industry doesn’t encourage superskinny models by using them. I don’t think it’s right to set regulations, but I think if the choices are made, eventually, you weed out the girls that are just too thin,” said White.

Roberta Meyers, editor in chief of Elle, noted the magazine will continue to cover weight-loss issues.

“We don’t do diets per se (eat grapefruit, not doughnuts…) but we will continue to cover weight loss and weight issues because obesity is a much more prevalent health problem than anorexia. Further, our readers are interested in health, diet and knowing about the ramifications of being overweight.”

As for the red carpet, she said, “What the stars wear is certainly in our wheelhouse and we will continue to cover them; we will not discriminate on weight, height — only fame and taste.

“I think it’s interesting that where the tabs and celebrity weeklies used to do stories on how bloated Liz Taylor was, they now do story after story on the ‘too skinny.’ They’re as punishing to the thin girls as they are to the fat ones, and the message is certainly that too skinny is not attractive,” said Meyers.

She noted that Elle’s last three covers were Gwen Stefani, Jennifer Garner and Beyoncé — “hardly waifs.”

As for the media promoting unhealthy role models for teens and young women, Meyers said, “I think the most famous women in Hollywood right now are probably Angelina Jolie and Britney Spears. Some may consider the latter to be an unhealthy role model for teens for many reasons, but her thinness is not one of them. That said, I do think that fashion magazines should take up the issue of why the aesthetic of runway models changes from bombshell to scarecrow and back again — what it says about women, culture, the way we see ourselves and one another. And finally, those girls just really don’t look very good. So why would we use them?”

Teen magazines, too, are taking a closer look at the problem as their readers tend to look at celebrities as role models, even more so than the models in their pages.

“I can only speak for myself as a magazine editor and I will say that I definitely control which models we use and I have nixed some options presented to me because I felt the model was too skinny,” said Susan Schultz, editor in chief of CosmoGIRL. “Magazine editors do have a responsibility to their readers — and I, as a teen magazine editor, take that responsibility very seriously.”

“My readers look up to celebrities more than they do models, which is why seeing too many superskinny celebrities can have a negative effect on how satisfied girls are with their bodies,” said Schultz.

But Schultz doesn’t believe the new guidelines are enough to reverse the trend of using emaciated models.

“People will follow the guidelines for the upcoming fall fashion week and maybe spring fashion week in September. But once the fervor dies down, I expect there to be a bit of a slide back toward thin models. What we need are more actresses like America Ferrera, Sara Ramirez and Jennifer Hudson who looked gorgeous at the Golden Globes. We need more images of real women looking beautiful so girls — and women — can see that the ‘ideal’ really isn’t stick-thin.”

The Ad Agencies
Advertising executives in the U.S. and abroad believe there could be a public relations backlash against superskinny models in ad campaigns.

The flip side is that most don’t expect any major changes in the selections of their models.

Raul Martinez, chief executive officer and executive creative director at AR, said the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s guidelines would not necessarily change his mind about hiring skinny models and actresses for the fall ads.

“For us, the decisions that we make around casting are always informed by being true to the brand and the concept for that season,” he said. “The girls we choose need to speak to the target consumer in a way that resonates with them.” For example, he chose Carmen Kass for the Salvatore Ferragamo campaign, and India Hicks and Elaine Irwin for Forth & Towne’s ads.

However, Martinez was aware that ad agencies could face a backlash if they feature anorexic-looking models, saying, “If a brand continues to use overtly thin, anorexic girls, they may appear insensitive to a very serious and real situation.”

Trey Laird, president and executive creative director at Laird + Partners, said the CFDA’s guidelines couldn’t come at a better time.

“Once something is in the media and is talked about, people are more conscious of it,” he said. “It’s a really good time to do this, before fashion week; it will be at the top of everyone’s minds as they go into casting models.”

And while he said he knew the CFDA had come under fire from some who don’t think the guidelines are stringent enough, he appreciated their approach. “I think they did a very good job,” he said. “[The guidelines] are reasonable and responsible. They made everyone feel like this is a responsibility that needs to be taken care of.”

The rules probably won’t have a major effect on Laird’s fall campaigns, since the brands he works with, such as Donna Karan and the Gap, aren’t prone to using overly skinny models.

Like Martinez, he could see a p.r. backlash occurring if brands feature anorexic-looking models in future ad campaigns. “If they are glaringly in your face with a flippant attitude, I can imagine they won’t be getting much good will,” said Laird.

Richard Kirshenbaum, co-founder and co-chairman of kirshenbaum bond + partners, said he was a proponent of healthy-looking models and believed advertising and editorial executives needed to be more responsible in showing more “truthful images.”

“It’s professionally not responsible to put across those [skinny] body images,” he said. “I think it’s about time for a change.” Kirshenbaum works with clients including John Frieda, Target and Martha Stewart. He already subscribes to the school of thought that consumers want to see images of “real women,” as opposed to stick-thin bodies, in ads. “They want aspirational ads,” he said. “We also need a more diverse looking group of people in ads.”

Even some advertising executives acknowledged the problem wasn’t only with fashion models, however. Charles DeCaro, partner in New York agency Laspata/DeCaro, questioned whether Hollywood directors had guidelines for anorexic actresses, or editors who featured superthin actresses in their pages. “You see these people who have achieved nothing in their lives than this drug binge or anorexia. We would never hire someone like that. It’s not in our DNA as an agency,” said DeCaro.

Still, like some designers and editors, ad executives sense the controversy could signal a new attitude toward models. Sam Shahid, partner in Shahid & Co., for example, said he thought there was an undercurrent of change.

“I think we’re aware of it, but we’re not saying it. The modeling agencies are responding to it without talking about it.”

How far the pendulum swings remains to be seen. Fashion is, after all, about image, and many remain convinced thin models help sell clothes better.

“‘Skinny’ has become the most accepted archetype of beauty,” said Sarah Musgrave, account director of Saatchi & Saatchi in London. “It is youthful; it is aspirational. And when we vilify designers, we have to remember why skinny sells so well — it’s Darwinian. We know that — rightly or wrongly — the most beautiful get the mates. Survival of the ‘fittest,’ if you will, and if we want to ensure our ‘survival,’ we must appeal not to other women but to men.”

Claus Lindorff, managing director of BETC Luxe, a leading French advertising agency, said, “I don’t believe in regulation. In the 1980s, the industry tried to regulate the age of models, which resulted in models cheating on their ages. You can regulate almost anything you want, but there will always be ways to get around it. Regulation becomes more of a political gesture than anything else.”

Modeling Agencies
The designers decide.

Or so say modeling agencies, who claim the power of casting lies with designers and that if they requested larger-sized models, the supply would meet the demand.

“It’s not a matter of who we send; it’s a matter of who the designers choose and it depends on what type of clothes they design,” said Katie Ford, president of Ford Models.

Still, even modeling agencies feel it could be time for a change.

“The models that are on the runways and in the magazines need to be representative of a healthier type of beauty. Unfortunately, there’s some very shortsighted people in our business who’ve allowed and pushed the envelope to go to this extent,” said Sean Patterson, president of Wilhelmina Models.

“You can’t tell me that billions of dollars are going to be lost as you move up in size in girls. The bottom line is a healthier model will sell just as much as a stick-thin model. It’s a small group of stylists and designers that have pushed it and it’s past the point,” said Patterson.

One insider at a Paris modeling agency, who requested anonymity, disclosed agencies are still sending out skinny girls and leaving it up to fashion houses to decide whether to use them — and that skinny models are still the most requested.

Many in the industry believe the issue is overblown and that attempts to regulate the size or age of models are unfair. Guido Dolci, president of Associazione Servizi Moda, an Italian association for agencies that safeguards models’ rights, doesn’t think girls under age 16 should be deprived of an opportunity to walk the runways.

“This whole thing was blown out of proportion. The manifesto is a suggestion of some parameters for the fashion industry that designers can or cannot oblige. To be honest, I don’t see a big difference between a girl who is 15 1/2 and one who is 16 if they come accompanied by their moms during school break or with a leave granted by the school. Frankly, I don’t think it’s fair to forbid girls to work in a moment that could change their lives. It’s like telling an athlete who could win a silver medal at 16 that she can’t start training or racing at 14.”

As for the models themselves, Coco Mitchell, who walks in Ralph Rucci’s runway shows, said, “For people to willingly be a size 0 or 2 is unhealthy. And I think for grown-ups to make that the standard and to make people unhealthy is deplorable.”

She insinuated designers are to blame. “Who is making the clothes?” she asked. “You never see an 8 on the runway.”

The idea that models are too skinny is hogwash, said Ines de la Fressange, the reed-thin former Chanel model who is now director of the Roger Vivier shoe business. “Was Claudia [Schiffer] too skinny? How about Linda [Evangelista] or Naomi [Campbell]? Kate [Moss] is not too skinny. There’s a difference between being thin and anorexic.”

De la Fressange called the brouhaha over too-thin models scandal-mongering by the press. “It‘s a false debate. Anorexia is serious. But fashion doesn’t cause anorexia. In any case, fashion is only a role model in terms of style, not behavior.”

She continued, “It’s like saying fashion has a drug problem. Mechanics do drugs, too. But people wouldn’t talk about that. It’s not sexy.”

The Health Field
Nutritionists, psychologists and specialists on eating disorders believe educating and raising awareness about anorexia in the modeling industry is bound to have a positive effect on young women’s body-image issues.

Of the estimated eight million Americans who suffer from eating disorders, seven million are women, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, a not-for-profit organization based in Highland Park, Ill. And many of them are young: 86 percent of sufferers report onset before age 20. Six percent of sufferers eventually die from complications, putting the fatality rate for eating disorders higher than any other mental illness. “Professionals in the field of eating disorders believe that these diseases have always been widespread; however, more and more sufferers are coming forward to seek help and ultimately tell their stories,” according to a spokeswoman for ANAD.

Worldwide, some 70 million people suffer from eating disorders.

After the death in November of Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston at age 21 due to complications from anorexia, Fashion Rio has banned models younger than age 16 and required proof of their good health. Earlier this month, while 26-year-old Brazilian model Gisele Bündchen was visiting her native country for its fashion week, she blamed weak families, not the fashion industry, for anorexia. “I never suffered from this problem [anorexia] because I had a very strong family base,” she told O Globo newspaper. “Parents are responsible, not the fashion industry.”

This set off a maelstrom of complaints from educators who said that, contrary to Bündchen’s claim, there is no scientific evidence that families cause anorexia. In fact, researchers have found that anorexia nervosa is much more complex than simply wanting to be slender to achieve some fashionable ideal, and data have shown that anorexia has a strong genetic component that may cause the illness.

Around the globe, eating disorder experts agreed the new guidelines for models are raising needed awareness of the problem.

“We welcome the attention this has brought,” said Susan Ringwood, chief executive of the London-based Eating Disorders Association. “When we speak to people [with eating disorders] they say they’re not trying to look like models, but [the prevalence of thin models in the media] makes it harder for them to get better. They find it more difficult to recover when they’re surrounded by thin images.” Ringwood lauded advertising such as Unilever-owned Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign, which features women of various sizes. “It shows people who look beautiful can be of all shapes and sizes,” Ringwood said. “I would love to see that [concept] taken up.”

“There’s no proof that there are more cases of anorexia today than in the past; however, there is evidence that more and more young ladies are harboring deep body issues,” said French nutritionist Annie Lacuisse-Chabot. She attributes the phenomenon to increased exposure in the media featuring skinny models.

Some experts don’t believe the preponderance of images featuring superskinny models leads to an eating disorder, however.

“I don’t believe skinny models cause anorexia,” said Lucy Serpell, a London-based clinical psychologist who also runs a Web site listing eating disorder resources. “It’s certainly true that looking at pictures of skinny models makes people miserable — even when they’re women of perfectly normal weight. I wouldn’t say, however, that most women who look at pictures of thin models go on to develop anorexia.”

Serpell believes models suffering from anorexia and bulimia will be more reticent going forward about discussing eating disorders following the introduction of weight guidelines in some fashion capitals. “I think the new regulations will encourage secrecy among models with eating disorders, as their entire livelihood depends on not gaining weight,” said Serpell.

Meantime, ANAD has established a Five Point Fashion Pledge to promote better health among runway and print models and the consumers. It is inviting designers and fashion companies to sign the pledge, which includes using models and images that represent a spectrum of sizes in order to reinforce the uniqueness of their customers and acknowledge that there’s no single standard of rightness of body image, culture or race.

The agency said its primary concern is that women, particularly adolescents, set unrealistic and unhealthy body-image expectations to emulate models. “We invite responsible members of the fashion industry to partner with us in the fight against anorexia nervosa and associated disorders, because frankly, it’s a matter of life and death,” said Patricia Santucci, executive vice president of the board of ANAD.

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