SYDNEY – Three days after Australia got its first female prime minister, the federal government unveiled what it’s claiming is the first body image initiative in the world.


On Sunday, Youth Minister Kate Ellis unveiled a voluntary code of conduct and a “body image friendly” logo that will be awarded to compliant magazines, modelling agencies and fashion labels and retailers. The code was developed in consultation with the government’s Body Image Advisory Group, which includes former model and “Australia’s Next Top Model” host, Sarah Murdoch, wife of Rupert Murdoch’s son Lachlan. A war chest of $500,000 Australian dollars, or $437,448, has been earmarked for promotion and education, in partnership with The Butterfly Foundation, an eating disorder group. 


Recommendations include disclosing and avoiding the digital enhancement of images; banning ultra-thin female models or overly muscular male ones, in addition to models under the age of 16 to advertise adult clothes; employing a greater diversity of ethnicities and model body sizes; eschewing editorial and advertising content that promotes negative body image through rapid weight loss and cosmetic surgery, and, for retailers, carrying a wider variety of clothing sizes that better reflects the demands of the community.


Australian Fashion Week and upscale department store chain David Jones won’t have issues with the model age recommendation: in 2008, following several underage model controversies, they banned under-16 and under-18 models, respectively, from their runways. Sydney-based retailer Belinda Seper, who was a model before launching her 10-unit designer fashion chain, applauded the initiative. “It’s voluntary and I think it’s fantastic; there’s awareness that there’s an issue and that there’s a link, a step has been taken – yes, there are thin girls but they are thinner than ever before,” said Seper.


When it comes to the recommendation of stocking a wider variety of sizes in her boutiques, however, like several other retailers, Seper harbors doubts that larger sizes would in fact sell. Just 10 percent of her merchandise is a size 16 (size 14 in the U.S.) Seper’s biggest seller in the Belinda stores is a size 10, or size 8 U.S. In her youth-skewed Corner Shop boutiques, it’s a size 6, or size 4 U.S.
 “Am I supposed to carry things up to a size 20 or 24 [18 or 22 in the U.S.]?” she asked. “I will skew my buying towards the sizes that sell. I’m not a department store. Fashion is for, generally speaking, women who are in good physical shape, who choose to take care of themselves.”