Recent deaths among severely underweight fashion models have prompted
Italy's cabinet to implement body mass index (BMI) standards for models. The
deaths have also spurred health organizations to issue guidelines to increase
the fashion industry's accountability for models' well-being and to raise
awareness about eating disorders among people working in the fashion industry,
including those who aspire to be models.
A month after the death of Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston, 21, from
complications of anorexia nervosa in December 2006, Italian Youth Policy and
Sports Minister Giovana Melandri met with Mario Boselli, head of the Italian
National Fashion Chamber, to sign a self-regulated code aimed at Italian
modeling agencies, clothing designers, and others who work in the fashion
Under the new code, models with a BMI of less than 18.5 and models under
age 16 would be banned from Italian fashion shows.
The Italian leaders signed the code in time for the trend-setting Milan
Fashion Week in February, during which fall-winter clothing collections for
2007-2008 will be debuted.
Italy is not alone in passing regulations in an attempt to improve the
health of fashion models. Last September the organizers of Spain's Madrid
Fashion Week announced they were banning models with BMIs below 18.
Reston's death followed that of Uruguayan Model Luisel Ramos, who died of
heart failure during a fashion show in Montevideo in August 2006. And shortly
after Reston's death, a 21-year-old Brazilian fashion student died of
complications from anorexia, according to the January 14 New York
"Steps now being taken in Italy, Spain, and elsewhere to reduce the
number—and impact—of ultra-thin female models in prominent
fashion shows offer encouraging signs that political leaders in those nations
understand that flaunting emaciated female body images can potentially damage
young women and provoke eating disorders among the vulnerable," Joel
Yager, M.D., told Psychiatric News.
Yager is a professor of psychiatry and vice chair for education at the
University of New Mexico School of Medicine and co-wrote APA's Practice
Guideline for the Treatment of Patients with Eating Disorders.
"'Scrawny' sends a very unhealthy message," he emphasized."
We can only hope that influence leaders in the United States get it as
well, exert better self-regulation, and promote healthy female bodies rather
than 'skeleton chic' in the American fashion industry and in our
Reforming the ideals of the fashion industry is the goal behind new
guidelines issued by the Academy for Eating Disorders (AED). The
organization's prevention-focused special interest group in January issued the
guidelines to "create a dialogue with the fashion industry and assist
them with taking appropriate measures to protect the health and well-being of
models," Eric van Furth, Ph.D., president of the academy, told
Psychiatric News (see
box on facing page).
Van Furth said he is not very hopeful, however, that the fashion industry
will adopt the academy's guidelines anytime soon. "The response from the
fashion industry has been one of resistance," he said.
For example, after the AED guidelines became public, the Council of Fashion
Designers of America formed a health committee and initiative that issued a
number of recommendations that did not mention models' BMI or weight.
While the recommendations did emphasize the need to educate those in the
fashion industry about the early warning signs of eating disorders, they also
specified that "the health initiative is about awareness and education,
not policing....Therefore, the committee is not recommending that models get
a doctor's physical examination to assess their health or body mass index to
be permitted to work."
Van Furth said that the fashion council's guidelines show that the"
fashion industry has great difficulty in taking this problem seriously.
They are only concerned about models' health as long as there are no severe
consequences for the fashion industry." ▪