Fashion industry shifts to healthier models under consumer pressure
By Chelsea Werner
The saying goes, “You can never be too rich or too thin!” But this past year, the fashion industry itself has been redefining this concept and making a new fashion statement. In the fall of 2006 models in Madrid who were deemed “too skinny” were banned from the catwalk.
This trend quickly spread throughout Europe and made a particularly bold statement when it was adopted in Milan, the fashion capital of the world. However, the New York fashion industry was not as quick to jump on the “healthier model bandwagon,” which sparked what is now internationally known as “the size zero debate.”
Last September during Uruguay’s Fashion Week, model Luisel Ramos fainted on a runway and later died of heart failure. Unfortunately, she was not the only one to make headlines in that fashion that same year, 21-year-old Brazilian fashion model Ana Carolina Reston also died from “anorexia- related complications.”
After these traumatic events, Madrid began their campaign against models that were too skinny and created strict guidelines for runway models. The main requirement was that no model could have a BMI below 18. (This resulted in 30 percent of the models being fired). Madrid’s regional government implemented these rules because people were accusing the models and designers of being the reason so many young girls have developed eating disorders. The government stated that “it did not blame designers and models for anorexia. But the fashion industry has a responsibility to portray healthy body images.”
Although Madrid set the precedent, Milan designers, known for their bold trendsetting and innovative styles, did what they always do when it comes to fashion: they took the campaign to a whole different level.
The Italian government hired a team of doctors, stylists, nutritionists, models and politicians to comprise a strategy for their upcoming fashion week. In order for a model to participate in a fashion show, she now has to receive a license issued by this committee. Similar to Madrid’s requirement, a model has to have a BMI of no less than 18.5 and be at least 16 years old. Milan’s mayor, Letizia Moratti, proclaimed that Italian designers were to cast “healthy looking models” in their shows. As a result of this edict, even models wearing heavy and dark under- eye- makeup was banned, since it is seen as promoting an “anorexic look.”
In the United States, we have our share of skinny models. In addition, movie stars are the faces for various high-end fashion campaigns. So when these new aesthetic standards arrived in this country, the Council of Fashion Designers of America found itself in a moral dilemma.
Actresses have a greater influence on young girls than models do. To enforce certain standards for models and not for stars who appear in all the fashion magazines and tabloids would be hypocritical.
Further, many in American fashion believe that designers should be able to design the kind of clothes they want and for the type of women they want. Cathy Gould of New York’s Elite modeling agency said, “The fashion industry is being used as a scapegoat. I understand they want to set this tone of healthy beautiful women, but what about the freedom of the designer?”
Eventually the pressures of this debate influenced the Council to make some “guidelines.” Under these recommendations, models under the age of 18 are not supposed to work after midnight and fittings for younger models are to take place during the day. If models show signs of an eating disorder, they should receive professional help and should not go back to work without a professional’s permission. Also during the fashion shows, a healthier choice of food and drinks must be available as opposed to the normal “diet of cigarettes and champagne.”
The size zero debate has captivated the fashion world. Who knows what we will be seeing in the fashion weeks to come? Even though many of us will be discarding our skinny jeans for the latest Cavalli mini, it’s doubtful that this is trend will be considered “so last season” anytime soon.
This new campaign has enabled everyone to see a different side of the fashion world because, in the wise words of Coco Chanel, “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”