They're Going, Going . . . Gaunt

(Bebeto Matthews - AP)
By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 19, 2007

If anyone ever needed evidence of why industries should not be allowed to police themselves, the Council of Fashion Designers of America just provided it.

A week ago it released its "health initiative," which it called the "first step" in helping to ensure the health and safety of models. The guidelines are aimed at keeping dangerously thin -- perhaps even anorexic -- models off the runway. The recommendations come after the deaths of two underweight South American models last year and after observers outside fashion circles voiced concern about the emaciated look of others. New York's proposal followed Madrid's decision to set a body mass minimum for women on the runways and Milan's announcement that it intended to develop a nationwide campaign to fight anorexia.

The CFDA offered a six-point plan that was about as bold and decisive as business consultants talking about synergy. It was pure mumbo jumbo that outlined educational workshops and the importance of eating your vegetables.

And that's a shame. The last thing an industry as creative and adventurous as fashion needs is for heavy-handed bureaucrats or zealous activists to step in and try to dictate the size and shape of the models who walk the runways and appear in fashion magazines. But if models continue to look like cadavers, that may be inevitable.

The CFDA, which represents some of the most influential designers showing during New York's fashion week, offers the following recommendations:

· Educate the industry on the early warning signs of eating disorders.

· Require models with eating disorders to get professional help. (Even after having been diagnosed as anorexic, however, models would not necessarily be prohibited from walking the runway -- even while in treatment.)

· No models under 16 on the runway.

· No models under 18 working past midnight at fittings and photo shoots.

· No smoking or alcohol backstage at fashion shows. (Never mind that smoking in public spaces and the consumption of alcohol by anyone under 21 are already violations of New York City law.)

· Provide healthy snacks.

A PowerPoint presentation on the symptoms of anorexia and bulimia is not the solution to getting rid of sickly thin models. Nor can the answer be found in a crudites platter. As one model agent put it, the industry needs to start at the top of the pyramid. If there's no demand for skeletons on the runway, there won't be any skeletons.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company