Can New Guidelines Create Model Models?

By Christine Cupaiuolo — January 10, 2007

The Academy for Eating Disorders on Wednesday issued guidelines for models at odds with the fashion industry’s own recommendations. “The response of American fashion designers to the problem of dangerously thin models on the runway is to propose educational reform and better working conditions,” writes Eric Wilson in The New York Times. “The response of eating disorder professionals is to suggest that those models should not be on the runways at all.”

A 13-point list released by the Academy calls for a minimum body mass index:

For women and men over the age of 18, adoption of a minimum body mass index threshold of 18.5 kg/m2, (e.g., a female model who is 5’ 9” [1.75 m] must weigh more than 126 pounds [57.3 kg]) which recognizes that weight below this is considered underweight by the World Health Organization.

For female and male models between the ages of 16 and 18, adoption of a minimum body mass index for age and sex equivalent to the 10th BMI percentile for age and sex (weight below this is considered underweight by the Centers for Disease Control). For example, applying this criterion to a 16 year old female model, the minimum required body mass index would be 17.4 kg/m2, for a male model 17.7 kg/m2. A 16 year old female model who is 5’ 9” [1.75 m] must weigh more than 117 pounds [53.3 kg].

“Too many models have died from eating disorders. These guidelines will help the industry take responsibility for the health and well-being of models,” Dr. Eric van Furth, AED president and clinical director of the Center for Eating Disorders Ursula in Leidschendam, the Netherlands, said in a statement, adding, “Recent tragic deaths highlight the urgent need for industry regulation.”

Two models in South America died last year of complications from anorexia nervosa.

The guidelines address other aspects of the fashion industry, from setting a minimum age threshold (16) for models to “an overall ban of the use of photographic manipulation techniques that artificially slim images of fashion models throughout the entire fashion industry” and “inclusion of models of varying weights and body types on both the catwalk and in fashion magazines so that these images — and the message that women and men of differing body types can look good in a variety of fashions — become part of our collective view of what constitutes beauty.”

The Council of Fashion Designers of America is issuing its own set of recommendations that emphasize healthier behavior and working conditions. As The New York Times reported on Saturday:

According to participants at the meeting, the recommendations are likely to include scheduling fashion-show fittings with younger models during daylight hours, rather than late at night, to help them get more sleep; urging designers to identify models with eating disorders; and introducing more nutritious backstage catering, where a diet of Champagne and cigarettes is the norm. […]

More than two-thirds of respondents to a questionnaire on Elle magazine’s Web site last month said they wished that American designers would follow the recent examples of fashion show organizers in Milan and Madrid in banning overly skinny models.

But the American designers rejected that option as unworkable.

“It is important as a fashion industry to show our interest and see what we can do because we are in a business of image,” said Diane von Furstenberg, the president of the designers’ council, the industry trade group. “But I feel like we should promote health as a part of beauty rather than setting rules.”

Plus: Slate’s Torie Bosch answers the question: Is it possible to have a very low BMI and still be healthy?

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