Madrid's full-bodied models spark controversy

When Madrid banned extremely thin models from the country’s top fashion show that began this week, it was the kind of measure that European society seemed somehow to be waiting for.

The decision sparked immediate interest from Milan and London to Berlin and Helsinki, prompting controversy among fashion professionals, politicians, in the media and on internet forums.

While millions of women welcomed the measure announced by the Madrid regional authorities and the Pasarela Cibeles fashion show, it irked many fashion professionals who feared that the pressure to use more full-bodied models would affect their image and business.

“Thinness is not beauty, but shows some kind of deficiency,” Madrid official Concha Guerra said, but some Spanish fashion professionals counter-attacked.

“Unhealthy women could not even cope with the physical effort that modelling requires,” said Fernando Merino, of a Madrid modelling agency.

Spanish consumers’ associations and groups campaigning against eating disorders had for years pressured the fashion industry to change the look of its models and increase clothes sizes.

With an estimated one million Spanish women suffering or at high risk of developing anorexia or bulimia, even the Senate recommended in 1999 that measures be taken to stem the advance of the sometimes fatal diseases.

Madrid’s Pasarela Cibeles finally took a decision that was virtually unheard of in the fashion world.

Models who started strutting on the catwalk on Monday all have a body mass index—calculated on a height-weight ratio—of at least 18, the limit set by the World Health Organisation for a person to be considered healthy.

A model measuring 1,75m, for instance, must thus weigh at least 56kg.

The 68 would-be models were weighed and checked by doctors, who excluded five as being too thin.

Most designers did not hesitate to comply with the new rules, though some expressed concern that they could affect the Pasarela Cibeles’s international image.

There were, indeed, some signs of that happening. Some of Spain’s most media-prominent models, such as Eugenia Silva, declined to participate, reportedly because they found the weight checks humiliating.

Some fashion-watchers even complained that requesting people to have a certain weight constituted an unconstitutional form of discrimination.

For experts concerned with eating disorders, however, the weight limit set by the Pasarela Cibeles was only a timid first step in the right direction.

The models parading down the Madrid catwalk until September 22 are still very thin compared with the vast majority of Spanish women, who are not anorexics or bulimics, but often waste their energy in vicious circles of obsessive weight-watching, dieting and low self-esteem.

The new policy of the Pasarela Cibeles was welcomed in several European fashion capitals, with British Culture Minister Tessa Jowell urging the London Fashion Week to follow Madrid’s example, and Milan mayor Letizia Moratti criticising “sick-looking” models at her city’s show.

The winners so far, however, where the spectators of the Madrid fashion show, who “like curvy women”, the daily El Mundo observed.—Sapa-dpa

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