Madrid to models: Here, have some tapas

Super-skinniest are banned from Fashion Week catwalk.

Topics: Broadsheet, Fashion, Eating Disorders, Health, Love and Sex,

One mincing step for Madrid, Spain, one giant step for womankind? We’ve already mentioned this briefly, but e-mails from readers continue to pour in: Reuters (and a slew of others) report that Madrid’s regional government — responding to long-standing protests and citing the fashion industry’s “responsibility to portray healthy body images” (Reuters’ paraphrase) — has banned super-skinny models from its Fashion Week (Sept. 18-22). Using body-mass index as a guide, the show could turn away as many as 30 percent of models who hit the catwalks in last year’s event.

Cathy Gould of New York’s Elite modeling agency told Reuters (again, paraphrase) that the “fashion industry was being used as a scapegoat for illnesses like anorexia and bulimia,” which is a bit like saying rhinovirus is being used as a scapegoat for the common cold.

To be fair, such illnesses are caused by many nature/nurture factors, some of which we’re still studying. But it’s also not just about diagnosable illness. Models with visible ribs — and we’re blaming the skeletal standards here, not the models themselves — are also a visible (and really, really tall) part of a broader industry that can help make girls, even those who “know better,” feel bad about themselves if their elbows aren’t sharp enough to cut paper.

But you knew that. The bigger news here is that other cities seem to have started to follow suit, offering the hope that this could, just maybe, be the beginning not just of changes in rules elsewhere but also of broader shifts toward a healthier sensibility. According to Reuters, the mayor of Milan, Italy — Milan! La capitale della moda! — told an Italian newspaper that “she would seek a similar ban for her city’s show unless it could find a solution to ‘sick’ looking models.” I guess New York’s maybe, what, two years behind Europe? So let’s keep our eye on Fashion Week 2008.

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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