The American fashion industry says it wants models to be healthy, not anorexic, bulimic or chain-smokers. And to help them achieve that, the Council of Fashion Designers of America has released a list of recommendations as part of a new health initiative.
The guidelines were issued Friday, three weeks before designers start showcasing their fall collections during NewYork Fashion Week, which starts Feb. 2. The guidelines, which are suggestions and not binding, include:
-- Keep models under 16 off the runway and don't allow models under 18 to work at fittings or photo shoots past midnight.
-- Educate those in the industry to identify the early warning signs of eating disorders.
-- Require models identified as having an eating disorder to receive professional help and only allow those models to continue with approval from that professional.
-- Develop workshops on the causes and effects of eating disorders, and raise awareness of the effects of smoking and tobacco-related disease.
-- During fashion shows, provide healthy meals and snacks, while prohibiting smoking and alcohol.
What's missing -- aside from a means of enforcement -- is any mention of the Body Mass Index. In September, Madrid Fashion Week banned models with a body mass index of less than 18. The standard accepted by the World Health Organization is that anyone with an index under 18.5 is underweight.
Italian government officials also got involved in the too-skinny model debate, apparently prompted in part by Spain's move and by the death of Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston, who reportedly weighed 88 pounds when she died. In a December deal with the Italian fashion industry, designers agreed not to hire models younger than 16 and to require all models to submit medical proof that they don't suffer from eating disorders.
The panel that formulated guidelines for American fashion designers included CFDA President Diane von Furstenberg, nutritionist Joy Bauer, modeling agent Louis Chaban, fitness trainer David Kirsch and Dr. Susan Ice, vice president and medical director of Philadelphia's Renfrew Center, which is dedicated to eating disorders.
"The CFDA Health Initiative is about awareness and education, not policing. Therefore, the committee is not recommending that models get a doctor's physical examination to assess their health or body-mass index to be permitted to work," the CFDA said in a statement. "Eating disorders are emotional disorders that have psychological, behavioral, social and physical manifestations, of which body weight is only one."
CFDA Executive Director Steven Kolb told The Associated Press in an interview that the designers' understanding of the issue is that BMI is just one factor in a long list of criteria to identify eating disorders.
"A lot of the girls who work the runway are genetically thin. You go backstage and you see a lot of girls eating a lot of food and they're not gaining weight," Kolb said.
However, he anticipated the question about whether voluntary guidelines would turn around the too-thin models trend.
"As an industry, fashion has always been concerned about health. Here at the CFDA, we've been in the forefront in terms of efforts (such as) Fashion Targets Breast Cancer and HIV/AIDS awareness," he said. "As the issue of underweight models became global, we, as a group, outside of what other countries have done, decided to do something. I actually think it was a really responsible move."
Michael Vollbracht, the creative director at Bill Blass, which will stage its next runway show Feb. 6, agrees that the industry needs to showcase apparel models who are also role models. But he also expects it will take time for industry eyes to adjust to a less-thin thin model.
"Thin is always in, it's how you show clothes," Vollbracht said. But then those size 0 styles are plucked by stylists for Hollywood actresses who then feel fat -- and then diet -- when they can't fit into the tiny garments, and there are so many girls and women who then look up to the stars. It's a perpetual cycle, he said.
Vollbracht said that in the 1980s and early '90s, supermodels Claudia Schiffer and Cindy Crawford had more curvaceous figures. "Heroin chic changed a lot of things," he said. "It'll take some time to change back."