The concern for anorexic models in the fashion industry gained renewed global prominence after the eating-disorder deaths of two young South American models last year. The controversy over these deaths led Madrid government officials in September to ban models below a certain body-mass index from working on city-sponsored fashion shows. Milan followed with a similar ordinance, and 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 do not suffer from eating disorders as a condition to work.
Right before New York’s Fashion Week in 2007, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) released its own health recommendations to promote wellness and a healthier work environment for models. Unlike the European officials, the CDFA has not gone so far as to recommend that runway models get a physical examination to assess their body-mass index to be permitted to work. Instead, the guidelines issued by the CDFA are only suggestions and not binding for the fashion industry, with the primary goal to create awareness and “educate” the industry.
Specifically, the CFDA guidelines recommend that models who are identified as having an eating disorder should be required to seek professional help in order to continue modeling. The guidelines also suggest that designers should not hire models under 16 years old for runway shows, should prohibit models under 18 from working past midnight at fittings or photo shoots and advised designers to offer healthy meals, water and regular breaks while models work and create a "healthy backstage environment" by barring smoking and alcohol.
U.S. health experts question whether voluntary guidelines are a strong enough statement to turn around the trend of unhealthy thin models and would like to see the U.S. fashion industry adopt stricter standards to protect the models and all the younger girls who look up to them. They argue that images in fashion magazines of ultra-thin models put an enormous pressure on girls who feel they must be thin in order to be considered attractive in our culture. Many fashion designers are against any body-mass index threshold for models. They argue that not every model suffers from eating disorders, but many ultra-thin models are genetically thin. In their opinion, clothes and not the models should be subject to scrutiny.
Body-mass index policing of future New York runway shows may still come as some New York city officials have already expressed their support to introduce new measures. It will definitely take the fashion industry time to adjust to less-thin models.