Anorexics Off The Runway?

A Revolution in Madrid May Just Mean the Days of Emaciated Models are Over (at Last!)

News | Margaret Childs | October 2006

Kate Moss: Considered a model for other models (Photo: Courtesy of Lenin Imports)

"Today the runways are all about measurements," says Martina Kaskic, a Bosnian-born model based in Vienna. And thanks to first-ever body mass minimums at this year’s Madrid Fashion Week, the thinness of runway models has become the stuff of scandal.

The Fashion Week organizers required a Body Mass Index of at least 18, which means a 175cm tall girl would need to weigh at least 56 kilos; models on today’s runways are closer to a BMI of 14-16.The decision meant closing out some very big names, including Naomi Campbell. A bold move.

Designers protest any forced change in dress sizes. Currently, outfits for most fashion shows are either 34-36, but many Fashion Week designers make their collections smaller, size 32-34, a size unknown to most stores.  Designers and photographers report that a camera adds at least one size to the look of a model hence, they say, small is beautiful.

"On the runway, model size has been frequently a representation of the designers image at that point in time," Katie Ford, the chief executive of Ford Models told The New York Times. But actually, "the runway represents a very small segment of the entire fashion business. We’re talking about this [now], because Madrid chose to do something."

Kaskic was pleased about the Madrid stance; but didn’t blame agencies or designers for the trend, rather the pressures of the business. "These models have nothing else to live for and think that skinniness will ensure them a place in Milano, regardless of whether they look healthy or not," she said. "That’s why we have make-up artists."

Sara Schätzl, an18-year-old German model thinks many of the girls bring the anorexia on themselves. "They view modeling as a dream job and believe that being thin is a job guarantee," she said.

But both said hats off to the organizers in Madrid for taking such a bold step in a healthier direction. There, designers have no choice but to follow the rules the regional government makes for Fashion Week, because the city picks up the tab for the space and supporting services.

In Milan, New York and London this is not the case, and change will be much harder, the models said. Would this ever have had this much media attention, they wonder, if Madrid’s control of the event weren’t so threatening to the fashion power structure? Now, Milanese Mayor Letizia Moratti has announced she would like to follow suit – though she may not succeed, as today’s Italian designers envision the aesthetic of their creations in tiny sizes.

"The Italian market has always been designer conscious," Stefania Saviolo, co-director of the Masters Program in Fashion Management at Bocconi University in Milan told the International Herald Tribune. "So the concept of plus sizes is contrary to the idea of the look that the designer wants for his creations."

Modeling agencies in Milan say they have upheld self-imposed health standards for their models for two years now that already effectively bar the anorexic from the runaways.

"We demand a health certificate for all our models," said Guido Dolci, president of Assem, the association of modeling agencies in Milan told the Associated Press. "There are 1,200 models working this week, and I challenge anyone to find a single certified anorexic." A doctor’s bill of good health, he added, is much more reliable than the BMI standard adopted by the Madrid shows. "That’s just alchemy," Dolci said. Some models, he added, are naturally skinny because they have fast metabolisms.

And many models, like Schätzl, say that the agencies don’t need to pressure the models to lose weight; they do it to themselves, as there are so many other girls happy to take their place, who are taller and/or skinnier.

At 18, Schätzl has already been modeling for two years. At age 14, she weighed 80 kilos at a height of 170 cm. With the help of a nutritionist and regular workouts she lost 25 kilos in the following two years. She was rejected at many agencies at first; she then lost another 5 kilos to weigh approximately 51 kilos, barely making the 18 BMI mark, and began to be offered work.

Schätzl described the castings as a "purely body-fixated affair. The girls have about two minutes, in which 5 pictures are taken and maybe a few questions asked." This means that either you have the "right" measurements or they don’t hire you.

"Beauty has become completely irrelevant," she said. A few hours in front of a catwalk and it’s hard not to suspect anorexia. But in the modeling world, body weight and eating disorders are taboo subjects, making reliable assessment difficult.

"All the models will tell you they feel great, that they eat everything," said Simone Hanke, a Brazilian who has walked runways for Armani, Valentino and Missoni. "You won’t find one model who will admit that she’s anorexic. But then you see all these skinny girls."  The denial often shows in their faces.

"These girls don’t have time to lose weight in a healthy way," Schätzl explained, "so they pop a few laxatives the day before a show for a speedy slim-down."

"These skeleton girls have an emptiness in their eyes, a listless look," said Martina Kaskic, "as if being as skinny as possible is the only thing worth living for." Hanke believes, however, that the designers play a big role, in spite of their protestations of innocence. "In Italy all the clothes are small sizes," she explained. "Put yourself in our shoes. Just imagine what you’d do if you had to put them on in public."

In the United States and many north European countries, designers and manufacturers have long been catering to the high-fashion needs of women who can’t quite squeeze into runway sizes. But in Italy, there is a stigma attached to curvaceous women, despite the fact that the classic image of the Mediterranean figure is anything but pencil thin.

Outside of the Fashion Week, organizers are more daring. Francesco Casile, CEO of Casile & Casile Fashion Group, a distributor, and the organizer of the salon that exhibited plus sizes successfully at the Milan fashion trade fair believes that this new trend will stick, "It’s like we discovered hot water," he said.

From the model’s point of view, the important thing is not to risk your health to save your job. Andrea Weidler, head of Wiener Models and Grand Dame of the Vienna fashion scene told Pro Sieben Austria that "it’s not a question of fat or thin it’s a question of being fit." Some girls can have a BMI of 17 and still have cellulite, while some are perfectly healthy, she said.

In the end, a lasting change in the anorexic and starving models trend may have to come from customers.

Stephania Saviolo of Milan’s Bocconi University is hopeful, stressing that women from the baby-boom generation are aging, and they are not content with wearing just any old thing.

"Today a woman over 50 is still young, still wants to be fashionable, but she may not be size 0," said Saviolo.

But model Martina Kaskic is still worried. "This [trend] is a big problem; the idea a beauty is becoming warped." She hopes that, the fashion world will recognize its power. "If we want to call these girls models, we have to except that people will model themselves after them."

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