Super-Thin Models: Controversy Grows

The Duchess of Windsor once famously said that a woman can't be too rich or too thin.

But, says CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer, not any more — at least if she's a model aspiring to the catwalk in Madrid.

Ultra-thin models, the so-called size zeros, have been banned by organizers of Madrid's Fashion Week. The country's top annual fashion show starts Monday.

But in London, whose Fashion Week also gets under way Monday, organizers are shying away from a ban, arguing that ultra-thin doesn't necessarily mean unhealthy.

"Some people," organizer Philip Greene told Palmer, "want to put on weight, some people want to take off weight; I'd rather look at it (as) people want to be comfortable in what they wear."

A British Cabinet minister had called Saturday for London Fashion Week to follow Madrid's lead.

"The fashion industry's promotion of beauty as meaning stick thin is damaging to young girls' self image and to their health," Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell said in a statement. "Young girls aspire to look like the catwalk models. When those models are unhealthily underweight, it pressurizes girls to starve themselves to look the same."

But the British Fashion Council, which runs Fashion Week, said in a statement that it "does not comment or interfere in the aesthetic of any designer's show."

"The BFC has canceled the photo call on Sunday because it is unwilling to add any more impetus to the publicity surrounding this complicated issue," it added.

Across the U.K., Palmer observes, fashion's starved look is a hot issue.

Critics argue that it's dangerous because fashion models are also role models, especially for teenage girls.

Yet, adds Palmer, even as the fashion ideal is getting thinner, it seems real British women are getting more voluptuous. In the past 50 years, on average, they've added an inch-and-a-half to both bust and hips, and almost six inches to their waists.

In Spain, Fashion Week organizers on Saturday rejected five models for being too thin to appear in this year's event.

The show, known as the Pasarela Cibeles, had decided earlier this month not to allow women below a predetermined body mass index to parade down the catwalk.

Doctors Susana Monereo of Spain's National Endocrinology Society and Basilio Moreno, an obesity consultant at Gregorio Maranon Hospital, were among the specialists called on to medically assess the models.

Five of the 68 models who showed up for appraisal failed the test, the doctors said. The models were over 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighed less than 121.25 pounds, Monereo said.

"They had a body mass index below, well below, that which is considered normal not just by the Spanish endocrinology society, whom we represent, but also by the limits set by the World Health Organization," Monereo said.

Each model was allowed to appear at the examination accompanied by an agent and a representative from the fashion industry.

The show wanted to project an image of beauty, elegance and health, and also banned makeup that makes models appear sickly, organizer Cuca Solana said.

"Clearly we don't want walking skeletons," Solana said.

Some well-known models had not gone to the examination, Solana said, but they were not identified.

Around 300 models originally were expected to apply for inclusion in the prestigious fashion event, but only 68 applied this year.

Solana said the rigorous pre-show test was not necessarily the cause for the downturn. One possibility was that model agencies may have chosen to send more models to other shows.

Last year's show drew protests from medical associations and women's advocacy groups because some of the models were positively bone-thin.

This time, the Madrid regional government decided to pressure organizers to hire fuller-figured women as role models for young girls obsessed with being thin, Concha Guerra, deputy finance minister of the regional administration, said earlier this month.

The body mass index is a calculation doctors normally apply to study obesity. It is calculated by dividing weight in pounds by height in inches squared, and multiplying that total by 703.

If the resulting number is between 18.5 and 24.9, a person's weight is normal. Below 18.5 they are underweight. In the case of the Madrid show, organizers rejected women with an index below 18.
  • Sean Alfano

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