'Italian designers agree that bigger may be better Fashion industry will fight extreme thinness'
By Peter Kiefer, Article from The International Herald Tribune, 22 Dec 2006
ROME: The Italian fashion industry pledged Friday to fight the health and image problems of extreme thinness among models by signing a code calling for more robust body imagery at fashion shows and ad campaigns.
Industry officials admitted that they agreed to the self-regulation so that they are not held responsible for the precarious health of models, and legions of fashion fans.
The code was pushed and co-signed by Giovanna Melandri, who is Italy's youth policy and sports minister and one of the more fashionable of Italian ministers. Industry members agreed to rethink what constitutes beauty in women, to include larger sizes in new collections, to enforce stricter health standards on models and to turn away models under the age of 16.
Models who want to work at Italy's most prestigious fashion shows will have to provide a medical certificate, along with proof of age, according to the code. But regulation is voluntary and without direct enforcement.
Stefano Dominella, president of a lobby for Rome haute couture houses, conceded that no one risked "going to jail" for breaching the code but said that certain "technical penalties" would apply, such as unfavorable scheduling slots during fashion shows for companies that violate the code.
"These technicalities are very important in fashion," Dominella said.
The code, signed by Melandri and Mario Boselli, president of the Italian Fashion Chamber, is the latest in a string of initiatives addressing the problem of anorexia that have followed the death of a 21-year-old Brazilian model last month. That model, Ana Carolina Reston, who worked in China, Turkey, Mexico and Japan, died on Nov. 14 at a hospital in São Paulo.
The 1.72-meter, or 5-foot-8 inch, model weighed 40 kilograms, or 88 pounds, at the time of her death.
In September, Madrid's Fashion Week banned models with a body mass index of less than 18. Body mass index is a ratio of weight to height squared; women with an index of less than 18.5 are considered underweight.
Giorgio Armani and other high- powered designers have condemned the use of ultra-thin models. But the code agreed to in Italy rejected a clear- cut standard like Spain's. Indeed, thin models will still be allowed in Milan and other fashion centers provided they have a health certificate.
Italy, famed for its fashion sense and its culture of the "bella figura" — thin or otherwise — has a national problem with anorexia and other eating disorders. A study by the Association of Bulimia and Anorexia in Italy found that, among psychiatric illnesses, anorexia is the primary cause of death, and that three million people in the nation, or more than 4 percent of the population, suffer from anorexia or bulimia.
Another poll showed that 60 percent of Italian children between the ages of 12 and 14 believe they need to lose weight. "I just cannot believe that 60 percent of Italian teenagers are fat," Melandri said.
The government ministries involved in the new code — which include the minister of health, the minister for rights and equal opportunities, and the minister for European politics and international business — are hoping to start a trend within fashion industries in places like New York and London.
In Paris, no one was available to comment on Friday at the French Federation of Couture because of the holidays. In an earlier comment made after Reston's death, the group said that anorexia was a social problem requiring public health information rather than regulation.
Melandri said the government chose the self-regulating code instead of legislation but insisted she was confident it would be adhered to. "We are not imposing standards or aesthetic," Melandri said after the press conference.
"There has to be a general acceptance of the social, cultural and moral role. But that is their role and not the government's," she said. "What we can do is say 'please help us.'"