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Help models through thick and thin

Fashion models need the support of the industry to stay safe and healthy, says Charlotte Marrion

Despite their daily sacrifices on the food front, glamorous women have always comforted themselves with the words 'you can never be too rich or too thin'. Well, it looks like times are a-changing.

After the death of Uruguayan runway model Luisel Ramos last August, a spate of newspaper articles damning the fashion industry's demands for too-thin models collided with the gossip media's heavily pictured horror at ultra-skinny celebrity fashion icons such as Nicole Richie and Mary-Kate Olsen.

At the same time as magazine editors used skeletal images to flog issue after issue, underground pro-anorexic websites came to the fore. While these sites were established as a support mechanism for those suffering from eating disorders, many turned into chat forums debating the beauty of celebrity X's protruding collar bones.

Madrid Fashion Week took the bull by the horns last September and banned models with a body mass index (BMI) of less than 18. London Fashion Week refused to follow suit, saying the ban was unenforceable and fashion is always used as a scapegoat for eating disorders.

As much as it seems an infringement of human rights to weigh models on the way in to catwalk shows, the tide is turning in favour of providing protection for those most vulnerable to exploitation. This week the British Fashion Council unveiled plans for a model health inquiry to provide guidelines for 'effective and practical action' by all those who employ catwalk models, with particular relation to the health issues arising from size.

Of course, the whole scrum has been borne out of the size zero debate, but there are so many other types of models who are exploited and bullied into losing weight. In my work as a stylist I have encountered many editorial models - boys as well as girls - who felt great pressure to lower their weight to win higher profile or better-paid jobs.

The fact is that they have to be slim to fulfil their role, and their agent telling them to drop a few pounds or tone up in the gym is not dissimilar to an office manager telling staff to finish projects on deadline or tighten up timekeeping. It's just that most catwalk models are teenagers, impressionable and insecure. Where does losing a few pounds stop if the pay-off is more work, more money and a profusion of happy clients?

It's time for the fashion world to accept its responsibility not only to the models it employs but also to the world it has created, in which punters want to emulate the models as much as they want to buy the garments off their backs. If thin is in, so is starvation and food paranoia for those of us who are not blessed with a model physique.

Having said that, we must remember that most models are naturally tall and skinny. While I have seen some refusing carbs or bringing their own sliced apples to a shoot for lunch, there are plenty of others who ask for extra butter on their jacket potato or tuck into a loaded pizza with the gusto of a ravenous bricklayer.

- Charlotte Marrion is a senior fashion writer at Drapers.

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