It may have been the fashion industry's kyoto moment. In September 2006, Madrid Fashion Week placed a historic ban on severely underweight models with a body mass index (BMI) of 18, taking a stand against the escalating thinness of its female models.
The ban had been a long time in the making: since "heroin chic" of the nineties, the average size for a model's clothing sample dropped from size 6 to size 2, then to zero in 2005. After the gruesomely detailed starvation of two models in 2006, organizers finally decided it was time to draw the line.Like the famed protocol, the Madrid ban initially caused an uproar and was snubbed by some of the industry's worst offenders: Chanel shrugged off eating disorders as a "false controversy" and insisted that "the fashion world is not responsible for anorexia," while Elite Model Management complained that the ban would discriminate against models who had a "naturally" skeletal frame.
"Take care of your children, no money is worth the life of your child. Not even the most famous [fashion] brand is worth this." -- Ana Carolina
In time, however, the tide began to turn: a month after the ban, Italian designers (including legends such as Giorgio Armani) signed a joint declaration that they would not use anorexic or underage models. In Milan and Paris, sick-looking models started being turned away at fashion shows. Grudgingly, the industry began to jump onto the bandwagon of healthy chic – not just because it's sexy, but because it sells. Not long after Dove began using fuller models in its Campaign for Real Beauty, its lotion sales famously jumped 700 percent in the UK.
Unilever and Armani, however, may not be the answer -- much in the same way that Shell and Chevron can't be viewed as the trailblazers of the green movement. Their constant bombardment of ads featuring bone-thin models has spawned a generation of women insecure in their own bodies. Today, nearly 80 percent of teenage girls are on a diet, 10 percent go on to develop eating disorders and 1,000 young girls die of anorexia. Companies have been pressured for years to use more realistic models, yet they did nothing until consumers started to boycott their products.
So long as women let big businesses dictate their standards of beauty, their self-image problems will never be solved. Miriam Reston, the mother of one of the fashion models who died of anorexia shortly before the ban, warned parents not to let their daughters copy the models they see in magazines: her own daughter, Ana Carolina, had been one of them. Lithe and pretty at 112 pounds, the young model had spent years terrorized by the industry's demands on her body. "Take care of your children," Reston warned. "No money is worth the life of your child. Not even the most famous [fashion] brand is worth this."