"February 20, 2008
Slim pickings on the model front
Ultra-thin is still in, and there’s not much super about the models at Milan Fashion Week
Lisa Armstrong, Fashion Editor
During Milan Fashion Week last September, a headline-provoking image of an anorexic model’s naked 4st 12lb (31kg) frame was stretched provocatively (and distressingly) across numerous billboards. The label involved issued a statement saying that it had deliberately chosen her to bring home the distorted body messages transmitted by fashion. Measured by the column inches gained, the shock tactic was highly effective, though in advertising the message is always undermined to an extent by the motive – especially in Italy, where paying lip service comes more easily than paying taxes.
Maybe that’s why, despite officially banning – along with Madrid Fashion Week – models with a body mass index (BMI) below 18, nothing has really changed on the catwalks here. There are still shows by established designers featuring cadaverous bodies that would no longer be tolerated in London – although, ironically, the latter has not adopted the ban (as The Times reflected in a leading article last week). Instead, the British Fashion Council has put into place several regulations which – and here I disagree with last week’s criticism – are ultimately more thoughtful and practicable than a headline-grabbing and arbitrary clampdown on BMIs, including enforcing an age limit (no girls under 16), policing backstage areas for drugs (zero tolerance) and establishing a models’ union.
The headline image this week may well prove to be the one shown above, from an exhibition of Richard Avedon’s work that has just opened in Milan, sponsored by Versace. In days of yore, Avedon’s collaboration with the supermodels for Versace’s ads became as much a part of the wallpaper of the 1990s as Oasis and Blur were the soundtrack. But there are no supermodels now, only (mainly) anonymous Eastern Europeans who, besides being built differently from the supers (who were thin but not emaciated), exude a kind of dislocated isolation as opposed to the supers’ imperious sexiness. The Eastern Europeans are less prone to diva behaviour and more likely to accept lower pay and inferior working conditions. As for using men as footstools and sofas, what would be the point? They wouldn’t be able to weigh them down, nor be convincing as women in charge. "
And then I remembered a startling article and video I had stumbled upon a few weeks ago.
It is heartbreaking.
"Did Model Die From Pressure to Be Thin?
Photographer Blasts Fashion Industry for Promoting Skinny Models, Pushes for Reforms
Fashion photographer Adi Barkan is shown cradling Hila Elmalich in a still from a video shot when the model fell ill. (Gil Sadan/Tamar Golan Film)
By SIMON MCGREGOR-WOOD and KAREN MOONEY
JERUSALEM, Israel, Nov. 19, 2007 —
When Israeli fashion model Hila Elmalich died last week after years of fighting anorexia, she weighed less than 60 pounds. Her death sent a shockwave through Israel's fashion world.
Elmalich, who had been in and out of hospitals for several years, collapsed at home and died Wednesday of heart failure.
The Israeli fashion photographer and modeling agent Adi Barkan was her friend. He spent hours at her bedside over the years. "I don't know how to feel, I don't know what to say," he told ABC News Monday. "It's still too fresh."
For the last three years Barkan has been campaigning against the fashion industry's use of super thin models. He now refuses to use models whose body mass index is less than 19. The BMI is an internationally recognized measure of a person's weight in relation to their height.
[Calculate your body mass index at the National Institutes of Health site: http://nhlbisupport.com/bmi/.]
Barkan led the charge against the pressure on models to be ultra-thin, and in 2004 Israel became the first nation to pass laws requiring modeling agencies to hire only healthy models who have a body mass index -- a measure of body fat -- of 19 or above. That means that a 5'9" woman would have to weigh at least 129 pounds.
Barkan is convinced from his own experience working in the industry that young models are under intense pressure to lose weight. "In Israel we lost several sizes in 10 years!" he said, "when I was shooting fashion 10 years ago models were size 38, now it's 32 or 34."
Two years ago ABC News visited Adi at his studio in Haifa where he was working on a sporting catalogue. The three teenage models on the set were clearly in good health. He had just judged a national modeling competition and was shocked at the number of teenage girls who were under weight.
He is also campaigning internationally to change attitudes in the fashion world. "They say a lot but they did nothing yet, so let's do it! Because from talking nothing will move," he told ABC News.
Over two years ago Elmalich was admitted to hospital. Adi rushed to her bedside, along with a film crew that caught the harrowing pictures of Hila collapsing into his arms, unable to support her own weight. "When she fell down, I felt the bones going into my legs, like a knife. When she fell down, I felt like I took hold of something from the grave," he added.
This experience and Hila's sudden death last week have shocked her old friend. But he is determined to carry on with his campaign. Adi Barkan hopes this tragedy will provide the necessary momentum to finally change attitudes in the fashion industry. The issue of skinny models flared up across the globe last year with several high-profile incidents.
In August, 22-year-old Uruguayan model Luisel Ramos died during Fashion Week in Montevideo after reportedly surviving on lettuce and diet drinks. "
The video of ADI BARKIN and HILA ELMALICH can be viewed here:
It is time for this insanity to stop.
My earlier blog post about Isabelle Caro and Luisel Ramos is here: