Spain Bans Overly Skinny Models from Fashion Shows

The fashion world is in an uproar over Spain's decision to ban overly thin models from Madrid's premiere fashion show, which began this week. Physicians are checking the body mass index of participants, and have already rejected one-third of those who modeled at last year's event.

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MADELINE BRAND, host:

There's hardly an obesity problem in the fashion world, but you actually can be too thin. In Madrid this week, models who are little more than skin and bones are being banned from the runway. Jerome Socolovsky reports.

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JEROME SOCOLOVSKY: The models sashay onto to runway, showing off the elegant creations of Spanish and foreign designers. These beautifully dressed women are not just setting fashion trends, they're making. The Pasarela Cibeles, which is government funded, is the world's first major fashion show to ban underweight models.

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SOCOLOVSKY: Spain's Minister of Health and the president of Madrid's regional government, both women, were behind the initiative. Agatha Ruiz de la Prada is one of Spain's best-known designers.

Ms. AGATHA RUIZ DE LA PRADA (Spanish Fashion Designer): The decision has been taken by two women, and I think it's very positive because now we are having a big problem with very young girls in Spain. And I think health is more important than image.

SOCOLOVSKY: The designer concedes that emaciated bodies may be good for showcasing haute couture, but she says it sends the wrong signal to young women that they must starve themselves to look good. In her office, show director Cuca Solana points to her own shoulders.

Ms. CUCA SOLANA (Show Director, Pasarela Cibeles): When you see those girls and their bones sticking out here, and you see their ribs not in the front but in the back, that's not healthy. And that's what really worries us.

SOCOLOVSKY: The show organizers say they impose the weight minimums on their own. But the National Anorexia and Bulimia Association says it's been campaigning for years for the Pasarela Cibeles to stop hiring anorexic women.

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Unidentified Woman: (Speaking foreign language)

SOCOLOVSKY: Earlier this year, after the show's spring edition, the Spanish TV channel Telecinco did an investigative report. It used hidden cameras to allege that the show was looking for models measuring six feet and taller who could fit into a size 4.

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Ms. DEBORAH HARRY (Lead Singer, Blondie): (Singing) Once I had love, and it was a gas.

SOCOLOVSKY: In this week's show, the women on the catwalk are certified to have a minimum body mass index of 18. That's not exactly corpulent. A 6-foot-tall adult with a BMI of 18 would weigh 132 pounds. Still, five models were turned down in a pre-show weigh-in that resembled those held before boxing matches. The director says a third of those who participated in the spring show were simply not invited to this edition.

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SOCOLOVSKY: Minutes before they're called, models who made the cut are backstage being made up. Twenty-year-old Elizabeth Mas(ph) says the new measures are good up to a point.

Ms. ELIZABETH MAS: (Foreign language spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: But it's relative, she says. Every girl is a different case, and they're generalizing. There are girls who are skinny and healthy, and others who are a bit fuller but still could have nutritional problems.

Ms. MAS: (Foreign language spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: Some modeling agencies say they're bearing an unfair share of the blame for a much wider social problem. But already, politicians are putting pressure on the big fashion shows in London and Milan to adopt similar measures. For now, the Pasarela Cibeles is being applauded for taking the first step.

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SOCOLOVSKY: For NPR News, I'm Jerome Socolovsky in Madrid.

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