France urges care on skinny models but rejects ban

PARIS (Reuters) - France will not ban skinny models from Paris catwalks but will introduce a voluntary charter to make the fashion industry more aware of the health risks of being very thin, the Health Ministry said on Friday.

A model presents shoes as part of a fashion show in Paris March 3, 2007. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Designers, model agencies and others in the fashion industry have been widely attacked for promoting an emaciated look which critics say contributes to eating disorders in young women.

Countries like Spain, Italy, Brazil and India have taken steps to keep underweight models off their catwalks due to such concerns, which drew wide media attention following the deaths of two anorexic Latin American models in 2006.

The French Health Ministry official said a commission reviewing the issue would not recommend a blanket ban.

“We are very close to an agreement on a voluntary charter of engagement for the fashion industry, the media and advertising,” he said.

“The idea of it is not regulation like the Spanish have done ... but to promote a strong campaign of awareness and information in the fashion industry,” he added.

Fashion is big business in France. Luxury goods that are often advertised by young thin models who appear in posters and on catwalks, account for a large chunk of exports.

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“It doesn’t achieve anything to point fingers, blame or stigmatize the designers or model agencies,” the official said.

The head of the French fashion federation had said in January that Paris would not take extra measures to ban ultra-thin models from catwalks because rules on their health were strict enough. However, concern remains.

“We must take a stand. When the girls weigh a kilo too much they are seen as failures,” Paris town councilor Violette Baranda told Le Parisien newspaper. “There are some twisted designers who are making women thinner and thinner.”

The Paris city council voted this week to pressure fashion show organizers to stop using skinny girls but the Health Ministry said it was symbolic and could not force fashion industry to change its habits.

Lebanese designer Elie Saab told Reuters in a recent interview he preferred women with curves.

But Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld defended his models last year. “They have skinny bones,” he said.

The issue was back on front pages this week after Donatella Versace, who owns part of one of Italy’s most famous fashion houses, said her daughter was suffering from the eating disorder anorexia.