Article by AnyBody member Susie Orbach in The Observer , July 22, 2007
I'm in Milan talking to girls of 10 to 16, all from working- and lower-middle-class backgrounds. What they are saying chills me, despite having heard it plenty of times before. They are fretful about what goes in their mouths, and critical about their bodies.
There is not one even slightly podgy girl among them but they all feel fat and want to keep their weight low. They live in the fashion capital of Europe and do not seem to understand that growing requires weight gain; that you can't stay at your 10-year-old weight for ever.
They dream of being models. They don't know the reality of selection for the catwalk, or about the critical remarks about weight gain, or how many girls in the business have difficulty with food and drugs. Or if they know about it, they see it as a price to be paid for glamour.
The recent interim recommendations from the Model Health inquiry make some innovative proposals - a trade union (three cheers, Baroness Kingsmill), health checks, banning girls under 16 from London fashion week, raising awareness about eating disorders and developing support groups for models.
For these recommendations to have any bite the British Fashion Council needs to impress on its membership some economic realities of who wags the tail. British fashion needs to be less in thrall of the designer names and more cognisant of the street from which they develop their ideas. The wealth that is led by the high street. Top Shop, Mango, Zara, Primark, George at Asda, New Look etc sell 80 per cent of the clothes bought by fashion-conscious youngsters. And they aren't size zero. Far from it. Their major sales are in the mid range. At sale time that you see the tiny sizes left on the racks. Funny that.
The inquiry will publish its final report in time for next summer's London fashion week. Will it be brave enough to address the impact fashion has beyond the models too? Will it dare to say to designers that they should use their brilliance to design sexy clothes for girls and women in all sizes?
It sounds trivial but it's not. Ordinary girls in Milan, in London and elsewhere are having difficulty with their food and their bodies. It's just taken as part of being female today but it's a new version of bound feet. It's not the fashion industry's fault but they could do something to transform it.