Fashion Week Starts with Updated Health Guidelines for Models

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(Photo credit: CNN)

By Madison Park, CNN

New York Fashion Week starts today, and there will be more on display than new fabrics and color combinations.

The runway shows will be the first to take place under an updated set of health initiatives for models, which was released last month by the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

The guidelines attempt to address the “overwhelming concern about whether some models are unhealthily thin, and whether or not to impose restrictions in such cases.”

The new guidelines say models should be at least 16 years old to participate in a show. It also encourages greater awareness of the risks and signs of eating disorders. Backstage at the fashion shows should be tobacco-free and also address underage drinking by prohibiting alcohol, according to the guidelines.

Models who may have an eating disorder should seek professional help and should not continue modeling unless they have a professional’s approval, according to health initiative.

“Designers share a responsibility to protect women, and very young girls in particular, within the business, sending the message that beauty is health,” according to a statement signed by CFAD’s Diane von Furstenberg and Steven Kolb.

The health initiative also urges more education about the warning signs of eating disorders – workshops for the industry on how the disorders arise and treatment. It will not be policing different runway shows; the purpose is to bring “awareness, education, and safety,” according to the statement.

The council’s guidelines also say that nutrition and fitness education should be provided, and that healthy meals, snacks, and water should be available backstage and at shoots.

The National Eating Disorders Association commended the council for taking the models’ health into consideration, but it says the measures don’t go far enough.

“Although these guidelines are good ‘suggestions,’ no real health protections exist in this industry for those under 18. That is particularly worrisome in an industry that is not only known for extreme thinness — in fact, it’s practically required — putting its models at dramatically increased risk of developing an illness that has the highest mortality rate of any other mental illness,” said Lynn Grefe, president and CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association.

The fashion industry has been under criticism for perpetuating impossible standards of female beauty.

Isabelle Caro, a former fashion model who posed in a provocative ad campaigning against anorexia died in November 2010 after a long battle with the eating disorder. In 2007, an Israeli model, Hila Elmalich died weighing less than 66 pounds.