More about the evils of pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia websites

I have previously posted about the dangers of pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia websites and specifically about the promotion of such websites through the Open Directory Project aka ODP or DMOZ (see DMOZ and web sites promoting anorexia and self-injury, DMOZ still promoting pro-anorexia, pro-self-injury sites). The need for continuing awareness about the promotion — typically defended in the name of free speech — of these life-threatening disorders is underscored by two recent news items: 

British charity issues anorexia internet warning
Sat Jan 6, 2007 LONDON (Reuters) – Web sites that promote anorexia and bulimia as a lifestyle choice rather than as diseases are killing people, a British charity helping people with eating disorders said on Saturday.

Pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia Web sites present themselves as support networks and deny they are encouraging people to remain thin, but they also offer tips for becoming thinner alongside glamorous images of slim celebrities and models.

“The danger of these sites is that often young people with an eating disorder don’t understand what is happening to them,” Steve Bloomfield, the Eating Disorders Association’s head of communications, told BBC Radio.

“The great danger is that the people who construct these sites often have no idea of the terrible medical complications that come — the danger of losing your fertility, of developing osteoporosis — for some people if you resist treatment.

“About one in five people who don’t get appropriate treatment die prematurely, so they are literally killing people.”

According to Professor Janet Treasure, head of the eating disorders service and research unit at King’s College London, five to ten percent of women aged 14 to 24 in Britain suffer from some form of eating disorder. The ratio falls to 1 percent for the whole female population.

“We have seen research from the States that has definitely identified that the people who use these sites are more resistant to seeking help and treatment,” added Bloomfield.

In December a pilot study — published in the American Academy of Pediatrics’ journal Pediatrics — of eating disorder patients aged between 10 and 22 in the United States showed up to a third learn new weight loss or purging methods from Web sites that promote eating disorders.

Internet chat rooms also enable users to share tips, such as what drugs induce vomiting and what Internet sites sell them.

Eating disorders returned to the global spotlight late last year when two models suffering from anorexia died in Brazil and Uruguay.

The fashion industry has long been blamed for encouraging anorexia and bulimia among teenagers with its use of excessively thin catwalk models.

In September, the city of Madrid banned models below a certain weight from its fashion week shows.

There is more activity on the fashion/modeling front, with the by now expected denial and dismissal of responsibility, as seen in this article from the New York Times:

Health Guidelines Suggested for Models
January 6, 2007
By ERIC WILSON, New York Times The fashion industry sells modish trapeze dresses and $800 platform ankle boots. But it also sells women an ideal of beauty embodied by the models who walk the runways and appear in fashion magazines.

And since the fall, American designers have been under increasing pressure to respond to a wave of dangerously thin models who have set the aesthetic standards of global fashion.

Now the industry has decided to issue guidelines to designers, aimed at promoting healthier behavior among its highly paid clothes hangers.

The guidelines, which fall short of modeling restrictions announced in recent months by fashion show organizers in Madrid and Milan, were introduced yesterday at a meeting of the Council of Fashion Designers of America in Manhattan. But the group’s recommendations, which will be sent to designers next week in anticipation of the fall fashion shows that begin in New York on Feb. 2, seem unlikely to satisfy many critics of fashion’s embrace of ultra-thinness.

According to participants at the meeting, the recommendations are likely to include scheduling fashion-show fittings with younger models during daylight hours, rather than late at night, to help them get more sleep; urging designers to identify models with eating disorders; and introducing more nutritious backstage catering, where a diet of Champagne and cigarettes is the norm.

There are no plans to require models to achieve an objective measure of health like a height-to-weight ratio, which was imposed by Madrid in September, a move that brought much public attention to the issue. It was further highlighted by the death of Ana Carolina Reston, a 21-year-old Brazilian model, from complications of anorexia in November.

More than two-thirds of respondents to a questionnaire on Elle magazine’s Web site last month said they wished that American designers would follow the recent examples of fashion show organizers in Milan and Madrid in banning overly skinny models.

But the American designers rejected that option as unworkable.

“It is important as a fashion industry to show our interest and see what we can do because we are in a business of image,” said Diane von Furstenberg, the president of the designers’ council, the industry trade group. “But I feel like we should promote health as a part of beauty rather than setting rules.”

The group that tackled the issue also included Anna Wintour, the influential editor of Vogue; several members of her staff; health professionals including a nutritionist, a psychiatrist and a physical trainer; a representative of a modeling agency; and a producer of fashion shows.

Designers and fashion magazine editors, who hire models, and executives for agencies that represent the young women, are skeptical that the profession can be regulated or monitored.

“It’s nothing that we don’t do already,” said David Bonnouvrier, the chief executive of DNA Model Management, speaking of the guidelines. His colleague Louis Chabat, an agent at DNA, attended the fashion council meeting yesterday.

“I hope it will be successful,” Mr. Bonnouvrier said. “It is a serious enough issue that people will pay attention, but we cannot dictate the designers’ choices. There will be a conscious effort for a while to address this, but whether that will last is another issue.”

Madrid’s banning of models who have a body mass index less than 18, a normal body standard according to the guidelines of the World Health Organization, did not initially draw much support among the organizers of shows in the major fashion capitals, until last month, when the Italian group issued what it described as a manifesto.

The new rules in Italy are meant to be applied at fashion shows in Rome this month, although they are not binding and in many cases not entirely understood.

The Chamber of Fashion, based in Milan, is asking that models hold a license issued by a committee of city officials and a panel of doctors, nutritionists, psychologists and other experts. But when proposing that models, who must be 16 to work there, also achieve a minimum body mass index of 18.5, the organizers added that geographical and ethnic considerations should also be considered, which industry professionals found confusing.

“Can you think of another job you would have to talk to a nutritionist, a psychology expert and a doctor to get certified?” asked Roberta Myers, the editor of Elle. “Maybe the C.I.A.?” Ms. Myers did not attend the American council meeting, but said she supported the idea of guidelines and educational programs because they would raise consciousness of the issue.

“I see this as a good-faith effort on all of our parts,” she said.

Abigail Walch, Vogue‘s health editor, who attended the fashion industry meeting, said the group conceived its recommendations independently of Milan and Madrid.

Vogue identified several experts to help educate models on health and fitness. They include a nutritionist, Joy Bauer; a fitness trainer, David Kirsch; and Dr. Susan Ice, a psychiatrist at the Renfrew Center in Philadelphia, which treats eating disorders.

“You cannot say one factor contributes to eating disorders or that one factor resolves them,” Ms. Walch said. “We should have different avenues for dealing with this issue. We realize there are problems and we want to do everything possible to have resources available to these young girls.”

Restricting models because they do not meet the specific height and weight standards of Madrid, which requires them to have a body mass index higher than 18, would not solve the problem, she said.

“We see models who are thin and getting thinner,” said Ms. Bauer, who contributes nutrition advice to The Today Show and Yahoo in addition to her Manhattan and Westchester County practices. Some models who have been referred to Ms. Bauer’s offices are genetically thin, some come seeking healthy ways to lose five pounds, and some have genuine eating disorders.

“I get this pressure,” Ms. Bauer said. “The reality is that your entire career is somewhat based on being thin. It’s a tricky thing.”

Ms. Bauer said a goal of the fashion industry recommendations was to encourage healthy behavior among models, but also to educate designers on how to recognize disorders. Ms. Bauer, Mr. Kirsch and Dr. Ice will appear on a panel discussion of the issue during Fashion Week in New York.

She said that the body mass index would not give a fair indication of the healthfulness of models because of their height and age.

“It’s not so much about whether they can be 18 or higher and still look fabulous,” she said. “I’m not for mandating certain B.M.I.’s because I don’t think that is fair.”

Patrick O’Connell, a spokesman for Ms. Wintour, said: “The feeling is that it is not realistic to dictate or impose rules on a huge fashion industry. However, we do believe raising awareness and consciousness will go the furthest toward increasing people’s sensitivities to the problem.”

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1 Comment

  1. Do you think that the way people view Pro-anorexia could sometimes be due to cultural differences? There is an article in ‘The New York Times’ that seems quite different in tone to the articles I have read in British Newspapers on the subject of Pro-anorexic websites. I realise that there will however be objection to it in America too.

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