Is Europe uniting against anorexic models? A recent fashion label campaign has been withdrawn due to alleged infringement of the Italian and French self regulatory ad codes. Is this the start of a sea-change in portrayal of women in ads? Omar Bucchioni takes to the catwalk.
Topic: Taste and decency
Who: Clothing brand Nolita
When: November 2007
Law stated as at: 15th November 2007
A recent advertising campaign for a fashion label showing a naked anorexic woman has been banned in Italy. This follows recent discussion in fashion circles as to whether models should be asked to prove they do not suffer eating disorders and provide their body mass index (BMI) before appearing on the catwalks.
The Italian Publicity Control Institute (IAP) found the image in breach of articles 1 and 10 of its code of conduct, which respectively state that the advertising must:
Art 1: be “honest, truthful and accurate. It must avoid anything that could discredit it”
Art 10: not offend “moral, civic and religious” beliefs and must “respect human dignity in all its forms and expressions”
The shocking image appeared in newspapers and on billboards during Milan fashion week in September with the words “No Anorexia”, and the name of advertising fashion group Flash & Partners’ clothing brand Nolita. The same image was also considered by the French Advertising Verification Bureau (BVP) which also found it in breach of its code of conduct.
Recently, fashion centres including Madrid, Paris, Milan and New York have developed policies to address the health of models.
Voluntary charter in France?
The French Fashion Federation is planning to introduce a voluntary charter for the fashion industry with the aim of promoting awareness about the health risks of being too thin; while the Spanish government put pressure on the Association of Fashion Designers to use the BMI calculation based on height and weight. As a result, models that have a BMI of less than 18 will be banned from Madrid fashion weeks.
Inquiry in the UK
In the UK, the Model Health Inquiry was established by the British Fashion Council (BFC) on March 23, 2007, in response to concerns about the health of models on the catwalks at London Fashion Week. The scope of the Inquiry was to establish the extent of any health issues, notably in relation to body size and shape, among catwalk models employed at London Fashion Week; to look at the casting and selection process of models, to establish the approach taken by other fashion capitals, in particular New York, Paris, Milan and Madrid.
The intention was to evaluate the effectiveness of those actions; to provide guidelines for effective and practical action which might be taken by employers of catwalk models within the UK fashion industry, in order to address any material size related health concerns.
Although there is not yet a binding code into practice, clearly these results are having an impact on the advertising industry. Hilary Riva, chief executive of the BFC said “We now have a broad range of recommendations to consider. Some of these have already been adopted and others will take time”. Amongst other recommendations, the BFC takes the view that models under the age of 16 should be banned from the catwalks at London Fashion Week and this ban should be rigorously enforced.
Why this matters:
Discussions and concerns about this sensitive issue have increased over the last few months. Organisations in various fashion centres are now considering setting up a self-regulatory code of conduct and this will have a direct impact on the advertising industry. Although there have been noises in Brussels about introducing EU wide measures dealing with the portrayal of women in advertising, Governments in the EU have so far adopted a cautious approach to this problem, leaving the industry to regulate itself. However, sections of the fashion world have expressed outrage at the idea of weight restrictions claiming possible discrimination against the model and about the freedom of the designers. Also careers of naturally “gazelle-like” models could be spoilt.
If codes of conduct do not have the desired effect, then it may be time for Brussels or state governments to intervene with legislation? If this happens, we could expect to see changes in the EU regulatory landscape but also possible claims. The controversial photographer Oliviero Toscani, who created advertising campaigns for Italian fashion label Benetton from 1982 to 2000 and author of the recently “NO Anorexia” poster banned in Italy, is already considering seeking “moral and economic” damages.