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Too fat, too thin? Let people decide own weight

Too fat, too thin? Let people decide own weight

In the immortal words of actress Morgan Fairchild, you can never be too rich or too thin. The fashion industry is sticking with the first part of that maxim. The second is now being revised.
Models are suddenly perceived as too skinny. And if they don't do something about it, the fashion industry is likely to find itself in trouble, and Kate Moss may be out of work.
Yet it is only a few weeks since fast-food chains such as McDonald's Corp. and Pizza Hut were taking a beating for causing an obesity epidemic. Now fashion labels are getting whacked for a wave of anorexia.
Too fat! Too thin! This is crazy. It is ridiculous to expect the corporate world to take responsibility for everybody's weight. Why don't we just let people decide their own diet and shape?
There is no escaping the growing concern and the rising tide of regulation around skinny models. Last month, 21-year-old Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston died of an anorexia-related illness, sparking fresh debate about eating disorders and body weight.
In Italy, Youth Policy and Sports Minister Giovanna Melandri said this month that a code of practice will be introduced for the country's fashion industry, which is joining with the government in a campaign against anorexia.
Likewise in Spain, Madrid's Fashion Week in September included a ban on models with a body-mass index (a standard medical measure of height and weight) of less than 18.
Three drawbacks
No doubt other European countries will follow those leads. Or maybe at the European Union's headquarters in Brussels someone is at this very moment cooking up a new directive stipulating precise waist measurements for models.
There are three drawbacks with this approach, however.
First, how will they enforce these rules? Will there be policemen patrolling the catwalks, sweeping away the salads and the Weight Watchers ready meals, and replacing them with platefuls of double cheeseburgers, bags of french fries, and small mountains of Black Forest gateau? Or perhaps a new regulatory agency will measure everybody before each photo shoot?
Second, the fashion industry has a regrettable tendency to bow to the whims of, well, fashion. Whatever happens to be "in" this year will be "out" next, as sure as fall follows summer. You can't regulate that. Just as Moss's "heroin chic" look was in during the early 1990s, "voluptuous curves" may be due for a new burst of popularity. Come next year, models will need to start tucking into second helpings of pasta to get some flesh on their hips if they want to get work.
Body regulation
Third, since when did governments, or anyone else for that matter, appoint themselves to the task of regulating the size of people's bodies?
Let's remember, only recently we were all getting worried about obesity. Everyone knows that across the developed world people are putting on weight. In the UK, the telecommunications regulator Ofcom last month proposed banning television ads for foods high in salt, fat and sugar to children younger than 16 after coming under pressure from the government to do something about junk food.
Many other countries have considered or already passed similar measures. The food industry has come under intense criticism for "super-size" portions, and for encouraging ways of eating that pile on the pounds.
Don't the two campaigns cancel each other out?
Nobody would deny that anorexia can be a serious problem with young girls. And, in fairness, there may be a small minority of them who think that if they just starve themselves a bit more, they might get a glamorous job on the catwalk. Obviously that should be discouraged.
Duty to protect
Likewise, fashion houses, glossy magazines and modeling agencies have a duty to protect the people working for them, just like any other employer. If they are pressuring models into eating too little, they should be stopped, just as employers who pressure people to work too hard should face sanctions.
Against that, in a world that is getting fatter, with all the diseases that causes, it may not do us any harm to have some role models who look like rakes. Not many of us will get down to catwalk weight, but if it encourages us to skip a couple of mince pies, more good will be done than harm.
The real issue is the combination of a hysterical media and hyperactive, nanny-like governments. The media call for something to be done about every social ill, no matter how trivial. And government automatically gives in. The result is a merry-go-round of intrusive laws and agencies. The losers are the companies, which get lumbered with yet another set of rules to comply with. In turn, we pay for that as consumers, either through higher prices or reduced choice.
Most people can make their own decisions about what they eat, how much they exercise, and how much they weigh. By constantly regulating, governments are trying to shift the blame to companies. Fashion houses aren't responsible for how we look, and neither are fast-food chains.
Surely it would be better to treat people like grown-ups responsible for their own lives. That way there is a chance they will start acting accordingly.
Matthew Lynn is a Bloomberg News columnist.


Updated : 2021-04-18 06:28 GMT+08:00