When the Spanish capital Madrid decided to replace the thin beauty ideal with that of curvy "real" women, it was the kind of move that millions of women// around the world appeared to have silently waited for.
Madrid's measures to ban very skinny fashion models and to promote healthy images of beauty and eating habits have sparked widespread international interest, a spokesman for the regional government says.
"Media from as far as South Korea, Australia, the US and Argentina have contacted us," the spokesman told the DPA.
A decision by Madrid's top fashion show to exclude very thin models has been imitated by shows in Milan, London, New York and the Spanish cities of Barcelona and Valencia, though they have not adopted rules as strict as those in Madrid, he explained.
"We are pioneers" in what is evolving into an international movement, the spokesman says.
The first step was taken by the Pasarela Cibeles, Madrid's top fashion show is in September.
The show excluded five would-be models for being too thin, setting the minimum body mass index - calculated on a height-weight ratio - for models at 18.
A model measuring 1.75 metres, for instance, must thus weigh at least 56 kg. That corresponds to the minimum level set by the World Health Organization (WHO) for a person to be considered healthy.
The Pasarela Cibeles repeated the move in February. A very slim person was likelier to develop diseases, nutrition expert Susana Monereo said on announcing the exclusion of five models.
Despite initial criticism, the policy of the Pasarela Cibeles is "now being accepted" on the international level, said Leonor Perez Pita, director of the fashion show.
"The fact that the world's main fashion shows have followed our initiative shows that there is already a consciousness of the seriousness of the problem" of eating disorders, Madrid Regional Prime Minister Esperan
za Aguirre said.
Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are caused partly by the thin beauty ideal, experts agree.
The Madrid region has also launched a vast program to promote healthy images of beauty and eating habits among women. The program known as the "pact against anorexia" has more than 200 participants.
They include some of Spain's top fashion designers, such as Modesto Lomba and Jesus del Pozo, textile companies such as Zara and Mango, anti-anorexia associations, consumers' organizations, trade unions and the like.
The plan includes 24 measures for instance to control the publicity of diet products, to campaign in favor of healthy eating, to establish a register of anorexia and bulimia sufferers and a nutritional institute.
The Madrid initiative has the backing of the central government, which joined in with a study of the body structures of 8,500 women aged between 12 and 70 years from all over the country.
Using laser and other technologies, experts are investigating the shape of the average Spanish woman as opposed to unreal fashion images.
The goal of the study is to unify the wildly varying clothes sizes in such a way that the same size number will always correspond to the same measurements.
The size 46 will also become a normal instead of a special category, and plastic models in shop windows will be more full-bodied.
The measures are to be launched in 2008 after the study is finished.
"It is not reasonable in a modern society to create stereotypes of beauty that do not correspond to social reality," Health Minister Elena Salgado said.
The Spanish senate had recommended measures to change the beauty ideal already in 1999, but the time was not yet ripe.
In the meantime, the percentage of young Spanish women suffering from anorexia or bulimia has climbed from 1 to 4 percent of the total, according to fig
ures quoted by the daily El Pais.
At least 20 percent of young women are at risk of falling prey to the disorders, which are not cured in 20 percent and lead to death in 6 percent of the cases.
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