Feature

Anorexia crashes Milan Fashion Week

An Italian clothing label, Nolita, ignited new debate about the fashion industry

An Italian clothing label, Nolita, ignited new debate about the fashion industry’s use of ultra-skinny models by launching an ad campaign featuring a 27-year-old anorexic woman. Nolita unveiled its first billboard in Milan as fashion week kicked off there this week, with the words “No. Anorexia” emblazoned across a giant nude photograph of an emaciated Isabelle Caro. "I've hidden myself and covered myself for too long,” Caro, who has suffered from anorexia for 13 years, wrote on her blog. “Now I want to show myself fearlessly, even though I know my body arouses repugnance.

Designer Diane Von Furstenberg, who spearheaded debate over sickly thin models in the U.S., said the picture was “horrible,” but could do good by exposing the problem. And that’s what executives at Nolita's parent company, Flash&Partners, said they were trying to do. But Fabiola De Clercq, who once suffered from anorexia and now heads an Italian association against eating disorders, said the campaign was irresponsible. “This girl needs to be in a hospital,” she said in The Wall Street Journal, “not at the forefront of an advertising campaign."

“Altruism aside,” said Glamour.com’s gossip blog, this is pure exploitation. Caro is 5-foot-5, and weighs 68 pounds. That’s extraordinary, but “aren’t they still using a picture of a way-too-skinny chick to sell clothes?” This is an ad campaign, after all.

Sure, but there are easier ways to sell women’s wear, said Kate Harding on Shakespearessister.com. It took guts for Nolita to acknowledge the link between fashion ads and eating disorders, and for Caro, who has suffered from anorexia since age 13, to show “people what her body really looks like.” We’re all bombarded every day with images that tell us we need to be skinny to be beautiful. At least someone’s finally being honest about it.

Still, you have to wonder about Nolita’s motivation, said Fiona MacGregor in Scotsman.com. It signed up photographer Oliviero Toscani, who did controversial work for Bennetton in the 1980s and ‘90s, to shoot the ads, and that may be part of the reason the campaign has “met with cynicism.” The fashion industry has an ugly history of cashing in on images of vulnerable young women, and it’s hard to escape the suspicion that this is just more of the same.

And what about the women with eating disorders who see the ads? said Richard Roeper in the Chicago Sun-Times. Toscani says girls will see the ads and realize they need to stop dieting.  "He's dead wrong." A few anorexic girls might "be shocked into getting help," but many more "will find the photos to be glamorous." They'll admire Caro's skeletal frame with "envy," and want to look just like her.

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