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London Fashion Week hit by skinny row

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- London Fashion Week got under way on Monday with the ongoing debate over ultra-skinny models continuing to distract from the styles on the catwalk.

While shows in Milan and Madrid have taken action to ban models deemed too skinny, the British Fashion Council said that regulations were "neither desirable or enforceable" -- while recommending that fashion houses only used healthy-looking models aged 16 or over.

On Sunday, organizers of Madrid's Pasarela Cibeles show said they had rejected five out of 69 models for failing to have a body mass index -- a ratio of weight to height -- of at least 18, in line with restrictions introduced in 2005.

The World Health Organization says a woman is underweight if she has a BMI of less than 18.5. Madrid director Leonor Perez Pita said the aim of the show was to promote "health and beauty."

"Five hundred people will see them here, but through television it'll make it six million, and a young girl may think it's a definition of beauty and may even make herself ill as a result," she told The Associated Press.

Health experts from the Eating Disorder Service and Research Unit at London's King's College said the fashion industry should stop "making icons out of anorexically-thin models."

Several celebrities including Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz have also spoken out against the trend towards "size zero" models.

But fashion photographer Mario Testino told CNN that the fashion industry had no cause for concern.

"We are in a business to sell clothes. Clothes look better on a thinner person, but I don't think that clothes look good on a skeleton, myself," Testino said.

"I think most of the models we work with, they are okay. [They're] as thin as anyone of their age. I can tell the difference between an anorexic girl and a normal, thin girl." (Full Story)

UK Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell on Monday said the issue was one for the fashion business to deal with.

"I agree with the London Fashion Council that this is a responsibility that the industry must carry, and that the important thing is that young women who are being made unwell by what they see as the requirement to be ultra-thin are supported, looked after, but not allowed to parade the catwalk. But this is a matter for the industry," said Jowell.

"I'll tell you there are some areas where an industry lead... is ultimately much, much more effective than Government legislation which is a very blunt instrument to address an issue which is as complex as this."

London organizers have set up a task force to "promote a healthy body image" and help commit the fashion industry to changing attitudes to body weight through "behavior and education."

Neither Paris nor New York -- which with Milan make up the trio of major fashion weeks -- have taken any action to impose restrictions on skinny models with Paris describing the matter as a "non-issue."

The controversy was sparked by the deaths of two models last year. Uruguayan model Luisel Ramos, 22, died of heart failure in August after starving herself for several days, while Brazilian Ana Carolina Reston died three months later after suffering from anorexia.

The Eating Disorders Association told the UK's Press Association that the fashion industry was not the cause of disorders such as anorexia but "part of the context".

London Fashion Week organizers have rejected calls to impose restrictions on skinny models.


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