Brazilian fashion model Ana Carolina Reston was not the first model to die from an eating disorder, and sadly, she won't be the last.
The stunning brunette had worked with the prestigious Elite and Ford agencies and posed for an Armani Collezioni ad campaign. Still, the warning signs of her disease went unnoticed in an industry obsessed with waifs. When she died in November 2006, she weighed only 88 pounds.
In the wake of the tragedy, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CDFA) launched initiatives to encourage healthy behaviors. Alcohol and tobacco were banned backstage at runway shows and photo shoots. Some designers and magazines began turning down unhealthy girls.
The wake-up call brought out the softer side of Vogue editor-in-chief and notorious devil in Prada Anna Wintour, who joined designer Michael Kors and model Natalia Vodianova at Harvard Business School for "Health Matters: Weight and Wellness in the World of Fashion," an evening sponsored by the Harris Center for Education and Advocacy in Eating Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital.
During the rigidly structured forum, Wintour contended that her fashion Bible is raising the profile of a grave problem afflicting the industry. Notably absent, however, were discussion of issues like the use of Photoshop on already thin models and celebrities in fashion magazines, and an audience Q&A consisted of only three pre-approved questions.
Perhaps prompted by her experiences raising a daughter or motivated by widespread criticism, Wintour noted that she and her editors now interview models to evaluate wellness before a shoot. "We want healthy-looking girls," she said from underneath her shiny signature bob. "Our readers want healthy looking girls." But clothing them can be a challenge.
In the heyday of bodacious supermodels like Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell, samples were a size four, Wintour explained. Now they're often smaller than a size zero.
Kors attributed this to a change in aesthetic among many designers, a rebellion against the personality-driven supermodel era. "They wanted models who were blank," he explained. "They didn't want to notice the model."
Modeling agencies responded by signing smaller and younger girls — some as young as 13. For most, work dries up when they hit puberty. The toll rejection takes on these child models can be devastating.
Wintour and Kors backed industry-wide minimum-age requirements. To much applause, Kors pledged to no longer use any model under 16 — "no matter how hot she is."
The panelists noted that there is more good news: three decades after forum moderator Dr. David Herzog founded the Harris Center, healthy is "in."
Real women are portrayed in the pages of April's Vogue, the ninth annual "Shape Issue." In February, womanly Victoria's Secret models Miranda Kerr, Alessandra Ambrosio, and Doutzen Kroes walked for Prada at Milan Fashion Week.
When asked what additional progress the public should expect over the next three years, however, Wintour quipped, "I think we should just feel really good about today."