A model walks the runway at the Marchesa Fall 2007 fashion show February 5, 2007 during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York City.
A model walks the runway at the Marchesa Fall 2007 fashion show February 5, 2007 during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York City. - 
Listen To The Story


MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: At New York's Fashion Week, industry leaders met to discuss whether models can be too thin. It's become a growing global controversy, especially since several runway figures died from extreme dieting. Now New York City politicians are calling for minimum body weight rules like those approved in Milan and Madrid. But American designers are rejecting regulations as stifling their art. However commentator Jessica Seigel says it isn't art that's being stifled.

JESSICA SEIGEL: In America's fashion capital New York City, chic stores display only tiny styles on the shop floor. So the average woman — say, a 12 like me — has to lower herself and ask for her size. If it's even available.

So why do fancy boutiques act like it's criminal to stock larger sizes? Because in haute couture, snobism trumps profits.

And that's one reason high-end leather goods sell 10 percent better than clothing: You don't have to go on a diet to buy a pocketbook.

Now the Italians are fighting razor chic and passed weight minimums to protect runway models. They're even urging designers to make clothing in larger styles. That's because they like profits, and they like eating.

This week in New York, American designers patted themselves on the back for promising to promote better model health with education campaigns. But they still oppose minimum body weights and doctor's exams as "policing."

Policing? This from the original fashion police? Why are they defending their skeletons? Not even in the closet — the ones on the runways?

Because the image is so impossible. The slimmer the look, the more elite. Because most women can't fit. And that's the whole point.

It's just like in Victorian times, when corsets caused fainting and miscarriage. And heavy petticoats tripped women up, dragged dirt in the house and pulled women down like a stone in boating accidents. It was truly deadly.

Even back then, medical doctors objected, just like they do today. But the upper classes called ladies without corsets and petticoats loose. You know, loose women.

Today, we think that's backward. But our fashion leaders are just as blind. They are the new Victorians. But in starving the models, they're also starving their profits.

Razor chic is truly wearing thin.

THOMAS:Jessica Seigel teaches journalism at New York University.