Still Skinny in Milan

Talk to any model backstage at a Milan fashion show and this is what they'll tell you: Models are people who are naturally skinny.

They're right. Some models, a lot of models, are indeed naturally skinny. They're teenagers who haven't quite grown into themselves yet.

But for some, chasing the model shape can be fatal. Earlier this month, Eliana Ramos was found dead in her bed from heart failure. The elfin 18-year-old model from Uruguay had watched her sister Luisel collapse and die at a fashion show just last year.

According to the girls' father, Luisel had been eating only lettuce leaves in the months before she died. In November, Ana Carolina Reston, a Brazilian model who apparently ate only apples and tomatoes, died weighing just 88 pounds.

Something had to be done. People outside the notoriously closed world of fashion were beginning to ask questions. And in December -- with fanfare and a flourish -- the Italian government and the big guns of Italian fashion signed what they called a "self-regulating code" to combat anorexia.

There was no legislation, just grand statements. "We are asking the Italian fashion business to at least try and develop a differentiated idea of beauty," said Giovanna Melandri, Italy's minister for youth and sports.

Fashion for Real Women?

Last week came the test, at the first show of Milan's highly anticipated Fashion Week. The models were shapely, voluptuous, you might even say Rubenesque. Had fashion changed its spots?

No. False alarm. The first collection of the show was designed by Elena Miro. She's a specialist who designs for what is, in the fashion world, a niche market: sizes 6 to 22, the so-called "real woman."

It seems like that "self-regulating code" may be toothless. "Nightline" went to some shows and hung around backstage, and from what we saw, most designers think the catwalk still belongs to the size 0.

Backstage at one show, an aspiring model, clutching her portfolio, was asked to open her coat … not to see whether she was too skinny, but to see whether she was too fat.

And why do models have to be thin? Just before her Moschino collection hit the runway, designer Rosella Jardini told us, "Because they make the clothes look better."

At Sao Paulo Fashion Week, organizers made an effort. Models reportedly had to show a medical certificate before stepping onto the catwalk. And in London, leaflets and posters backstage warned of the dangers of dieting. But the fashion world looks to Milan. This is the home of haute couture. Milan sets the industry standard.

'How Can I Know If They Eat or Don't Eat?'

Franca Sozzani, the editor of Italian Vogue, is a guardian of that standard. "We have all agreed that we are not to use girls that have problems," she said. Then she got to the heart of this problem.

"Nobody knows which girls have problems, because how can I know if they eat or don't eat?"

How can you tell whether a model is sick, or just skinny? Backstage at Etro, model Carmen Kass told us, "I don't think just being skinny means necessarily anorexic."

At Madrid Fashion Week, they tried measuring the models Body Mass Index (BMI), and five girls with a BMI below 18.5 were barred. BMI is calculated by dividing weight by height. The World Food Program considers an adult with a BMI under 18.5 to be "malnourished."

Belgian model Elise Crombez, passing the time backstage with Kass, questions such a scientific approach.

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