Thursday, March 15, 2007

Real Women, Real Sizes

Kudos to the Spanish! Back in the fall, Madrid’s regional government passed a weight requirement that effectively banned overly thin models from strutting the catwalks during its annual fashion week. In so doing, the government said the fashion industry had a responsibility to portray healthy body images, particularly to teenagers. Now, in an even more unusual move, the government is turning its attention to anorexic-looking store mannequins and the sizing confusion that frustrates female shoppers around the globe.

In an unusual agreement, Spain’s Health Ministry has entered into an accord with Zara, Mango and two other major retailers whereby they will start using window display mannequins no smaller than size 38 (size 6 here). Also, designers for chains pledged to standardize women’s apparel so that a given size will fit the same way no matter who sells it. (It helps that Zara and the other major apparel chains in Spain are nearly all vertically oriented and design and manufacturer their own goods.)

To get a better idea of the shapes of Spanish women’s bodies, the government is using some advanced technology: laser-equipped booths that take 130 different measurements of a body in 30 seconds. The Health Ministry is taking the booths across the country. It plans to study some 8,500 women, ages 12 to 70, and then pass on the data to clothing designers. The hope, of course, is that the garments will reflect the shapes of real women. The standardization is to be phased in after the study is completed next year. Anyone who has tried on a size eight in one store, only to find she is a size 12 in another, is sure to appreciate the move.

Some may feel that Spain’s left-leaning Socialist Government is overreaching. But I’m not one of them. In ways intended and not, retailers and the fashion industry for too long have been making women feel fat and ashamed of their bodies. If it takes a government to right things, so be it.

—By Marianne Wilson

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