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  1. ITV Report

Are laws needed to protect models from getting too skinny? A model, a designer and Vogue's UK editor discuss

MPs are to investigate whether new legislation is needed to protect models from becoming too thin, after more than 112,000 people backed an online petition calling for a change in the law.

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According to Office of National Statistics figures from 2010, the average man is 5ft 9ins (175.3cm) tall and weighs 13.16st (83.6kg), while the average woman is 5ft 3ins (161.6cm) tall and weighs 11st (70.2kg).

By comparison, Victoria's Secret model Candice Swanepoel (pictured above, centre) is 5ft 10ins (178cm) and weighs 8st 7lbs (54kg).

But how big a problem is it?

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Here, ITV News speaks to three people involved in the fashion industry to see what they think: Alexandra Shulman, editor of the UK edition of Vogue; designer Heidy Rehman; and model Rosie Nelson, who started the campaign.

  • Alexandra Shulman, editor at Vogue UK

A law to regulate the size of models would be both "undesirable" and "unworkable", according to the editor-in-chief of Vogue in the UK.

Alexandra Shulman told ITV News that forcing models to be weighed and measured "like a kind of heiffer" would be degrading - and said it was unfair to blame models for people's own insecurities.

Full interview:

She admitted that she was sure there were models who are exploited and who are "persuaded to be thinner than would be healthy for their body size" - but she argued that "nobody is being forced to be a model".

They have chosen to go into an industry where they are judged on their body, she said.

I think it would be very unfair to say that a model who is extremely skinny should not be on the catwalk because somebody will attach their own feelings about their own self-image, and possibly problems they've got with an eating disorder, to that girl.

I do think that it is absolutely unacceptable to put a girl who is herself suffering from such things on the catwalk.

It's so easy to say that a skinny model is responsible for encouraging young women to feel bad about themselves, but I absolutely strongly believe that is not the case.

None of us probably feel that great about how we look, we don't think we're perfect. The question is when does that feeling of dissatisfaction turn into something that is really harmful, and self-harmful.

The point I'm making is that, in the main, it's not the generality of looking at a model that is the tipping point.

– Alexandra Shulman, Vogue UK

She said she does make a point of speaking to designers if she feels they are using models who are unhealthily skinny - but said she would not support any legislation.

  • Heidy Rehman, managing director at Rose & Willard

Starting out, designer Heidy Rehman said she wanted to send a "positive message" to women with her clothing.

She began using ordinary women to model her pieces - women who were not teenagers, nor unusually thin.

But the reaction was not what she expected, she said - as she immediately felt the backlash from both the industry, and from customers.

What I wanted to do was to have women that I thought our customer could very easily relate to. So we used 'non-model models' - women from all walks of life, who are very attractive and still present the aspirational image that we needed on our site, so that women could look at them and still feel as good about themselves as they did when they clicked on, rather than clicking on and thinking 'oh goodness, I feel terrible about this, that, other part of my body.

That was very important to me, so that's what we did, we used our 'non-model models'.

The reaction was negative, overall - I think you could say it went down like a lead balloon. The reaction was negative from certain parts of the industry - but not only them.

We're always asking people what they think, what our friends and family think, and the general reaction was: 'Well, they're not really models'. It wasn't really received that well. It was quite a telling time.

– Heidy Rehman, Rose & Willard
(L-R) Models Alessandra Ambrosio, Candice Swanepoel and Adriana Lima Credit: Reuters

Now, she said, they have resorted to using professional models - though she still mandates they must not be too thin.

But she too disputes the idea that a law is necessary, and said she believes that if even one industry heavyweight would speak out against the use of underweight models, and actually act on it, that it would trickle down to the rest of the fashion world.

Can't the industry regulate itself? I think when government and Parliament is getting involved in women on a catwalk, it seems like something has gone awry. Really the industry should be able to regulate itself.

– Heidy Rehman, Rose & Willard
  • Rosie Nelson, model

Rosie Nelson, from Sandhurst, is a 23-year-old model, and launched a Change.org petition earlier this year calling for a new law to protect models from getting what she called "dangerously skinny".

Rosie Nelson was asked to lose weight Credit: Rob Crawford

She told ITV News that she had been inspired by her own experience of - despite only being a size eight to 10 - being told she needed to lose weight "down to the bone".

She said she wants agencies to stop pushing girls to use drastic weight loss methods to achieve the desired 35-inch hips, and instead promote health and nutrition.

I've heard stories where girls are eating cotton buds - when I was in New Zealand last year the girl that was staying at the model apartment before me only ate popcorn, just so she could fill her stomach up.

Girls are doing very drastic things to lose weight, and I don't think people understand how much pressure there is on models to lose weight.

When they're asked to become thinner, girls will do anything for it because they think modelling is glamorous and it's exciting - which it is, but there's a dark side to it.

Girls are doing these extreme things to their bodies and it's just really not healthy for them.

– Rosie Nelson, model

She has now put on the weight that she lost, and said she was "happy and healthy" the way she is.

Looking back at pictures of herself during her "skinny" days, she said, she realises how unhealthy she really looked. She said her ribs were sticking out and her hips were showing to an extent that did not look good.

"That's just how the agencies want you to look," she added.

ITV News reporter Martha Fairlie has the story: