Coming to stores in Spain: Clothes made for real women

Vanesa Lopez looked at the mannequin in the store window and burst out laughing. It was mostly leg, impossibly long and thin, with shorts hugging a tiny waist and a frilly top on delicate shoulders.

"That's out of my league," said Lopez, a 30-year-old interior decorator with a medium build. "You see it and say, 'Wow, I'd like to look like that."'

Such skeletal fashion dummies, symbols of a culture blamed for fueling a preoccupation with weight, are now doomed in Spain under a groundbreaking accord between the Health Ministry and major retailers like Zara and Mango.

Also targeted for extinction is the dilemma of a size fitting just right in one store but being too tight at another - just one more way to make a woman feel fat.

The program is aimed at changing the perception that super-skinny women are fashionable - an image some believe contributes to eating disorders. Madrid and Milan banned ultra-thin models from their fashion week runways late last year, and this year the Council of Fashion Designers of America announced guidelines designed to help models eat and live more healthfully.

The offensive might seem odd coming from Spain, a nation that to the casual eye is neither fat nor thin, nor readily associated with anorexia, bulimia or obesity. The country prides itself on a Mediterranean diet rich in fruit, vegetables and heart-healthy foods like olive oil and fish.

But just as Spain has quickly caught up with its European neighbors economically and culturally in the generation since it shed a right-wing dictatorship in the late 1970s, so has it matched them in the more dangerous trappings of an affluent, go-go consumer society.

And today's Socialist government, vigorously assertive on a bevy of social issues ranging from gay marriage to gender violence, is now taking aim at the fashion world as a source of risky thought and behavior.

"We are aiming for a model of healthy beauty," said Angeles Heras, director of consumer affairs at the Health Ministry. "There is a lot pressure, not just from the fashion world but society in general, for women to seek models of beauty that are unreal and even unhealthy."

So two major changes, announced in January, are in the works: Stores run by four big names will start replacing window display mannequins so that none is smaller than size 38. And designers will standardize women's apparel so a given size will fit the same way no matter who sells it.

To get a better idea of the shapes of Spanish women's bodies, the government is employing some heavy technology. Using laser-fitted booths that can take 130 measurements of a body in 30 seconds, the Health Ministry is fanning out across the country to assess the sizes of Spanish women.

The program will study 8,500 women ages 12 to 70, and pass the data onto clothing designers who account for 80 percent of the production in the Spanish fashion industry. The manufacturers' garments will then reflect the dimensions of real women, not catwalk waifs.

The standardization is to be phased in after the study is completed this year.

Other designers have asked to join the program, and Italy sent a letter asking about it, Heras said. "It seems we are pioneers," she said.

An estimated one in five Spanish women ages 13 to 22 suffer from an eating disorder, placing Spain on par with its European neighbors, said Gonzalo Morande, a physician who runs the eating disorders department at Madrid's Nino Jesus Hospital.

Such conditions became prevalent about 20 years ago elsewhere in Europe. Spain got a later start, but caught up quickly, Morande said.

"One of the peculiar things about Spain is that when processes happen, they happen very quickly," he said. Morande welcomed the standardization of women's clothing sizes, saying Spanish women are taller and bigger than they were a generation ago because of changes in eating habits.

But Enrique Berbel, a psychologist who also works with eating disorder patients, said fashion and the beautiful people of pop culture are only part of the problem in Spain. Another major factor that is not being addressed is Spain's newfound wealth, he said.

He said the mechanism works like this: The economy - poor under past dictatorship but now the world's eighth largest - has spawned a consumption-crazed society that creates artificial needs and fuels dissatisfaction.

Teenagers have cell-phones but they want BMWs. And they often take out their frustrations on themselves, reports AP.

"'I can't get the things I want. I can't lead the lifestyle I want. I can't be like I want, but I can control my body.' There are people who think this way," Berbel said.

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