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MIA: Dear Fashion Industry, here's your code of conduct.

Props to Alex Perry for going on The Today Show this morning and admitting he was wrong to cast a severely underweight model in his show earlier this week. The model was Cassi Van Den Dungen:

fashion industry code of conduct
Alex Perry Fashion Show, Picture: Lucas Dawson

In a candid and commendably honest interview, Alex told Karl Stefanovic and Lisa Wilkinson that he’d had “a lapse of judgement” and that the footage made him cringe when he watched it back. When pushed about the fact that it wasn’t just Cassi but many of the models in his and other shows who were drastically underweight, Alex pointed out that it was an industry-wide problem.

Alex Perry on The Today Show.

“Everybody needs to get in this together. Everyone is complicit in this. You can’t say designers shouldn’t book those models… You know what, let’s say, model agencies shouldn’t have those models, magazines shouldn’t shoot those models, designers shouldn’t use those models.”

He’s 100 per cent right. Alex Perry is certainly not the only designer suffering from ‘a lapse in judgement’. It’s an industry-wide lapse of judgement that’s been happening for years. As Lisa Wilkinson pointed out, fashion week has been going for 19 years and every year the skinny model issue comes up. And nothing changes.

Designers Ginger and Smart used Cassi Van Den Dungen in their show yesterday, even after public concerns were expressed for her health by Marie Claire editor Jackie Frank. Cassi is not the only distressingly thin model on the catwalk this week. Not by a long shot.

Alex called for an industry-wide discussion and suggested a united approach was required to deal with this problem – not just the welfare of models but the terrible image that’s being put out there by an industry who uses models who appear so ill.

“My sample range used to be a size 10, then a size 8, and now an 8 is a bit too big. So when they go to a magazine they need to be nipped in. Every time we have this conversation, I get dragged into it. I’m the most visible person. This time I’m at fault. Everybody needs to sit down and say what is the standard, this is the standard, and abide by that.”

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Too right Alex. Except this has already happened. A Code Of Conduct for the industry already exists. I know this because I was the Chair of The National Body Image Advisory Group – a group of health professionals and industry representatives (you can see who they were here) convened by the then federal Minister for Youth Kate Ellis to do exactly what Alex has suggested.

At the time, there was some controversy over the inclusion of industry representatives like Sarah Murdoch (who was hosting Australia’s Next Top Model at the time on which Alex was a judge) the editor of Girlfriend magazine and me, a former editor of Cosmopolitan.

Kate Ellis and members of the Body Image Advisory Group in Canberra.

I had nothing to do with who was chosen for the advisory group but Kate Ellis made it clear that to give it the best chance of success, the Body Image Advisory Group needed to include industry representatives. I think it was the right call.

We met regularly as a group over the course of a year and looked at dozens of submissions from a variety of community groups, eating disorder experts, fashion industry insiders and media representatives.

We presented the government with a raft of recommendations to combat negative body image, including funding for education programs in schools by The Butterfly Foundation.

The cornerstone of our recommendations however, was an Industry Code of Conduct. It covered basic body image guidelines for model agencies, designers, fashion labels and the media. All the sectors Alex identified as being part of the problem.

Here it is:

The code was voluntary – as directed by the then Minister Ellis – because the thinking was that the most effective approach to change in the fashion and media industries was to work with them in a constructive, collaborative, voluntary way.

In theory, at the time, I agreed with this.

Except, since the announcement of the code nothing has changed. Almost without exception, the fashion industry defiantly ignored us. This was back in 2009 and we are STILL having this discussion five years later. We are STILL seeing drastically underweight girls on catwalks – not just Alex Perry’s catwalk but almost every designer showing during fashion week.

Scroll through to see pictures from Alex Perry, Carla Zampatti and other designer’s Sydney Fashion Shows.

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I’m often accused – as is Mamamia – of banging this drum incessantly. There are many of my former magazine colleagues who roll their eyes and gnash their teeth at the mere mention of my name. But we have persisted in our advocacy around body image and around calling out the industry because it’s something my team and I feel passionately about.

And it’s enormously frustrating that all the talk on our site, by our millions of readers and by the wider community as well as health professionals and mental health advocates, continues to fall on deaf fashion ears. Frustrating and frankly, astonishing.

These are not bad people, just ones who are out of touch and who exist in the bubble of fashion where size 0 is considered normal.

As I have repeatedly said, it makes no sense to me as a woman or as a businesswoman for the fashion industry to be so drastically out of step with what women want. Using these models is not good for anyone’s business, let alone the morality of spruiking such troubling messages to vulnerable women and girls.

So I urge the industry, come together as a group and do something. Take a closer look at our code of conduct because it’s clearly more necessary than ever that you change if you want to stay relevant and profitable.

Do you think the fashion industry needs to change?

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