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5th February

First Published in The New York Sun, February 5, 2007

By Andrew Wolf

This is Fashion Week, when designers come here to exhibit their fall lines. I am celebrating the news that Punxsutawney Phil failed to see his shadow, which bolsters my hopes of donning my spring wardrobe a bit earlier this year.

Now that I think about it, my spring wardrobe is not much different from my winter and fall wardrobes. Jeans, corduroy sports coat (put away in the closet for summer), blue oxford shirt, no tie, and brown penny loafers. For me, this outfit has been pretty much it for the past forty years.

Fashion Week, however, is very much on the minds of our politicians. Not because it brings grand style and hundreds of millions of dollars to the city, packs our hotels, and fills our restaurants, bars, and nightspots. It is the health and welfare of the models that has the politicos all in a lather.

For some reason, the models that strut down the runways are incredibly, painfully thin. Since we are entering an age when all aspects of life must be legislated, our local politicians have led the way and have jumped on this issue.

A member of the New York City Council, Gale Brewer, represents the Upper West Side of Manhattan. She has introduced a resolution which would “ban models with a body mass index of lower than 18.5.” Somewhere in the enforcement mechanism for this, I suspect, just might be a civil service job that I’d like to have. Ms. Brewer doesn’t just want to fatten up the models. “It is now our responsibility to actively promote a healthier concept of beauty in our society,” she told Newsday.

While Ms. Brewer is trying to fatten up the models, her colleague, Joel Rivera, who represents the Bronx and chairs the Council’s Health Committee, is trying to get everyone skinnier. He wants a new zoning resolution that would limit the number of fast food eateries in Gotham. Can there be a compromise between the two opposing sides, so that the city Council can soon mandate a perfect weight that all of us must conform to, or else?

Mr. Rivera’s father, Assemblyman Jose Rivera, seems to agree with Ms. Brewer and wants to create a state advisory panel to determine just how skinny is skinny and make sure that models who are minors conform to a minimum weight requirement. If his son gets his way, there will be no place for the malnourished models to buy a burger, shake, and fries so that they can fatten up.

Why are the models getting thinner and thinner? Maybe it’s the slimmed-down lunch offerings now typical of American school cafeterias, including those here. This has been going on for a few years, powered by well-meaning celebrities such as President Clinton, and famed chefs such as Alice Waters and Britain’s Jaime Oliver.

Mr. Clinton, who failed to negotiate a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, was more successful in twisting the arms of vending machine operators in school cafeterias. At his urging they agreed to remove soda from their machines. With nutritionists nodding in blissful agreement behind him, he asserted that just removing 45 calories a day would result in a child 20 pounds lighter after ten years.

By that formula, his soda initiative would cut 100 calories from the average child’s diet, resulting in a 44-pound loss over 10 years. I quipped that if a few more calories were cut, a harried parent could make a troublesome child disappear altogether. The cumulative effect of all these well-meaning attacks on the “childhood obesity epidemic” may just be the boney-looking models we see today. Not just because of the diet, but the message that all of this panicked attention on nutrition is sending.

I grew up at a time when the nutritional advice we got was “drink your milk.” That was whole milk, a beverage that is shunned today as if it contained a lethal dose of polonium. Even the slimmer 99% fat free variety has fallen out of favor. Drinks like orange juice were considered healthy until recently. Now they are being removed from school cafeterias because, while they don’t have much fat, they do contain sugar.

When things have gone so far that children are warned to avoid milk and juice, maybe it is time to stop and pause. By drumming into children’s heads that food is bad for them and that being thin is important beyond all else, is it really any wonder that some of them are taking this to extremes?

© 2007 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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