Australia debate over overweight models in Sports Illustrated show

Models walk the runway during SWIMMIAMI Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2018 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The debate was prompted by a show featuring models of different body shapes

A debate has emerged in Australia about whether overweight models who appear on the catwalk are glorifying obesity.

The debate follows the appearance of plus-size models in a Sports Illustrated swimsuit catwalk show.

An opinion article in Sydney's Daily Telegraph criticised the use of larger models as "irresponsible", while a health expert said they promoted a "dangerous" message about health.

However, other experts say the catwalk should represent all body shapes.

The debate was ignited after columnist Soraiya Fuda wrote: "If the fashion industry decides to stop using models who appear to have starved themselves to skin and bones - as they should - they shouldn't then choose to promote an equally unhealthy body shape."

However, speaking on local television, Sports Illustrated editor MJ Day said: "We have made a very positive statement that beauty is not 'one size fits all'."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption "Beauty is not 'one size fits all'," says Sports Illustrated editor MJ Day

Health experts have also pitched in on the debate.

Dr Brad Frankum, president of the Australian Medical Association in New South Wales, has questioned why obese models do not cause a similar backlash to severely underweight models.

"If someone was walking down the catwalk smoking a cigarette there would be an outcry because that would be a very unhealthy message," Dr Frankum told the BBC.

"Similarly if we send very overweight or obese people down the catwalk modelling clothes, what it is saying, in a way, is that we are celebrating obesity. I think that is dangerous because we know it is a dangerous health condition."

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Dr Frankum said it was clear that some models in the Sports Illustrated show were obese.

However Prof John Dixon, head of clinical obesity research at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, says models should represent everyone in the community.

"With it being normal to be overweight in our community and so many - 28% of Australians being obese - it is quite offensive to say that obese people should not be on a catwalk," he said.

A Body Mass Index (BMI) between 25 and 30 falls within the overweight range, according to Prof Dixon.

He said anyone, including overweight and obese people, could look great on the catwalk.

"We know the stigma associated with obesity is so strong that we should respect people who are obese for their ability to feel good, look good and dress well," he said.

Caution urged

Model Stefania Ferrario, who is the face of Melbourne's fashion week, said the industry should not focus on extremes.

"I am all for diversity in models of all different sizes and shapes, but I think it is irresponsible that there are not more models of healthy weight range on the catwalk," she told the BBC.

The 24-year-old, who has spoken of struggling with eating disorders, shuns being labelled plus-size.

"Anything above an Australian size eight is labelled plus-size and the average woman is 12 or 14 and it is very misleading to young girls," she said.

"It implies that these women are still not slim enough."

Image copyright Manny Roman
Image caption Stefania Ferrario is a size AUS 12-14

Ferrario said she had stopped modelling for a time after falling into the "overweight category" on her BMI.

"I felt really uncomfortable and unhealthy and I basically did not model for that period of time because I do want to promote a healthy mind and body," she said.

Dr Frankum said it was important to promote healthy lifestyles.

"I'm not sure that we need obese models in swimsuits or lingerie to promote messages about people feeling good about themselves. I don't think it works that way," he said.

"Yes we need to embrace people of all shapes and sizes but at the same time strive for people to be more active and fitter and make better eating choices."

The Australian Medical Association is the chief professional body representing doctors in Australia.

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