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MADRID, Spain (Reuters) -- The world's first ban on overly thin models at a top-level fashion show in Madrid has caused outrage among modeling agencies and raised the prospect of restrictions at other venues.
Madrid's fashion week has turned away underweight models after protests that girls and young women were trying to copy their rail-thin looks and developing eating disorders.
Organizers say they want to project an image of beauty and health, rather than a waif-like, or heroin chic look.
But Cathy Gould, of New York's Elite modeling agency, said the fashion industry was being used as a scapegoat for illnesses like anorexia and bulimia.
"I think its outrageous, I understand they want to set this tone of healthy beautiful women, but what about discrimination against the model and what about the freedom of the designer," said Gould, Elite's North America director, adding that the move could harm careers of naturally "gazelle-like" models.
Madrid's regional government, which sponsors the show and imposed restrictions, said it did not blame designers and models for anorexia. It said the fashion industry had a responsibility to portray healthy body images.
"Fashion is a mirror and many teenagers imitate what they see on the catwalk," said regional official Concha Guerra.
The mayor of Milan, Italy, Letizia Moratti, told an Italian newspaper this week she would seek a similar ban for her city's show unless it could find a solution to "sick" looking models.
Quality, not size
The Madrid show is using the body mass index or BMI -- based on weight and height -- to measure models. It has turned away 30 percent of women who took part in the previous event. Medics will be on hand at the September 18-22 show to check models.
"The restrictions could be quite a shock to the fashion world at the beginning, but I'm sure it's important as far as health is concerned," said Leonor Perez Pita, director of Madrid's show, also known as the Pasarela Cibeles.
A spokeswoman for the Association of Fashion Designers of Spain, which represents those at Madrid fashion week, said the group supported restrictions and its concern was the quality of collections, not the size of models.
Eating disorder activists said many Spanish model agencies and designers oppose the ban and they had doubts whether the new rules would be followed.
"If they don't go along with it the next step is to seek legislation, just like with tobacco," said Carmen Gonzalez of Spain's Association in Defense of Attention for Anorexia and Bulimia, which has campaigned for restrictions since the 1990s.
Organizers say they want to project an image of beauty and health.