Size-zero: Here we go again...

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Super-skinny models dominate the autumn fashion shows, and now MTV is actively promoting competitive dieting. Jonathan Owen and John Sunyer report

As the New York fashion industry prepares to launch new collections starting on Friday, followed by London on 14 September, attention is again drawn to models and their weight.

After the furore at London Fashion Week last spring, with calls for a ban on size-zero models, not only has nothing been done, but the unrealistic super-skinny image is now being positively promoted again internationally.

MTV is under fire for promoting competitive dieting and fuelling the damaging size-zero catwalk culture, following the announcement that it is to launch a controversial new TV show in which girls must lose between 30 and 80lb in the hope of becoming a model. The channel is advertising the show Model Maker with a request for "girls willing to shed the pounds" in a three-month boot camp in a quest to become a "self-confident, high-profile fashion model".

Recruitment adverts – featuring the statement "Women come in all shapes and sizes, but models don't. Skinny, no body fat and size zero are the words and phrases associated with models. Chubby, well-fed, and big-boned are not ..." – have been condemned by eating-disorder charities as promoting extreme dieting.

"This is perpetuating the idea that it is only by becoming as thin as possible that you can be a success," said Susan Ringwood, chief executive of the charity Beat. "It also puts out the message that it is OK to engage in extreme dieting practices, and it is not."

Meanwhile, the British Fashion Council also faces fresh criticism this week for abandoning plans for models' health certificates – which would make sure that all girls on UK catwalks had a healthy body mass index. In failing to introduce the certificates, as recommended by the Model Health Inquiry panel following an investigation into the extreme thinness of catwalk models, the BFC has been accused of "shirking its responsibility" on the issue of size-zero models.

"I think it's tremendously disappointing that the BFC engaged in the Model Health Inquiry saying they'd abide by the recommendations but they haven't, and they've passed the buck to the Association of Model Agencies," said Dr Adrienne Key, eating-disorder specialist at the Priory Clinic and member of the Model Health Inquiry panel.

However, Hilary Riva, chief executive of the British Fashion Council, defended its decision, insisting: "The feasibility study, through consultation with model agents, casting agents, show producers and models, identified insurmountable barriers to the introduction of model health certificates in their current form at London Fashion Week. We are delighted with the increased awareness that we have achieved in the past year and the improved working conditions for models at London Fashion Week."

The model Erin O'Connor, who was also on the panel for the Model Health Inquiry, added that she felt "that to ask all models to produce a mandatory certificate of health compromises their dignity and potentially infringes their human rights".

What no one seems to have suggested is for the designers to make sample clothes in larger sizes, which could see more realistic models become the norm. Until that happens, skinny clothes for skinny girls are for ever in fashion.

The retail giant Topshop stands accused of promoting anorexia due to the sale of a controversial T-shirt that reads "Love My Bones". It has been one of the store's bestsellers this summer and has been seen on celebrities such as the TV presenter Fearne Cotton.

Katie Metcalfe, 21, a recovering anorexic from Stockton-on-Tees, said: "With a shocking increase in eating disorders, why are they permitted to create and stock such absurd products? Anorexia is a slow suicide and Topshop is promoting it."

A Topshop spokesman said: "Topshop does not intend to remove the T-shirt," but added: "We do not intend to re-order this style. However, this is not due to any group's disapproval or (mis)interpretation of its slogan. 'Love My Bones' is a well-known slogan which means 'love me to my bones' – the very essence of me." The store claims that the T-shirt was "not intended to be used by any radical pro-anorexia groups, or offend any charity or individual customer".

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