The very thin line between glamour and starvation

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The two faces of `thin chic' appeared yesterday, one clothed and described by a leading photographer as `natural', while the other deliberately used an anorexic-looking model to advertise watches. Paul McCann, media correspondent, asks when skinny becomes ugly.

The leading fashion photographer Bob Carlos Clarke describes Jodie Kidd as a naturally thin model who wouldn't suit being plump. The photograph of her in a new charity calendar made her look good and the statement seem reasonable.

But at the same time it was revealed that Ms Kidd had been asked to appear in a shock advertising campaign that uses an anorexic-looking model to poke fun at the fashion industry's obsession with thinness.

Ms Kidd, who has herself been criticised for her thinness, had accepted the idea of doing the ad but had proved too expensive. These days, some versions of thin chic cost a fat wad of money. Instead, the advertising agency TBWA Simons Palmer turned to a model called Zoya, photographed wearing a watch on her skeletal upper arm.

Bad taste? A bad example in a country obsessed with slim images to the point where young women starve themselves to death? No, said the agency yesterday: the ad was a tongue-in-cheek take on the world of fashion.

The advertisement, which will appear in women's glossy magazines and on poster sites, features Zoya and the slogan "Put on some weight" which is supposed to refer to the weight of the watch.

"There is a lot of difference between this and Bennetton ads," said Wendie Stone, account director for Accurist at TBWA Simons Palmer. "It is not just a gratuitous use of images designed to shock because it is linked to the proposition we are trying to put across." She denied that the agency was exploiting concerns about the connection between thin models and the rising incidence of eating disorders among girls.

A report by the Eating Disorders Association earlier this year revealed that up to 200,000 people in the UK suffer from anorexia or bulimia and the numbers are growing. In a highly publicised case this autumn, the second of two sisters starved herself to death, years after they were teased at school for being slightly chubby.

The model Zoya did not have to lose weight for the shoot according to the agency. "The thing is we are not supporting or condoning imagery like this," said Ms Stone. "We are not saying being skinny makes you look fabulous."

Even so, as the hypnotic gloss of the Jodie Kidd image so vividly shows, the connection between thin women and glamour remains, for this generation, unbreakable.