ULTRA-THIN models are to be banned from the Edinburgh Fashion Festival after a similar move by catwalk managers in Madrid.
Colin McDowell, creative director of the capital's annual fashion shows, told The Scotsman that he wanted to use "models who speak of glamour, not anorexia".
The pledge came after Madrid City Council, the sponsor and regulator of the Spanish capital's annual fashion week, announced that it was imposing a ban on the use of models with a body mass index (BMI) of less than 18. Milan is set to follow suit, and there is pressure on the organisers of London Fashion Week, which begins on Monday, to take similar action.
Mr McDowell said fashion designers would always choose taller and thinner women to show off their clothes, but that models should not be "excessively underweight".
A BMI of 18.5 or below is currently classed as underweight by the World Health Organisation. A model who is 5ft 9in tall would have to weigh a minimum of 8st 11lb to appear in Madrid or Edinburgh. The average catwalk model, according to estimates, is 5ft 9in tall but weighs just 7st 12lb, giving a BMI of only 16.
Among those who could be refused access to the Madrid catwalks are the Spaniard Esther Canadas and the British star Kate Moss, who is said to have a BMI of about 15 - although even she is now not among the skinniest models in the industry.
Last month, a South American model, Luisel Ramos, died from heart failure minutes after stepping off the catwalk.
The 22-year-old had been told by a model agency that she could "make it big" if she lost a significant amount of weight, and for three months she was said to have eaten nothing but green leaves and drunk only Diet Coke. At the time she hit the catwalk at the Radisson Victoria Plaza in Montevideo, Uruguay, she had not eaten for two weeks, her father told police.
Speaking from New York, where he was attending the city's own fashion week, Mr McDowell said he had yet to decide on the exact criteria for models at Edinburgh's festival in April.
But he said limits on the use of super-skinny women were now "appropriate", adding: "When I go to a fashion show I see the most incredible bodies because the purpose of them is the idealisation of the clothes. Using people off the street to model clothes is not the answer, but there is a balance to be struck."
The "size-zero" epidemic, which started a couple of years ago in Los Angeles, is sweeping across the United States and redefining the body image young women aspire to. Pictures of hyper-thin American stars such as Nicole Richie and Lindsay Lohan have fuelled the trend.
Steve Bloomfield, spokesman for the Eating Disorders Association, said: "We do think legislation is needed. This is about protecting the young women and men who work in the fashion industry, as well as those who are at risk of an eating disorder and can be influenced by the pictures that they see."
Dr Kerri McPherson, a psychologist at Edinburgh's Queen Margaret University College, said: "Research shows a clear link between body image and eating disorders. Comparing our own bodies with those seen in the media is the most common factor in conditions such as bulimia in teenage girls."
But others were more cautious. Scottish fashion writer John Davidson said: "You would prefer a nice wooden hanger for your clothes than a super-thin wire one from the dry cleaners.
"The same is true of models - it doesn't make sense to use someone skeletal to show off a big coat. But measures such as BMI are medical concepts that don't really have much bearing on whether models look dangerously thin or not."
Sarah Doukas, founder of the London model agency Storm, said: "It is useless to talk about body mass indices. Who knows what that means apart from your doctor? It depends on different body types. Some people have different muscle density."
She added: "I believe that girls should just eat healthily, exercise and just be normal. We just wouldn't use someone who was really underweight or too thin."
• To calculate BMI, divide your weight (in kilogrammes) by your height (in metres, squared).