Argentina seeks to tackle anorexia, bulimia
LA PLATA, Argentina - Argentine girls struggling to stay slim troll street stores for low-slung jeans and midriff sweaters often dreading the cruelest of words from salespeople at the door: “Don’t come in, we don’t have your size.”
But now officials are telling retailers and the fashion industry to sell larger sizes to armies of teens in this thin-obsessed country, which suffers the second highest rate of anorexia and bulimia in the world after Japan.
This week, the province of Buenos Aires, home to one-third of Argentina’s 37 million people, gave stores 180 days to offer six sizes for adolescents and make them uniform for the industry in what is known at the “Sizes Law.”
Officials acting as fashion police will patrol the streets "with measuring tape in hand”, said provincial commerce director Ana Serrano.
Until now stores offered ubiquitous one-size-fits-all or unregulated S, M, L and XL sizes. Any shopper with extra inches of waistline can find it hard to get clothes that fit and even an XL can be a small fit in another country.
Now all items sold in stores will have to be made in sizes 38 to 48 and will be clearly labeled with the centimeters that make up those sizes, according to international standards.
“Makers of one-size-fits-all use pre-adolescent models but try to sell it to everyone, so many adolescent girls struggle to fit into the top fashion brands,” said psychiatrist Mabel Bello, head of the Association Against Anorexia and Bulimia.
Currently one in every 10 Argentine adolescent girls suffers from an eating disorder and Bello believes they can lower this rate with help from the fashion industry.
Sales staff say that even anorexic girls have few problems finding clothes in adult stores, where woman sizes are so small that teens can shop.
“Logically, I shouldn’t have found sizes for me in adult stores, but I had no problem,” said Paula Giraut, a 22-year-old student in treatment for anorexia who dropped to 88 lbs.
The social pressures in Argentina to be trim and beautiful can be daunting. The country boasts one of the world’s highest rates of aesthetic surgery -- including breast augmentation sought by girls when they turn 15 -- and six out of 10 commercials feature bodies and food, Bello says.
Mothers in the Buenos Aires provincial capital of La Plata are ecstatic with the new law and indignant with the discrimination they say their daughters suffer.
“Last weekend, I asked a saleswoman if my 16-year-old could try a larger size and she refused, saying my daughter would rip it,” said mother Silvia Lannoo. “If we don’t have a law backing us up, we are going to have sick youths.”
Many in the the industry chafe at government interference and doubt it will make much of a difference in eating disorders. Schools and families should be on the frontline, not fashion.
“This won’t solve anything,” said Carmen Ferrari, owner of La Plata’s own Aldea Blanca brand. “People who want to be thin will find ways to do it. Then there are those who want to eat. We will have to start closing restaurants.”
Ferrari says her factory has always been willing to make larger sizes on demand and thinks Argentine girls are already regulating their weight better these days.
“Girls from 13 to 16 use bigger sizes than they did 10 years ago. Then it was total anorexia,” said Ferrari.
Similar laws could be enacted in other provinces, the capital and even on the federal level, such is the acceptance in political circles and society that something must be done about Argentina’s high rate of eating disorders.
“Society has grown tired of this issue. A girl who is gaunt is no longer considered pretty,” said Lucila Favre, 27, in treatment for the bulimia she has suffered since 14.