Here’s the skinny on getting girls to model strength

In case you weren’t paying attention, five stick-thin, starving models were banned this summer from participating in the Madrid Fashion Week because they weighed so little for their height they were considered unhealthy.

You know the look: knee bones bigger than thigh bones, arms like knitting needles, sunken chest, no belly and slightly bulging eyes, because these runway models carry the least amount of body fat a person can have and still lift her Evian bottle.

Why this concentration camp look sells high fashion, I have no idea, but apparently it does. And the models who look this way end up influencing young girls to starve themselves so they too can appear weak and apathetic.

That’s the main reason the Madrid organizers took the stand they did. They wanted their Fashion Week to project an image of beauty and health, not anorexia and bulimia.

A week later, during the London Fashion Week, the issue of the super-skinny fashion models stirred another debate.

“The fashion industry’s promotion of beauty as meaning stick-thin is damaging to young girls’ self-image and to their health,” said British Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell.

In the end, the British authorities decided against a ban, but still, the ultra-thin issue is in the spotlight and won’t go away anytime soon.

Personally, I don’t like bans. I understand why the well-intentioned Madrid organizers did what they did, but I don’t think the fashion industry will ever be concerned about the impact their models are having on 13-year-olds. That’s not their business. They are selling haute couture, not healthy choices.

That’s what parents are for. It’s a shame girls are assaulted daily by irresponsible images of undernourished women too sickly to run a mile, but they are. It’s up to parents to counterbalance.

The best way to do that is to get your daughter involved in sports. Girls who play sports - given proper coaching and positive reinforcement - learn why it’s important to have a strong body, not just a lean one. Sports can boost a girl’s self-esteem, and a girl who is confident at the core is much less likely to get involved in unhealthy behaviors, including eating disorders.

Sports can introduce girls to role models like rock climber Tori Allen or gymnast Dominique Dawes or soccer star Julie Foudy, all real women with real bodies.

For more information on how to get your daughter involved in sports and healthy living, check out the Web site.

Dear Marilynn: I exercise every day and have for a long time. I feel that if I skip a day, I’ll feel guilty, and the guilt would bother me more than just toughing it out.

There are days when I don’t feel like exercising but just can’t take a break. Every day has a pattern. Sunday is swim and yoga, Monday is cardio and on and on.

I think I just need to shake it up, but don’t know how to get out of my rut. Do you have any advice on making exercise fresh and exciting again?

  • Kathy W.

Hello, Kathy. Exercise addiction is a problem you may need to get help for. But let’s not go there just yet. For now, reduce your workouts to five a week.
On one of the rest days, do some volunteer work that moves you emotionally. Tutor a kid. Help the hospitalized. See whether you can replace your guilt with gratitude.

Any workout gets old if you do it day after day. Embrace change. Try a new sport, or set a challenging three-month goal with a meaningful reward attached. Definitely expand your yoga practice.

Exercise isn’t about toughing it out. It’s about enjoying the energizing connection between body, mind and breath.

Marilynn Preston welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to