WHEN fashion publishers feel they have to use photo-shop to ‘‘fatten up’’ models in a major fashion event before they can publish their images, you know there’s a problem.

Usually when fashion and beauty publications employ digital enhancement it’s for the opposite reason: to slim down the model or celebrity and hide ‘‘flaws’’.

But this week saw an uncommon use of re-touching, with some fashion writers so disturbed at the runway display of protruding bones at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Sydney, they felt compelled to add the appearance of actual flesh.

Editor of fashion blog Style Melbourne, Sarah Willcocks, told The Australian Women’s Weekly she had to smooth out one model’s shoulder bones for fear of ‘‘glamourising’’ her skinny frame.

While normally opposed to airbrushing, Ms Willcocks said one image from the Maticevski show was too shocking to leave untouched. She didn’t want to promote the ‘‘unhealthy-looking’’ model.

‘‘I don’t want my readers thinking bones are glamorous or beautiful,’’ Ms Willcocks said.

An industry insider, who asked not to be named, was also concerned about the health of the models.

‘‘One in particular looked so weak I don’t know how she could even walk,’’ she told me. ‘‘It was inhumane that people could look at her and not see she was sick. I thought Australia might have better standards than Paris, and prefer girls who look naturally healthy. Some in the industry seem to care more about how the clothes look than if she still has a pulse.’’

Designer Alex Perry was singled out for his choice of models. He claimed he ran out of time to find healthier-sized girls.

Former Vogue editor Kirstie Clements says for most designers and casting agents, there’s no such thing as too thin. Fashion Week model Ruby Jean Wilson, for example, has a waist circumference of an average seven-year-old. Stylist Naomi Smith told Clements: ‘‘Someone will tell them very quickly if they put on weight. But often no one will mention if they’ve lost too much.’’

But the current editor-in-chief of Vogue Australia, Edwina McCann, almost seems to let them off the hook. ‘‘Anyone who has witnessed a stress-out, pre-occupied, angstridden designer in the days before they show their collection would understand why they may not be focused on the issue of body-image during that time,’’ she told Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.

Well, maybe they should give it a bit more thought, if they really care about the health of their models.

In 2010, David Jones model Jessica Gomes said it was common for models to engage in ‘‘. . . endless nights of cocaine, smoking, drinking coffee, doing a juice cleanse . . . how dare they tell young girls they have to lose weight and go on a thousand calorie a day diet? It’s just ridiculous’’.

A University of WisconsinMadison study of 15,000 people found ‘‘exposure to media depicting ultra-thin actresses and models significantly increased women’s concerns about their bodies, including how dissatisfied they felt and their likelihood of engaging in unhealthy eating behaviours’’.

In Australia, eating disorders have doubled in the past five years, with one in three girls now engaging in risky behaviour, such as starving themselves, vomiting or abusing medication. The lack of diversity in women’s bodies in Fashion Week can contribute to this.

Every year noises are made about reforming the industry, but apart from the occasional token gesture, thin continues to be in.

‘‘If ever we needed evidence of the fashion industry’s blatant contempt towards young women, this would be it,’’ says BodyMatters Australasia’s Lydia Turner. ‘‘For fashion designers to demand girls be skeletal and treat their health — and in some cases, their lives — as irrelevant, is dangerous. What message does it send when the way the dress hangs matters more than the lives of girls?’

It’s time models were seen as more than human coat hangers.