My eyebrows raised after discovering some interesting news about body images issues overseas. In an effort to stunt the spread of eating eating disorders and body image issues, a new Israeli law is now in place that bans underweight models from its local ads. You heard that right—UNDERWEIGHT models.
There’s more: The law also insists publications disclose when they use altered images that make the ladies—and even the men—appear thinner. Yes. Thinner.
A bold move indeed. The law, which just passed last week, could generate a ripple effect throughout Europe and into the Americas. It’s the first of its kind, really; a delicious attempt by a government to use legislation that directly combats the oft-misaligned fashion industry, which has for years been accused–and rightly so—of fueling eating disorders and body image issues through the kinds of photographs it uses and sends out into the mainstream.
It’s curious to note that in Isreal, about 2 percent of girls 14-18 years of age actually have serious eating disorders. According to anthropologist Sigal Gooldin, a prominent researcher of eating disorders, that statistic is similar to those found in other developed countries.
And we thought this was only prevelant in America.
The new law would also mandate that models produce a medical document, which would date back about three months, at every photo shoot in Isreal’s ad market. Basically the document would assure that the model is not—wait for it–MALNOURISHED by the standards listed from the World Health Organization.
Imagine what would happen if this could spread into the Americas; if the ad industry actually took a valid interest in the health and well being of its models; where any size would be considered acceptible, enjoyable, celebrated? Better still, imagine what could happen is even more scrutiny were placed on male models, especially the ones found scantily clad in many gay publications like The Advocate, or Out and their close and distant cousins? True, these magazines feature men sporting muscles but, and I am sure I am not the only one, you can’t help but wonder how many of those men are actually in perfect health. Their bodies may appear to be in fine form but how they arrive at their current frame is often questionable.
It’s one of the reasons why my co-author, Dr. Maria Rago, and I featured a chapter on the issue of men and body image (and eating disorders) in our book “Shut Up, Skinny Bitches!”
So, who’s at the helm of the law? Adi Barkan, an Israeli model titan who’s worked in the field for about three decades. Barkan noticed young women becoming skinnier and skinnier over time and downright unhealthy as they kept “shrinking” into the mold outlined by the ad industry.
Lynn Grefe, president and CEO of NEDA, recently said in a statement: “It is just so impressive that the Israeli Parliament has taken these serious steps in an effort to save lives. We know that eating disorders are so dangerous, and yet in the U.S. we continue to turn a blind eye to the problem and the many contributing factors. We hope that our Congress will begin to address the problems here at home.”
Dr. Rachel Adatto, who chairs the Health Lobby at the Knesset and was an initiator of the bill also released a statement: “This law will erase the anorexic image of beauty transmitted by the media, the fashion industry and advertising and will help protect the health of Israeli youth. The law will change the current situation where underweight male and female fashion models represent the ideal for children and youth and so, in effect, push them towards the terrible curse of eating disorders that attack not only the mind but the body. With this law, we are bringing the ideals of beauty back within the limits of logic, of health, within reasonable limits that will prevent our children sliding down the slippery slope into eating disorders. This law sends a message to our young people that thinness may be popular but that there is a limit and it is possible to be too thin.”
The law is already generating buzz, especially because it factors in the BMI (Body Mass Index) issue. The WHO reveals that a body-mass index below 18.5 suggests malnutrition. The new law would include BMI tests, among other things.
The BMI issue unleashes plenty of debate–both pro and con. Some argue that a person’s overall health should be taken into account—not just their BMI. Consider the flip side: people with higher BMIs—those deemed “overweight” and unhealthy because of high BMIs. Is initiating that same kind of thinking for people considered “too thin” an ideal method to revealing their true health?
I lean toward taking a person’s overall health into account and not just using the BMI-index as the ultimate guide. Regardless, it’s refreshing to finally see some countermovement out there; one that directly butts creative heads with an industry whose obsession—and indulgence in generating ad dollars—has single-handedly been one of the worst offenders of promoting unrealistic body image.