In the past few years, we've heard rumblings of different laws in different countries, with the same goal: To keep advertisers and magazines from using super-skinny models. In France, Parliament voted in favor of a bill that outlaws "publicly inciting extreme thinness." An ad in the UK was banned because the model had "highly visible ribs." And late yesterday, lawmakers in Israel banned "underweight" models from fashion runways, advertisements and commercials.
It's no secret that the fashion industry idealizes thinness. This particular law mandates that models working in Israel prove that they are not malnourished, by producing medical records. (The country will use World Health Organization standards, wherein a body-mass index below 18.5 is indicative of malnutrition.) In addition, any advertisement published for the Israeli market must include a disclosure line if the model was digitally altered to look thinner.
The AP reports:
"We want to break the illusion that the model we see is real," said Liad Gil-Har, assistant to law sponsor Dr. Rachel Adato, who compares the battle against eating disorders to the struggle against smoking.
In Israel, about 2 percent of all girls between 14 and 18 have severe eating disorders, which is a statistic similar to other developed countries, said anthropologist Sigal Gooldin who studies eating disorders.
One of the problems with this new law is that BMI is not always an accurate way to measure health. It is flawed — as Kate Karding's Illustrated BMI Project showed — not just when it comes to obesity, but when it comes to thinness, as well. One Israeli model, Adi Neumman (seen at left), tells AP's Diaa Hadid that she eats well and exercises, and would not be able to work under the new rules, since her BMI is 18.3.
The other problem? Even though it's great that Israel is taking a stand, one government's regulations will not impact the global culture that is fashion. When Madrid decided that models' BMIs needed to be over 18, and Milan banned models with a BMI below 18.5, super-skinny models were still welcome in London. We still live in a world where thin equals fashionable, and vice versa. The "beautiful" people in magazines, movies, TV shows and ad campaigns are always slender. That remains the ideal. Even street fashion sites — which depict supposedly "regular" people — do not, as a rule, feature a diversity of body shapes and sizes. Banning a model one pound or one inch or one point away from the acceptable BMI doesn't actually have an impact on the world-wide spell we're under, in which a woman can never be too thin.
Still, you know things are bad when even fashion insiders are disturbed. Israeli modeling agent Adi Barkan tells Reuters that many of the models today "look like dead girls":
"I look (back) 15 to 20 years ago, we shot models (sized) thirty-eight. Today, it's twenty-four."
"This is the difference between thin and too thin. This is the difference between death and life," he added.
As Dr. Rachel Adato, an Israeli gynecologist, lawyer and politician who pushed the bill, puts it: "Beautiful is not underweight, beautiful should not be anorexic."