The latest episode of Vice's excellent Fashion Week Internationale series sees host Charlet Duboc head to Israel for Tel Aviv fashion week. While there, Duboc talks with industry professionals and Israeli government about the country's new law mandating that models have a BMI of 18.5 or more in order to work. The law also bans the use of Photoshop to make a model's body look thinner than it really is. "In Israel, for the young group, 15-24, the main cause of death is anorexia," says Rachel Adato, a member of the Knesset. (This statistic, if true, is shocking.) "Not cancer. Not car accidents. Not suicide. But anorexia."
Adi Barkan, an Israeli modeling agent who realized that the industry's pressure to be thin in general and his admonishments to his models to lose weight in particular had resulted in certain of his models developing eating disorders, argues that the law is necessary not so much to protect the interests of models, but to protect the public from images of beauty that are unattainable for most people. "I am sure that the law is going to save lives," he says. Some models who are naturally underweight, according to BMI standards, will lose the opportunity to work in Israel. Barkan is fine with this. "Even if another hundred girls are not working, take the hundred girls you hear scream. And I take the half million girls who are going to die. Who screams more? Who?"
It's not an uncompelling argument given the public health problem that eating disorders represent, but I have to confess the idea of any government mandating which kinds of bodies — it goes without saying, which kinds of female bodies — are acceptable and unacceptable for public display makes me very uncomfortable. And if the goal of laws such as Israel's are to insure that models, a group that can face difficulties in accessing health care due to their youth, insurance status, and the instability of their working conditions, are healthier, then why the focus on BMI? BMI is just a measure of body size, not an indicator of health. Personally, I'd rather see the promotion of bodily diversity in fashion than the condemnation of any particular physique.