Too Skinny to ModelIsraeli law bans underweight women from modeling
According to Sigal Gooldin, an anthropologist specializing in eating disorders and quoted in the Wall Street Journal, in Israel about two percent of girls between 14 and 18 have severe eating disorders, a rate similar to other developed countries. On March 19th, Israel passed a law banning underweight models from walking the catwalk and from appearing in commercials. “Underweight,” in this case, requires a doctor’s acknowledgement. Models cannot have a body mass index (BMI), roughly a ratio of weight to height, of under 18.5. The law also bans the use of models that only appear to be underweight, and requires that advertisers to explicitly state when a photo was manipulated in order to make the model look skinnier. The law is a noble act against the promotion of unhealthy body images, but is it going to truly help the self-image of women in Israel or will it destroy the livelihood of women in the fashion industry?
The new law aims to encourage the usage of healthy models and create awareness in the country about the tricks of the fashion and advertisement industries to combat self-image issues in young women that can lead to the two percent of the population that have eating disorders. This law has a few flaws that can lead to self-destructive behaviors in the fashion and advertisement industries.
Body mass index is a horrible method of determining whether someone is underweight. It is not an accurate indicator of fat, and it cannot indicate the difference between body fat and muscle mass. Aside from the inaccuracy of BMI measurements, the new law places the burden of proof on the models, as they will have to bring a doctor’s note no older than three months stating that they are above the 18.5 minimum to every photo shoot that they attend.
This three-month span between doctor’s visits could lead to terrible consequences. This window of time will encourage models to engage in even more unhealthy eating behaviors than the ones imposed onto them already by the fashion industry. Simply because the law bans the use of underweight models, photo shoot directors and advertisement agencies are not necessarily going to use bigger or curvier models, although that would be nice to see. It is more probable that the agencies will continue to pressure models to be as thin as possible. This will result in forcing models into making weight, similar to the weight loss-weight gain rituals experienced by high school and college wrestlers. Models will likely attempt to quickly gain weight to pass the 18.5 BMI cutoff once every three months and as soon as they get the green light to model, they’ll have to go through a rigorous weight loss in order to meet aesthetic standards of the companies and agencies they work for. This is dangerous, but sadly this is what the law will force women who are underweight to undergo.
Initially, I was looking forward to a similar law in New York or in the United States, but after much research, a law like this may not be what young people need. We should not be scrutinizing the body types of women, or men for that matter, whether they are underweight or overweight. Instead we should extend our hands to those who are suffering from eating disorders and seek to better educate young people about healthy eating habits. We need to focus on teaching them that they are beautiful regardless of how they look or how they are shaped.