COMMENTARY | Israel’s new Photoshop Law requiring medical documentation to prove a model is not underweight is gross government interference.
The Israeli legislation, passed in the wake of anorexic runway model Hila Elmalich’s 2007 death, requires that each model have a body mass index of no less than 18.5. The law also requires advertisers to disclose the use of airbrushing to slenderize models.
The move may come as a surprise from a nation which considers itself the beacon of freedom in the Middle East. Worse yet, Israeli lawmakers claim this nanny-state legislation is important to save their youth from eating disorders — a claim that is essentially without foundation in the medical community.
How did we come to a worldwide agreement that rail-thin runway models are to blame for eating disorders?
Anorexia, bulimia and binging are disorders that stem from many things — but not from watching emaciated runway models. If we think this is the answer to a very grave problem, we are going to see eating disorders continue to increase as waistlines continue to widen.
Eating disorders arise primarily in developed countries, which enjoy an abundance of relatively inexpensive, accessible, and — let’s face it — tasty food. Sedentary lifestyles in developed countries make weight management even more challenging.
The aversion to carrying extra weight hits kids young, when their physical activities become limited and clothes don’t fit comfortably — it happens long before kids even know what runway models are.
All this is documented in a report by Australia’s National Eating Disorders Collaboration, Eating Disorders: Prevention, Treatment and Management, which makes nutrition and exercise the focal point of its findings. The report recommends a variety of strategies to reduce obesity rates and eradicate eating disorders, and notes that when obesity rates increase, so do eating disorders. The report makes no mention of emaciated models.
Israel is not the only country erroneously pinning responsibility for eating disorders on the fashion industry — although it is the first to have the government take charge. Fashion industries in Spain, Italy, Uruguay and the United States all concur that changes are needed in the harsh world of modeling. Italy’s fashion industry instilled a voluntary code of conduct whereby models must provide a medical certificate proving they do not suffer from an eating disorder. The fashion industry in Madrid requires models to have no lower a BMI than 18 and fashion heads in Milan require models to have no lower a BMI than 18.5. The Council of Fashion Designers of America’s guidelines encourage greater awareness of eating disorders, urging professional help for models suffering from an eating disorder and calling for organizers to have healthy snacks available backstage. Changes, without government intervention.
Modeling can be a merciless industry that has been plagued with eating disorders (and lamentably an even higher rate of suicide). But it is not the cause of eating disorders among the broader population. Young teens and tweens do not typically attend fashion runway shows. These ultra-thin runway models are rarely featured on billboard ads, and they don’t fill the pages of teen magazines.
Teens and tweens are more influenced by celebrities and singers whose movies and music they relate to. Celebrities such as Miley Cirus and Vanessa Hudgens often are photographed leaving the gym. Most of these celebrities are quite fit. Moreover, voluptuous celebrities are all over the media: Kim Kardashian, Sofia Vergara, Salma Hayek, Scarlett Johansson, Beyonce Knowles — the list goes on. Celebrities such as Demi Lovato and Lady Gaga have been outspoken about their battles with eating disorders and have shared their plights in getting healthy.
And yes, among the multitude of today’s celebrities, a few are startlingly thin, and the media roundly criticizes them for their unhealthy appearance (think Kate Moss).
Yet, this worldwide notion of runway models fueling eating disorders persists, and government officials seem to believe banning them is the cure. If governments feel weight is within the realm of their regulatory duties, why not restrict television viewing? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports lessening time in front of the TV is the most effective strategy for teen weight loss. Are models just an easier target?
Finally, for all the criticism media gets in promoting eating disorders (presumably as some sort of accomplice of the fashion industry), some shows are actually inspiring people to take a stronger role in their weight without resorting to unhealthy and dangerous habits. Thankfully, shows like the “Biggest Loser,” “Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition,” “Heavy” and “DietTribe” feature contestants with seemingly insurmountable weight problems. Through exercise and healthy dieting these contestants achieve success, health, and self-confidence — and show viewers that there are no short cuts to weight loss.
They’re shows Israeli easy-solution lawmakers should watch — if they’re not taking measurements at a fashion show.