Israel Bans ‘Underweight’ Models

Legislators passed a law that bans 'malnourished' models from working, hoping to put a stop to a major health challenge facing the fashion industry.

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A model gets prepared backstage during a fashion show by Israeli designer ''Sugar Daddy'' during the Tel Aviv Fashion Week on November 21, 2011

With the passage of new legislation known as the “Photoshop Law,” the Israeli fashion industry’s attraction to underweight models may soon become a thing of the past.

On Tuesday, Israel’s Knesset passed a law that would prohibit models who are considered “malnourished” by World Health Organization standards to work within the country’s fashion market. The WHO uses body mass index to determine malnutrition, and anyone with a BMI below 18.5 falls within that category. So, for example, a woman who is 5-foot-8 should weigh no less than 119 pounds — a far cry from the petite, size-zero women who walk the runways of Tel Aviv.

Now, in order to work as a model, women will have to produce a medical report no more than three months old stating that their BMI is above the WHO standard of malnutrition. According to estimates provided by Israeli modeling agency owner Adi Barkan, half of the country’s 300 professional models will be forced to gain weight to work again, something that he views as a positive step.

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“All over the world, 20 years ago, we saw girls who were skinny, but today we see girls who are too, too skinny,” Barkan told CNN. “They are dying. The business only wants the skinny girls. So the girls, they stop eating. It’s terrible. We must be more responsible and say to them that it doesn’t have to be that way.”

While there was overwhelming support for the law in general, which also requires advertisers to disclose if digital manipulations were used to make the models look thinner, some critics claimed that the legislation should have focused on the overall health of the models, instead of weight, since some women are naturally thin.

Another problem is enforcement. The law won’t have criminal consequences, Knesset spokesperson Liad Gil-Har told CNN, but it could be executed through civil litigation. For example, the parents of a child with an eating disorder can sue the makers of an advertisement that they believed influenced their daughter. This, of course, brings up a whole slew of issues, but according to Gil-Har, legislators believe having the law in place will discourage advertisers from seeking stick-thin models.

“We think this will be enough, that no advertising company will want to violate this law,” Gil-Har said. “They just won’t want to take that risk.”

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