Healthier models – it’s about time

In 2007,  there was a lot of fuss in Israel when 33-yr-old model Hila Elmalich was rushed unconscious  to hospital with anorexia and died at under 60 pounds.  Adi Barkan, the owner of a large  Tel Aviv modeling agency,  began to investigate the problem of eating disorders in the modeling world, especially with its repercussions on teenage girls, and decided to try and do something about it.   He began to push for legislation that would require models to be at a healthy BMI – body mass index – in order to be able to work.   (BMI is defined as an individual’s weight divided by the square of their height.)

There are some 200-300 female models working in the country,  says Barkan. “More than 70 percent of them suffer from undernourishment. They would rather their periods stop than add a kilogram. We’re talking about a life-and-death matter,” he told The Jerusalem Post.

Initially working with Knesset member Inbal Gavriely, he successfully submitted legislation to Israel’s Parliament – and last week, it was finally endorsed.  The Ministerial Committee on Legislative Affairs voted in favor of a bill proposed by MK Rachel Adatto (Kadima) and MK Danny Danon (Likud).

With this bill, commercial groups will be prohibited from displaying underweight models, and model agents will be banned from employing or representing such models. This also includes a ban on shooting underweight models, who will not be allowed to serve as label spokespersons. The bill requires models provide a medical permit indicating their BMI is normal.

According to the bill:

The prevalence of eating disorders, including anorexia, has been on the rise in recent years in the Israeli society, particularly among young girls. Studies show that one of the reasons for eating disorders among teenage girls is the influence of the media and the advertising industry, which feature particularly thin women as role models, thus influencing teenagers’ standards.

The fashion and advertising industries, in particular, have created a distorted image of an ideal woman using many underweight models. The purpose of this bill is to reduce the extent of teenage eating disorders.

As the mother of a teenage girl, I can testify how much she and her friends obsess about their weight.   It starts in kindergarten already – I remember kidlet and her friends discussing whether someone needed to diet at the age of 5 – and as teens it becomes all important to them, especially with the fashion of low cut jeans and short cropped tops designed to create a bulge around one’s middle no matter how slim.  (That fad slowly seems to be fading, thank goodness.)   Offhand parental comments and serious talks about being healthy fall on mostly deaf ears.

There are several young Israeli models –  most notably Bar Rafaeli and Esti Ginzburg – successfully enjoying an international career, while keeping a healthy look.

Let’s hope that this bill passes into law, and that it will spread.  More than 30 major companies in Israel have signed on to endorse the campaign, and Barkan hopes that the message of healthy models conveyed in the law will be carried around the world.   There has been international interest in the initiative, and positive news coverage.

Can we succeed in changing the current definition of beauty?   In my opinion, we have to – it’s a question of saving our kids’ lives.

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