Will Banning Underweight Models Prevent Eating Disorders?
A new law in Israel seeks to ban underweight models from catwalks and commercials, a measure that many lawmakers believe will reduce eating disorders and promote a healthy body image in a country where the fashion industry runs supreme. The new legislation requires models to produce a medical report at every photo shoot for the Israeli market, demonstrating that a doctor has agreed they have a body mass index of no less than 18.5 within three months before they’re hired for a modeling job.
But that’s not all. The law also takes regulations one step further, aiming to close any loopholes advertisers might use to propagate images of stick-thin women in the country. Advertisers must include a clearly written notice disclosing if models photoshopped, although the law doesn’t apply to foreign publications sold in Israel.
via The Huffington Post:
The law’s supporters hope it will encourage the use of healthy models in local advertising and heighten awareness of digital tricks that transform already skinny women into seeming waifs.
“We want to break the illusion that the model we see is real,” said Liad Gil-Har, assistant to law sponsor Dr. Rachel Adato, who compared the battle against eating disorders to the struggle against smoking.
The law won support from a surprising quarter: one of Israel’s top model agents, Adi Barkan, who said in 30 years of work, he has seen young women become skinnier and sicker while struggling to fit the shrinking mold of what the industry considers attractive.
“They look like dead girls,” Barkan said.
According to a study cited by the Associated Press, about 2 percent of girls aged 14 to 18 in Israel have eating disorders. The rate of eating disorders is similar, if not more prevalent, in Western countries like America — where no such bans yet exist. The National Eating Disorder Association estimates that 10 million Americans struggle with eating disorders. And we’re not just talking about excessive dieting and unhealthy body ideals. Eating disorders are serious psychiatric illnesses – 5-10% of anorexics die within 10 years of contracting the disease, and 18-20% are dead after 20 years.
No doubt those are some disturbing statistics, and I applaud Israeli lawmakers for taking a stand against an industry that not only condones eating disorders, but encourages them. Many models report that their agents and employers tell them they must lose inordinate amounts of weight to get the jobs they want, encouraging them to fast, purge, and do whatever it takes to shed “extra” pounds. Take for example, world-renowned fashion publicist Kelly Cutrone, who defends extremely thin models, saying that “Clothes look better on thin people. The fabric hangs better.”
All that said, I think it’s important to note that eating disorders are not caused by unhealthy body ideals in the fashion industry. It’s tempting to think that if we just put more curvy women on the covers of our magazines, our girls will no longer hate their bodies, starve themselves to be thinner, make themselves throw up because they feel unworthy of nourishment. As much as I wish it were that simple, it’s simply not the case. Eating disorders are complex illnesses with multifaceted causes — including genetic predisposition, early childhood trauma, and sociocultural dynamics that present weight loss as a convenient outlet for coping with stress. One analogy experts often use to describe what causes is an eating disorder is the metaphor of a gun. Genes and personality traits may load the gun, but emotional distress and environmental factors pulls the trigger.
So will Israel’s ban on super-thin models help to end the epidemic of eating disorders worldwide? Probably not. The images we see construed in the media certainly shape societal body ideals, especially among young people, but changes in one country’s standards will not be enough to eliminate a disease so many women around the world lose their lives to. It will, however, make for a much healthier space for women in the modeling industry to work in. Israel sets a precedent that can (and should) be followed by similar legislation in America and other influential countries.
More importantly, the law should encourage all of us to ask ourselves why we are more inclined to buy magazines with skinny cover models and weight-loss stories than those with images of healthier looking models. We’re the ones in power here. If we want to see healthier images on the covers of our magazines, we should stop buying (and clicking on) the publications that publish images of emaciated models. In my opinion, where we spend our dollars send the most powerful message of all.
What do you think? Do you support Israel’s ban on skinny models? Do you think it will help prevent eating disorders?
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Chelsea Roff is Managing Editor of the blog at Intent.com. She is a writer by day and yoga teacher by night, a weaver of words as well as of asanas. Her writing has been featured by Yoga Journal, Elephant Journal, Wanderlust Festival and the Hanuman Festival. Chelsea is passionate about using online media to inspire action that serves a greater cause — whether it be the expansion of knowledge, support of our global community, or improvement of planetary and personal health. She travels the country teaching yoga in the most non-traditional of spaces, from cocktail parties to public protests to centers for at-risk youth. In Dallas, Chelsea helped start a yoga service organization that brings yoga classes to people in homeless shelters, juvenile detention centers, and prisons. Chelsea currently lives in Santa Monica, CA, where she can be found cartwheeling across the beach, hiking in the mountains, and practicing yoga poses on her little pink scooter.
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