Will Banning Anorexic Models Really Deal With Eating Disorders?

Israel is taking an aggressive approach to battling anorexia and what it believes is the connection between high fashion and the devastating illness by banning the use of underweight models in ads.

Thanks to a new law that took effect at the beginning of the year, models who hope to appear in Israeli ads must produce a medical report showing they have maintained a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) for at least three months before a shoot or a catwalk show. The law also bans the use of models who “appear underweight” which means advertisers are not allowed to make a model’s body look thinner through the use of digital alterations and airbrushing. Brands who digitally alter any photographs will have to clearly mark the resulting images to show that they have been manipulated.

According to reports, Israel has only about 300 working models, so the immediate impact of the law does not appear to be widespread. The real question is, will it catch on? In 2006, Italy and India banned underweight models from the catwalk after two anorexic models in Uruguay and Brazil died, but it’s not like the beauty ideal has shifted much, at all, since then.

And while it’s an easy target, the Israeli law unearths the ages old question of whether the fashion industry, and the likes of mass-retail sexuality courtesy of chains like Victoria’s Secret, are behind the persistent public health problem of eating disorders in young girls or are merely a reflection back of our society’s own skewed visions of beauty. Does anorexia persist because of an onslaught of advertising that equates emaciation with sexiness? Like tackling questions related to rape culture, it’s hard to answer that question with a simple “yes” and not dig in deeper to discuss issues of cultural power and control.

Unfortunately, the Israeli law does not do this, nor is it really the appropriate vehicle to do so. Our laws are, after all, limited vehicles in addressing social change. Without a corresponding change in attitudes, laws like this one will do little, if anything, to address why young girls, and increasingly young boys, turn to drastic measures like self-starvation for approval.

But they will help the women currently trying to make a living in Israel as models by simply not enabling eating disorders to become part-and-parcel of their career. While BMI alone is not an indicator of health, it is as good as any of a place to start. Supporters of the law point to Israel’s most recognizable model Bar Refaeli as inspiration for the standard. Refaeli is considered “curvy” by modern fashion-industry standards but still has no problem earning a living in the business.

So while Israel should be commended for taking the issue of anorexia as a public health concern seriously, we all need to continue the conversation of why this issue persists and how we change it culturally. On this point the anti-tobacco campaign may be helpful. For decades, images of people smoking were perpetuated in advertising as symbols of coolness or sophistication. But as the dramatic public health costs of tobacco became too great to ignore, increasing public pressure on advertisers and tobacco companies themselves (along with a host of lawsuits to help drive home the point) made this kind of imagery unacceptable. Israel’s law gets that issue moving, but now the rest is up to us to make sure the issue stays in motion.

Related from Care2:

Facebook Use Leads to Negative Body Image and Eating Disorders

Half of Women Avoid Sex Because of Their Weight

“Plus-Size” Model Wants To Do Away With “Plus-Size” Label

Photo from 9042004 via flickr.


Sharon S.
Sharon Stein4 years ago

What you see all the time becomes the norm...therefore ultra thin becomes acceptable...and THAT is UNHEALTHY!

Robert O.
Robert O4 years ago

I really don't think it would do much since the issue is a personal one and stems from the person themselves and how they appear in their own eyes and how they feel about themselves. Outside influences do play a large role though in how people view and treat one another and I also believe it's ridiculous to be endlessly bombarded by images of airbrushed, pencil thin women parading around in barely there, but very expensive designer clothes and pushing the mindset that they are the ideal image of femininity that other women should aspire to become.

Rudolf A., to an extent you're right since although men are not enocuraged to be a particular size, but there's also that unspoken mindset that men should have lean, muscled bodies with defined abs and a model like face in order to appear attractive to the types of people they want to date or associate with.

Rachael Pappano
Rachael Pappano4 years ago

I really hope that in doing anything something will start to change for the better. Congrats to Israel, though, I think it's a big positive step forward in the right direction.

Shawna H.
Shawna Honey4 years ago

I think airbrushing and doctoring photos should be a form of "cheating" and clearly marked on ads. As for looking at somebody's BMI, I have to disagree with that. Maybe to discern somebody who is severely underweight it's a good standard, but I know I have been battling with increasing my BMI to the "normal" range for years. I'm a healthy, young, active female with a BMI about .5 - 1 under what is considered "normal," yet anybody will tell you I eat!!!

Paulina Langowska

first of all, 'anorexic' is not a synonim for thin. Second of all, why all the campaigns are so focused on anorexia nervosa (and only the extreme cases of it) and not on other eating disorders? Instead of shouting how ugly skinny models look etc. why now focus the time, attention and money on campaings educationg about all eating disorders, creating more affordable psychiatric help and stressing the importance of taking the issue seriously? End eating disorder- based jokes. Raise social awareness. Encourage people to seek help, even if they don't consider themselves 'deadly thin'. Do something more than shout into the void about 'stupid fashion' and making comments such as 'ew skinny men like when women have curves'.

Maggie Obrien
Maggie Obrien4 years ago

And to think the camera adds 10 pounds! Too skinny!!!

Dave C.
David C4 years ago

I don't know if barring "anorexic" (underweight) models will do a good job, but where is the discussion about "underage models" --- I learned that many of the Sports Illustrated models, including Kate Upton the 2 time cover model, are still in their late teens or at most early 20s.......I am wondering if these young women (physically) have the mental maturity to realize they are being used for looks and not given credit for their minds/hearts/deeds/abilities......it seems sad, as a parent of a near 17 yo daughter, to think that young women this age would be so willing to be seen only as sexy models....makes me wonder if their brains have developed enough to see the good......on the other hand I hear they are paid well.....from a woman.....

I think discussion of underweight/anorexic models is good, the next step is discussion about age.......

Rosemary Rannes

pardon the error on the quotation which I meant to delete - it was my point of reference!

Rosemary Rannes


What !?!?! "So while Israel should be commended for taking the issue of anorexia as a public health concern seriously..."

Kudo's to Israel for caring enough about the health of women to legislate the BMI law.
We can only hope that all countries will follow suit!
Banning anorexic models reinforces body awareness in terms of overall health.
Anorexia nervosa is a deadly disease that cannot, must not be overlooked or ignored.
The average woman is not a size 0.
This question really gets me -
" Does anorexia persist because of an onslaught of advertising that equates emaciation with sexiness? "
The average woman does not equate emaciation with sexiness!
A healthy woman radiates sex appeal by virtue of the fact that she is not emaciated!

Dawn W.
Dawn W4 years ago

Yes I think it will help. Even if it doesn't,it means something. They are taking a stand and making a statement,and hopefully people will learn from it.