Will Israel’s Ban on Underweight Models Have Any Impact on Eating Disorders?

By Paul Gaita 01/22/15

A new law effective on January 1 bans models from working if they don't meet state-approved weight guidelines.

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On January 1, Israel implemented a new law that requires fashion and commercial models to either maintain a body mass index (BMI) of at least 18.5, or face disqualification from runway and advertisement work.

Legislation on the law was initiated in part by fashion photographer Adi Barkan, who was inspired to campaign for healthier body images after the death of his friend, model Hila Elmaliah. At the time of her death from anorexia-related issues in 2007, Elmaliah weighed only 60 pounds.

Israel's parliament, the Knesset, adopted the legislation in March 2012 and passed it into law in late 2014. In addition to the BMI requirement, the new law, known as the “Photoshop Law,” requires advertisers to print a disclaimer if images of models have been digitally altered.

Rachel Adatto, a gynecologist and lawyer who served in the Knesset from 2009 and 2013, and was instrumental in the passage of the law, said that she hopes the law will speak directly to young women who look to models as a positive example of body image. “I helped develop this law in response to the epidemic of eating disorders I was seeing among our young people,” she stated. “So many girls are idolizing these models and wanting to look like them.”

However, eating disorder specialists are divided on whether the law will have any actual impact on its intended targets. “It is a known fact that there is a genetically inherited cause to eating disorders,” said Dr. Adi Enoch-Levy, a psychiatrist who treats eating disorder cases at the Safra children’s hospital in Tel Aviv. “It is also a fact that anorexia cases have appeared in societies not previously exposed to images of the ‘ideal physique.'”

But Dr. Enoch-Levy also noted that images of ultra-thin models have become more prevalent with the increase in media. “Observations show that eating disorders have spiked in number together with the exposure of the modern media – the same media which brings to many homes fashion shows and commercials.”

In the United States alone, nearly 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder like anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating. Research has also shown that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.