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Israel's new BMI model law: Is it fair?

 - Israel's new BMI model law: Is it fair?
 

Israel's new BMI model law: Is it fair?

It's no longer enough to show up with killer cheekbones and a can-do attitude, models in Israel must now produce a doctor’s certificate stating they are healthy enough to work. Sofeminine writer Abby Driver asks what impact this sort of law will have on body image and the fashion industry…
 
 
 

The Low Down…
 
NHS BMI chart
NHS BMI chart
As of January 1st 2013 models in Israel have to produce an up to date doctors certificate that shows they have a BMI higher than 18.5, making Israel the first ever country to pass legislation effectively banning underweight models from local ads and publications.

The new law is the brainchild of fashion photographer Adi Barkan and Israeli politicians Dr. Rachel Adatto and Danny, who hope it will project a healthier body image. As well as underweight models being banned, publications will now have to state when images have been digitally altered to make models appear thinner. 
 
What’s the point…
 
Two percent of Israeli teenage girls have a severe eating disorder and whilst a multitude of factors may be involved, it is widely accepted that living in an environment that glorifies the thin ideal can certainly have an impact on and even encourage eating disorders.
 
And there is no denying we live in a world that systematically worships the thin.  
 
So the Israeli fashion industry has decided to stand up and try something new by making themselves the first country to legislate against underweight models in publications. Liad Gil-Har, assistant to law sponsor Dr. Rachel Adato, told The Telegraph: “We want to break the illusion that the model we see is real.”
 
How? They hope that it will encourage local advertisers to use healthy models as well as highlight digital tricks employed to transform already thin women into mere waifs thereby presenting viewers with a supposedly healthier image. 
 
In the UK…
 
Under the new law Kate Moss would be banned until she put on a few pounds!
Under the new law Kate Moss would be banned until she put on a few pounds!
The numbers aren’t any better in this corner of the world, with 1.6 million people suffering from eating disorders, 89% female. 
 
Because of the connections between the perpetually skinny, digitally altered images we see every day and the rise of eating disorders, various tactics have been employed in the past to make the fashion industry more responsible. 
 
The ASA has banned adverts for having models that are too thin. However by this point the images have already been seen and it could be argued the extra exposure does more damage than good. 
 
The CFDA has published model health guidelines for this year’s Fashion Week, making recommendations such as asking models for ID and supplying nutritious snacks backstage. All sounds grand, but these are just guidelines and do not have to be adhered to.  
 
Alexandra Shulman, editor of British Vogue, wrote a letter pleading with leading fashion designers to make sample sizes in bigger sizes so Vogue could use larger models. One year later she said she was disappointed nothing had changed. 
 
But all of these attempts seem a tad feeble in comparison to Israel’s ballsy approach.  
 
But is it fair…
 
Critics have argued that using BMI, a 100-year-old mathematical formula, as a measure of health is ineffective. But is it? BMI is a simple calculation: weight in kilograms is divided in metres squared. However, the measurement does not take into account body composition and whether excess weight is fat or muscle, which is why very often fit people (George Clooney, Brad Pitt et al) fall into the overweight or even obese category.

However, considering it is the method of choice in hospitals, GPs, insurance companies, researchers, slimming clubs as well as the police and fire services finding a suitable alternative might prove difficult. 
 
Adi Neumann in Vogue Russia July August 2012
Adi Neumann in Vogue Russia July August 2012
One of Israel's most famous models, Adi Neumann, told the Daily Telegraph under the new laws she would not pass, as her BMI was only 18.3. Instead, she suggested: "Force actual tests. Make girls go to a doctor. Get a system to follow girls who are found to be puking," which seems slightly more militant than the new law itself!

Besides, law sponser  Dr. Adato said only 5% of women have a BMI that naturally fell under 18.5, so putting on a pound or two to break the barrier shouldn’t be that difficult for anyone. 
 
Aside from gauging models health, there are also the ethical implications to consider. If a model is underweight and has an eating disorder, is it right to stop working with them based on their health?

In my opinion if said model did have an eating disorder then it shouldn’t be glamourized and fetishized in adverts and publications aimed at the public and instead, they should be getting help to recover.
 
In conclusion…
 
Israel’s new law might have been heavily criticised so far, but I for one am a fan. It seems like forever and a year that the fashion industry has been promising to change and become more responsible, at least this is a step in the right direction. 
 
Personally I am all for stating when images have been digitally altered to look thinner, because it will help reinforce the fact that what you are looking at is not real, therefore not attainable. And stop cock ups like this horrific example from cropping up,
 
Because this legislation will only affect models in Israel I am doubtful this will have much of an impact on the world stage. However it will be interesting to watch this as a test run and monitor how it unfolds.
 
UK fashion industry, watch and learn!




  

Abby Driver
17/01/2013
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