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Body Image: Underweight Models Banned in Israel

June 7, 2012

Following the model with the 20-inch waist this week is the news that Israel has banned “underweight models from fashion runways, advertisements and commercials.”

It’s no secret that the fashion industry idealizes thinness. This particular law mandates that models working in Israel prove that they are not malnourished, by producing medical records. (The country will use World Health Organization standards, wherein a body-mass index below 18.5 is indicative of malnutrition.) In addition, any advertisement published for the Israeli market must include a disclosure line if the model was digitally altered to look thinner

The legislation passed Monday aims to put a stop to the extremes, and by extension ease the pressure on youngsters to emulate the skin-and-bones models, often resulting in dangerous eating disorders.

The new law poses a groundbreaking challenge to a fashion industry widely castigated for promoting anorexia and bulimia. Its sponsors say it could become an example for other countries grappling with the spread of the life-threatening disorders.

Unrealistic body images in the media are believed to shape eating habits, especially among young people, though there is debate about how influential they are. Other factors include psychological health, trauma like sexual assault, or a tendency within one’s family to emphasize physical appearance as a sign of success.

There are a ton of interesting articles that cover this topic (also, apparently “In France, Parliament voted in favor of a bill that outlaws “publicly inciting extreme thinness.” An ad in the UK was banned because the model had “highly visible ribs”) and it’s really fascinating. I’ve often bemoaned that the industry is too concentrated on weight and not health, and this is an interesting twist on that subject. Too often, overweight people are focused on in the media as being the paradigm of what not to look like, what is disgusting and undignified, while underweight people are glorified as covetable beauty that we should strive for. It’s been clear for quite a while (Twiggy, anyone?) that a healthier body image needs to be promoted by the media and underweight models are obviously not leading to that.

I don’t watch “America’s Next Top Model” (reality TV is just not my thang, sorry) but I did recently read about the winner of the 10th season, Whitney Thompson, who is apparently the first “plus-size” model to win the show. She has made it her personal mission to be an inspiration and positive role model for healthy body image in the media.

I think this is a really noble goal and undertaking, but I can’t help wondering a little about how she also embodies many of the stereotypical all-American beauty requirements (she went from brunette to blonde, is quite tan…). Ah well. I admire her commitment and dedication and hope that more of the fashion industry will follow suit. It all has to begin somewhere, and it seems that is actually is.


(Image courtesy of USAToday)


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