A Step In the Right Direction

A new law recently passed in Israel will ban “malnourished” models from appearing in the nation’s media. According to this new policy, models who are under a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5 or who are unable to produce a medical report from within the last 3 months verifying their good health will be ineligible to participate in photo shoots or runway shows. In addition to these requirements for the models themselves, media outlets are now also required to indicate whether they digitally altered any photographs to make models appear thinner. Promoters of the law hope that such a move will help promote more a realistic body image and decrease public acceptance of an unrealistically thin beauty ideal. For many within the eating disorders field, this bold move has been applauded as a necessary step in helping address the media’s contribution to negative body image and disordered eating practices. While not the only factor relevant in their development, the cultural acceptance and perpetuation of an unattainable beauty ideal has certainly demonstrated importance in the etiology of body dissatisfaction and eating disorders. Our own Dr. Cynthia Bulik expressed support for the provision in the Israeli law that requires disclosure of images that have been altered to “enhance” a model’s appearance. She adeptly points out that the manipulated images to which women and young girls are subjected are “powerful and … dangerous” and are unrepresentative of real women’s bodies.

While other countries have enacted similar practices for their major runway shows (e.g., Madrid and Milan fashion weeks), Israel is the first to take such a courageous step in tackling some of the inherent challenges within an industry that is so heavily invested in selling a specific image and marketing it as a standard of beauty. The law is in stark contrast to the ideals of many within the industry including fashion icon Donatella Versace who was recently lambasted for her unwillingness to use “real women” in the launch of her collection at H&M retailers. While the attitude of Versace (and several other notable designers) is certainly disheartening, the Israeli policy engenders hope that as the spirit behind the law becomes more accepted, other countries will follow suit and embrace more healthy, realistic, and diverse images to promote in their media.

By: Christine M. Peat, Ph.D.