Mak­ing skinny un­fash­ion­able

Is­rael’s new min­i­mum weights for its mod­els a way to combat young girls’ eat­ing dis­or­ders

The Washington Times Daily - - Life - BY DIAA HA­DID AND DANIELLA CHESLOW

TJERUSALEM old she was too fat to be a model, Danielle Se­gal shed a quar­ter of her weight and was hos­pi­tal­ized twice for mal­nu­tri­tion. Now that a new Is­raeli law pro­hibits the em­ploy­ment of un­der­weight mod­els, the 19-yearold must gain some of the weight back if she wants to work again.

Not that she ever was over­weight. At 5 feet 7 inches tall, she weighed 116 pounds to be­gin with. Feel­ing pres­sure to be­come ever thin­ner, she dropped an­other 29 pounds. The un­nat­u­rally skele­tal girl weighed 88 pounds by then, or about as much as a ro­bust pre­teen, and her health suf­fered.

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.

It’s es­pe­cially im­por­tant in Is­rael, where mod­els’ ev­ery ut­ter­ance and dal­liance is fod­der for large pic­tures and racy sto­ries in the na­tion’s news­pa­pers. Su­per­model Bar Re­faeli is con­sid­ered a na­tional hero by many. She is not un­nat­u­rally thin.

The new law re­quires mod­els to pro­duce a med­i­cal re­port no older than three months at ev­ery shoot for the Is­raeli mar­ket, stat­ing that they are not mal­nour­ished by World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion stan­dards.

The U.N. agency re­lies on the body mass in­dex, cal­cu­lated by fac­tors of weight and height. WHO says a body mass in­dex be­low 18.5 in­di­cates mal­nu­tri­tion. Ac­cord­ing to that stan­dard, a woman 5 feet 8 inches tall should weigh no less than 119 pounds.

Also, any ad­ver­tise­ment pub­lished for the Is­raeli mar­ket must have a clearly writ­ten no­tice dis­clos­ing if its mod­els were made to look thin­ner by dig­i­tal ma­nip­u­la­tion. The law does not ap­ply to for­eign publi­ca­tions sold in Is­rael.

In Is­rael, about 2 per­cent of girls ages 14 to 18 have se­vere eat­ing dis­or­ders, a rate sim­i­lar to other de­vel­oped coun­tries, spe­cial­ists said.

The law’s sup­port­ers hope it will en­cour­age the use of healthy mod­els in lo­cal ad­ver­tis­ing and heighten aware­ness of dig­i­tal tricks that trans­form al­ready skinny women into waifs.

“We want to break the il­lu­sion that the model we see is real,” said Liad GilHar, as­sis­tant to Dr. Rachel Adato, the law’s spon­sor, who com­pared the bat­tle against eat­ing dis­or­ders to the strug­gle against smok­ing.

The law won sup­port from a sur­pris­ing quar­ter: one of Is­rael’s top model agents, Adi Barkan, who said in 30 years of work, he has seen young women be­come skin­nier and sicker while strug­gling to fit the shrink­ing mold of what the in­dus­try con­sid­ers at­trac­tive.

“They look like dead girls,” Mr. Barkan said.

New model of beauty

Miss Se­gal says she’s thrilled with the new law and wishes it had been passed years ago.

“I wouldn’t have grown up think­ing that [be­ing un­der­weight] is a model of beauty. I wouldn’t have reached the point I reached,” she said.

Miss Se­gal said an agent told her three years ago that she had a beau­ti­ful face — but not a “model’s body.” Try­ing to at­tain that ideal through dras­tic di­ets, she ended up in the hospi­tal twice and stopped men­stru­at­ing.

Miss Se­gal said she met Mr. Barkan dur­ing her mod­el­ing work, and he con­vinced her she could suc­ceed as a model with­out be­ing un­nat­u­rally thin. She now weighs about 110 pounds and would have to gain al­most eight more pounds to qual­ify for work.

Mr. Barkan es­ti­mated about half the 300 pro­fes­sional mod­els in Is­rael would have to gain weight to work again.

Top Is­raeli model Adi Neum­man said she wouldn’t pass un­der the new rules, be­cause her BMI is 18.3. Miss Neum­man said she eats well and ex­er­cises. “Make girls go to a doc­tor. Get a sys­tem to fol­low girls who are found to be puk­ing,” a symp­tom of bu­limia, she said.

Crit­ics say the leg­is­la­tion should have fo­cused on health, not weight, ar­gu­ing that many mod­els are nat­u­rally thin.

“The health of the model ... should be eval­u­ated. Our weight can change hour to hour,” said Dr. David Her­zog, a pro­fes­sor of psy­chi­a­try at Har­vard Med­i­cal School who spe­cial­izes in eat­ing dis­or­ders.

Bow­ing to pres­sure

Pres­sure on the fash­ion in­dus­try has in­ten­si­fied in re­cent years, sparked by the deaths of mod­els in Brazil and Uruguay from med­i­cal com­pli­ca­tions linked to eat­ing dis­or­ders.

Uruguayan model Luisel Ramos, 22, col­lapsed and died soon af­ter step­ping off the run­way in Au­gust 2006, re­port­edly of anorexia-linked heart fail­ure.

Other gov­ern­ments have taken steps to pre­vent “size zero” med­i­cal prob­lems but have shied away from leg­is­la­tion.

The Madrid fash­ion show bans women whose BMI is be­low 18. Mi­lan’s fash­ion week bans mod­els with a BMI be­low 18.5.

Bri­tain and the U.S. have guide­lines, but their fash­ion in­dus­try is sel­f­reg­u­lated.

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

It’s not cer­tain that the Is­raeli law will have a mea­sur­able im­pact, be­cause teens there take their cues from in­ter­na­tional me­dia and lo­cal publi­ca­tions, said Si­gal Gooldin, an eat­ing -dis­or­der spe­cial­ist at He­brew Univer­sity in Jerusalem.

So­cial worker Uri Pi­nus, who treats seven teens with eat­ing dis­or­ders at a Jerusalem hospi­tal, said the law is un­likely to af­fect his pa­tients.

“But our ex­pec­ta­tion is that this law will im­pact the wider public,” Mr. Pi­nus said. “[It] will re­duce pres­sure on the girls to lose weight.”

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