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Proposed Israeli law would prevent models from being underweight

Posted By Harry Rubenstein On January 2, 2005 @ 10:00 pm In | No Comments

In an age when young women are starving themselves in the name of beauty, Adi Barkan, well-known Israeli fashion photographer and owner of the Barkan Modeling Agency in Tel Aviv, together with Knesset member Inbal Gavrieli, have decided to fight the trend.

They’ve introduced a bill to the Knesset requiring that models undergo health examinations, and have their BMI (body mass index) checked before entering the modeling profession. It’s apparently the first bill of its kind in the world.

Beyond the glamour and glitz of the modeling industry lies a darker side. All around the world, scores of young women longing to be the next top model starve themselves, believing that they need to be unnaturally skinny in order to succeed in this world.

While the American modeling industry is grappling with this problem, Barkan hopes, through his campaign, to stem the rise of profession-related illnesses and deal a blow to the ‘skinny’ culture that permeates the Israeli fashion world.

“Up until now, anorexia and bulimia have been the modeling world’s dirty little secret,” Barkan told ISRAEL21c. “We in this industry have perpetuated and even glorified eating disorders by celebrating thinness and packaging malnutrition in such an attractive way, that young women everywhere aspire to have ‘the look.’ It is time that this industry comes clean about this dangerous problem and shows the world that beauty and high fashion do not equal starvation.”

The paradox is that Barkan himself used to strictly follow the ‘skinnier the better’ school of modeling photography.

“Obviously I’m part of it,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency recently. “But those were the days when Calvin Klein extended the contract of super-skinny model Kate Moss and everyone was following the so-called heroin-chic style.”

The proposed law would require all potential models to submit to a nutritional test with a licensed nutritionist or dietician. Agencies would be forbidden to represent a model without a copy of the test results. Subsequently, the agency would not be allowed to continue representing the model unless she submits to the test every six months. Any agency that does not comply will be fined accordingly and all forms will be monitored by the Health Ministry.

Barkan has been working on this initiative for over two years and has managed to garner the support of many of Israel’s top CEOs, persuading them to sign a contract agreeing not to hire models with a BMI of less than 19. Barkan has received commitments from Strauss-Elite, one of Israel’s largest food industries; Castro fashion house; Bank Hapoalim; Partner cell phones and others.

He’s also contacted dozens of fashion houses in Israel asking them to join him in the anti-anorexia campaign and sign affidavits pledging that they won’t use models below a certain weight. The Israeli Health Ministry has given its blessing to the campaign, as have school principals who have asked Barkan to speak to their students to pass on the message that the days of ‘thin is beautiful’ are over.

According to statistics provided by the Health Ministry, seven percent of all adolescent girls in Israel display signs of an eating disorder. Based on interviews that Barkan has conducted with thousands of young aspiring models and the assistance of a certified nutritionist, he believes that 13.7 percent of these young girls are suffering from an eating disorder.

In advance of the first reading of the bill in the Knesset, a large scale television campaign, produced pro bono by the Tel Aviv-based advertising agency Reuveni Pridan, will be launched. It features a public service commercial focusing on body image and eating disorders.

The commercial will portray four adolescent models in succession – each one thinner than the last. A voice-over introduces each model, stating that none of them is happy with her weight, and that each one wants to be as thin as the next girl. The fourth young woman shown, also thinking she’s ‘too fat,’ is visibly wasting away from anorexia.

Israel’s major television channels have each donated over a million dollars in air time to broadcast the commercial beginning in mid-February. The public service slogan is called ‘Nothing is Worth This.’

Its goal is to increase awareness among parents and adolescents, demonstrate how to recognize the symptoms and how to help those who have eating disorders. Barkan said that an additional purpose is to raise awareness among young girls that there is a distinction between looking good and being obsessive about one’s weight.

Participating in the commercial is Shiran Shaul, an 18-year-old model from Haifa, discovered on the street by Barkan. She supports the bill wholeheartedly.

“I don’t mind that I’ll have to go to a dietician every six months. If I am eating the way I should be eating, then there shouldn’t be any problems,” she told ISRAEL21c.

Shaul doesn’t suffer from an eating disorder but is participating in the campaign because she believes in showing other girls that they don’t have to be anorexic if they want to be a model. Shaul hopes that the campaign will reach beyond the border of Israel.

“I think it will be difficult, but there is potential. With hard work, I think that there is a chance. We need to bring people to the point of realizing that this is the right thing to do.”

Unfortunately, the production of the commercial, which was to be filmed last week, had to be postponed due to the hospitalization of one of the participants who is currently being treated for anorexia.

“We need to hold a mirror up to these teenage girls so that they can see the damage they are doing to themselves,” said Knesset member Gavrieli. “That mirror starts with this television campaign, but continues with positive body images reflected in magazines, on billboards and on runways.

“The welcome initiative relates to the world of modeling, but we hope it will assist us in reaching all society. The law’s aim is to create a new image of beauty – an image that includes beauty and health in one word.”


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