Israel is trying to fight the spread of eating disorders with a new law banning underweight models from adverts.
It also requires publications to disclose when they use altered images to make women and men appear thinner.
The ban appears to be the first time a government has used legislation to take on a fashion industry accused of abetting eating disorders by idealising extreme thinness. It could also become a model for other countries grappling with the spread of anorexia and bulimia, particularly among young women.
The law’s supporters said they hoped it would encourage the use of healthy models in local advertising and heighten awareness of digital tricks that transform already thin women into illusory waifs.
“We want to break the illusion that the model we see is real,” said Liad Gil-Har, assistant to law sponsor Dr. Rachel Adato, who compares the battle against eating disorders to the struggle against smoking.
The law requires models to produce a medical report, dating back no more than three months, at every shoot that will be used on the Israeli market, stating that they are not malnourished by World Health Organisation standards.
The UN agency uses a standard known as the body mass index – calculated by dividing weight by height – to determine malnutrition.
WHO says a body-mass index below 18.5 is indicative of malnutrition.
Any advert published for the Israeli market must also have a clearly written notice disclosing if the model used was digitally altered to make her, or him, look thinner. The law will not apply to foreign publications sold in Israel.
The law was championed by one of Israel’s top model agents, Adi Barkan, who said in 30 years of work, he saw young women become skinnier and sicker while struggling to fit the shrinking mold of what the industry considered attractive.
“They look like dead girls,” he said.
Critics said the legislation should have focused on health, not weight, arguing that many models were naturally very thin.
“The health of the model ... should be evaluated. Our weight can change hour to hour,” said David Herzog, a professor of psychiatry and leading US expert on eating disorders.
Top Israeli model Adi Neumman said she would not pass under the new rules, because her BMI was 18.3. She said she ate well and exercised. She also said the legislation should have focused on health and well-being, not weight.