The law, approved last March by Israel's legislating Knesset, requires models to prove they have maintained a Body Mass Index (BMI) of at least 18.5 for three months prior to a fashion shoot or show. That means a woman who is 5'8'' tall can weigh no less than 119 pounds. It also requires advertisers who thin out a model's body with retouching software to make it clear that they have manipulated the images.
"This law is another step in the war against eating disorders," said physician and law co-sponsor Rachel Adatto (with Danny Danon) after a 2011 reading of the draft, according to the Times of Israel. Underweight models, she explained, "can no longer serve as role models for innocent young people who adopt and copy the illusion of thinness."
But critics of the law in this country say it and others like it—the Madrid Fashion Show's ban on women whose BMI is below 18, for example, and Milan's Fashion Week's ban on models with a BMI below 18.5—are misguided, focusing on weight instead of health. They also say the Israeli ban is bound to fail because of the muscle of the fashion industry.
"I think it's an approach that isn't going to work," eating disorder expert Susan Ice told Yahoo! Shine. Ice, vice president of clinical services at Renfrew Center, a pioneer in the treatment of eating disorders, worked with the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) to create guidelines for models which, rather than focusing on BMI, strive to educate the industry and foster a healthy working environment.
"I think that's a much more enlightened approach, a more likely-to-succeed approach, and an empowering approach," Ice says. Plus, she says, through working with the CFDA, "I've learned that designers are really artists, and we have free speech here. We can't tell anyone how to do their art….If designers want women to look like boys or if designers want women to look like 8-year-olds, you're not going to change that."
But a champion of the new law, Adi Barkan, a former fashion-model agent in Israel, told Tayla Minsberg of the Atlantic last year that he was drawn into the issue after meeting an aspiring model who looked like she needed to be hospitalized. "I became immersed in this world very quickly. I gave up the agency and photography and delved into the dark world of anorexics and bulimics," he said. "I realized that only legislation can change the situation. There was no time to educate so many people, and the change had be forced on the industry. There was no time to waste, so many girls were dieting to death."
Others in the industry around the world have agreed, including the organizers of the fashion shows in Italy and Spain. Years ago, the lower house of French Parliament voted in favor of a vague bill that outlawed "publicly inciting extreme thinness." And, in 2011, the UK banned a web-based ad that used a model with "highly visible" ribs, calling it "socially irresponsible." Vogue, at its magazines globally, instituted guidelines last year that enforce weight and age guidelines for its top models.
Still, wrote Ray A. Smith and Christina Binkley in the Wall Street Journal this week, "The efforts to regulate models' weight in Spain and Italy have not resulted in significant changes, in part because of difficulties in determining reliable methods of measuring weight and health."
Still, folks including Ice say there's no denying that images from Hollywood and the fashion industry can be difficult for young women to deal with. "Certainly I don't believe the modeling industry has caused the rise in eating disorders, but it makes it harder," she says. "It's a difficult recovery environment, worshiping thinness as the beauty ideal."