Israel has passed a law banning the use of underweight models in advertising. The legislation, known as the "Photoshop Law," also requires that agencies tell their audience if they've digitally altered pictures to make models look thinner.
"This is such a happy day for me, and it should be for everyone in the modeling business," said Israeli modeling agency owner Adi Barkan, who has been working in fashion for more than 30 years. He said he lobbied Knesset members for years to get a law like this passed.
"All over the world, 20 years ago, we saw girls who were skinny, but today we see girls who are too, too skinny," he said. "They are dying. The business only wants the skinny girls. So the girls, they stop eating. It's terrible. We must be more responsible and say to them that it doesn't have to be that way."
The new law prohibits the use of models with a body mass index of 18.5 or less, a designation based on internationally accepted measures. The figure matches parameters set by the U.S. Department of Health.
The law has no criminal consequences, said Liad Gil-Har, a Knesset spokesman. It could be enforced only through civil litigation. He offered an example by saying that the law would make it possible for parents of a 15-year-old girl suffering from anorexia to sue the makers of an advertisement if they believed their daughter was being influenced by an ad featuring an underweight model.
The law doesn't set a money amount that can be gained in court from such a suit, Gil-Har said. Lawmakers realize that it may be a long and difficult process to prove in court that a company violated the new law, but they feel that simply having the law in place will accomplish what they want: deterring advertising companies from continuing to influence Israelis with images of unhealthy-looking models as the gold standard of beauty, he said.
Gil-Har said lawmakers have spent years deciding what action to take to curb an alarming number of Israelis suffering from eating disorders. The Knesset's Research and Information Center told lawmakers that there are about 1,500 children, including teens, diagnosed with eating disorders in Israel annually. Knesset members relied on data presented to them that linked eating disorders to exposure to media images that glorify thinness.
"We think this will be enough, that no advertising company will want to violate this law," Gil-Har said. "They just won't want to take that risk."
Some modeling agencies in Israel aren't happy.
"The indexes on which the law is based are arbitrary and are not appropriate for every model. I know many models who are totally healthy girls who might be disqualified because of the law," said Eli Edri of the Roberto Models Agency in Tel Aviv, according to Haaretz. He told the newspaper that some models are naturally thin and unable to gain weight and that the new law would unfairly prevent them from getting booked for jobs.
Plus-size American supermodel Emme told CNN that she thinks the law will spur other countries to institute similar measures against showing underweight models. "I think this is fantastic because so many young women and men are suffering to look a way that is unrealistic and unhealthy," she said.
The United Kingdom, she said, has aggressively pursued advertising agencies that alter images to an extent that grossly misrepresents the photo's subject. Advertisements for Lancome featuring Julia Roberts were banned in Britain because they were overly airbrushed.