Israel Outlaws Too-Thin Models and Photoshop Fraud. But Will It Affect Eating Disorder Rates?

As a journalism student, I’ve seen some shocking things done with Photoshop. I watched someone add an extra head to a person the other day, just for kicks. The photo was not intended for publication. As far as I know.

As a human being who happens to identify as female, I’ve also seen some shocking things in the media. The ever-shrinking standard of beauty is one of them. Though really, is it even shocking anymore?

On Monday, the Israeli government announced plans to tackle too-thin ideals and tweaked photos in one fell swoop. A new law is requiring models to hand over a medical report at every photo shoot, stating that they are not underweight and publications to disclose any time they use an image altered to make a person appear thinner.

Models must be able to prove that their body mass index (BMI), which is calculated by weight and height, is above 18.5, the World Health Organization’s definition of malnutrition.

All of this is being done in an effort to combat eating disorder rates. About two percent of Israeli girls ages 14-18 are diagnosed with anorexia or bulimia, which is similar to statistics in other developed countries, including the US.

I’m a self-professed media junkie, raised on a steady diet of tabloid magazines and entertainment news shows. I would be lying if I said the constant stream of stick-thin models and toned and taut ingenues didn’t have a (huge) impact on my body image and self-esteem. And as a nosy, blabbermouth journalist who writes about this stuff, I’ve found it exceptionally rare (and refreshing) to find a woman entirely unaffected by the flood of skinny celebrities and supermodels.

But I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this new law, which is why I’m so eager to open up the dialogue here on HelloGiggles. One one hand, I’m thrilled that a government body is stepping up and addressing something that I see as a significant factor in the development of skewed self-image and unhealthy behaviors. On the other hand, I respect the backlash that immediately started brewing.

Israeli model Adi Neumman has already been very vocal about the fact that she wouldn’t be allowed to work under the new law. Though she claims to be perfectly healthy, her BMI is 18.3.

And while I don’t believe Adi’s apparent genetic predisposition is common in the modeling world, I do know plenty of naturally slender women who will take issue with this law. Not every super skinny woman has an eating disorder, and there is in fact such a phenomenon as thin-shaming, which is about as positive and productive as its snarky cousins, fat-shaming and slut-shaming.

There’s also a part of me that thinks instituting media policies in an effort to reduce eating disorder rates is a bit reductive. Please don’t get me wrong, I absolutely agree that the media plays a huge part in eroding women’s body confidence (see: paragraphs six and seven above), but eating disorders are complicated psychological illnesses.

Eliminating the amount of emaciated models may certainly help, but I don’t want the world to think it’s a surefire cure. Girls (and boys for that matter) need to be encouraged and supported in other domains, and taught to value themselves and others outside the realm of appearance. It sounds cheesy, but in my opinion, that’s what can really make a dent in eating disorder stats.

All that being said, I’m totally on board with the new Photoshop regulations. If you haven’t seen the ridiculous results that a few clicks of the mouse can produce, please start here. And Dove’s iconic “Evolution” video is a great reminder that the majority of magazine magic is made up of equal parts makeup, lighting and airbrushing.

If I sound torn about the topic, I am. I’m hoping some of you can weigh in (seriously, no pun was intended, but I typed it and laughed, so it stays) on the issue. Maybe just getting the conversation going among the smart, sassy HG readers is enough for now.

Confusedly yours,


Image via Designers Mag

  • Marloes Quist

    I totally agree with you. I had an eating disorder and still know a lot of girls with eating disorders. Never have I meet a girl who got sick because of the media. Sure, it doesn’t help. But I believe it’s never the main reason to develop an eating disorder. So, thanks for your post! :)

  • Alexis Borja

    I agree! I definitely love that the government stepped in to prevent eating disorders for the next generation. I do think that more should be done about the psychological issues currently affecting teens. I hope this law helps though!


  • Becky Lippert

    I think it’s interesting that they’ve done this, but what I really believe is the cause of eating disorders is the conflict between a world that grows fatter everyday (due to poor nutrition, and lack of information) and the increased access to the celeb ideal (via social media, sharing, more ppl with tvs). The fear of becoming obese in a world that is shockingly obese yet holds the celebrity as the beauty ideal is not irrational. Because nutrition is not taught or considered as important as learning math or reading or being financially successful, we have generations of people who don’t know what good food is or how to feed their bodies. I think what would be more effective than legislation about models or photoshop, is education about real health, not the lobbyist created government food pyramid.
    My 2 cents…

  • Julia Gazdag

    You make some really good points! On the one hand, the media does have a major effect on body image, but on the other, eating disorders are indeed complex psychological issues that have a deeper root than just photoshop. Personally, I agree with making it mandatory to label photoshopped images as such, but forcing models to fit a minimum BMI seems wrong to me. For one thing, the BMI is a faulty system in the first place, but for another, it does discriminate against women who are naturally thin.

  • Kayla Hester

    On one hand I think it is great what the government is trying to do. Being healthy and sending that message out into the world is extremely important. But at the same time you can’t regulate body type. I’m 24 with a child and my personal BMI is 16.5. I’ve never had an eating disorder of any sort. And yet this law wouldn’t let me work simply because I’m naturally slender. That’s not exactly fair. While the idea is good, they might want to go back and iron out some wrinkles. If nothing else, it is a step in the right direction.

  • Madeleine Lindy Dawes

    I don’t think that this law intends to discriminate against women who are “naturally thin”, but to bring to light that there is such thing as too thin. It is equally unhealthy to be too thin as it is to be obese. If your body doesn’t get the nutrients that it needs it may lead to bone loss, tooth degradation, muscle loss, loss of cognitive abilities… in short you can starve yourself to death. I believe that a woman should be able to feel beautiful in her own skin. Even if that means she is very thin or considered overweight, just as long as she feels beautiful and her body is healthy. A woman can be thin (or heavy) without looking like she is sick.

    • Julia Gazdag

      yeah but is it ok to bring something to right by making it law? I don’t think it intends to discriminate either, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t overlooked the huge detail of there being women who ARE naturally thin. The first thing I thought of was Israel’s sizeable Russian population — I’m willing to bet a lot of those girls are skinny because they grew up with malnutrition as an effect of poverty. It’s bad enough that selling their bodies through modeling is their best bet for a better life, but to now be barred from doing that too, because of something they can’t help, seems pretty harsh to me. They’re not the ones who are to blame for perpetuating a negative image into culture, the people who choose the images and run the industry are.

  • Jessica Secrist

    I like that they must disclose when the image has been altered – I don’t like that women are being regulated with their bodies, though I will be happy to see more “normal” women in the media. In addition, many athletes (marathoners, for example) have a lower BMI, but are still healthy – stating that 18.5 is the hard fast rule seems inappropriate to me.

  • Dana Barrett

    This is simply Israel removing a civil right from its people. The right to be skinny (not that I would know anything about that). How on earth can restricting someone’s right to work and killing photo editor jobs going to help their society? Could you imagine showing up for work tomorrow and being told because of physical feature x, you no longer have a job? As far as Photoshop goes, even family portraits are photoshopped. I don’t think the leaders thought about the fact that this law also removed the right of the media to make them look better then reality too. Photoshop is not evil, just misunderstood. Yes, some people take it too far, but when you look in a fashion magazine you know the images are edited and there is nothing wrong with that. As a family photographer, if I didn’t use Photoshop, I wouldn’t keep any clients. I think Israel should stop wasting time and money on this insanity and spend it on finding a way to live with their neighboring countries.

  • Michael Lee Elmendorf

    A “government” going too far? I agree with above Dana Barret. Why is a “government” stepping in on this issue? And, then “Israel” is not recognized by nearly 30 UN states. Moot point? Palestine, with a history going back to the 5th Century BC is occupied by “Israel”. Look up the definition of fascism or apartheid practices. Read Jimmy Carter’s Book, “Peace not Apartheid” I am sorry, “Israel” simply just pisses me off to know end. Do a google search of Jews Against Zionism. Look up what Jewish MIT professor Noam Chomsky., or Jewish/”Israeli” professor Dr Ilan Pappe, has to say about “Israel”. It is insane that my country, the US supports “Israel” and its crimes, and a “government” infringing on personal lives and committing the war crimes it is guilty of?

  • Erica Herker

    I don’t believe it should be law, I don’t feel it is right to legislate personal choices, this is the same way I feel about the smoking ban and similar laws in my home state. However, I do think that eating disorders are swept under the rug and generally ignored specificly with models. As a children photographer it breaks my heart to hear little girls call themselves fat or unattractive and know that people in the profession I love are part of the reason why. And I flatly refuse to pinch (the tool used to make people thinner) anyone in any of my images. In my opinion you should own your body and love it and encourage others to love their bodies too. And I read a study just the other day that most men find women who are size 8 – 12 to be the most attractive. Also I think it is aweful to judge a persons health based only on bmi I know 2 very healthy women that would fail that test simply because of genetics.

  • Beth Hannah

    I think in essence this is a good idea, however, as stated numerous times, some people are just naturally slender. Some people are naturally larger. It does not necessarily mean the person is unhealthy. More work needs to be done by society to create better self image, show various body types, and give more information on healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle.

  • Meghan Bosch

    I agree with your confusion! I think the amount of altered photos out there is ridiculous. And what’s more ridiculous is how normal it is! Britain already has laws to combat this. Though I don’t really agree with some of the ads they throw out, it’s a step in the right direction. Requiring a certain BMI percentage is crazy though. In all of my 24 years, I’ve never heard that BMI was supposed to be that high anyway… But I do think there is a place for (naturally) super-skinny and thicker girls! Creating a societal norm with ONE single body type is what’s created this mess to begin with. Maybe we should come up with some sort of “Equal Opportunity for Models.” (I don’t think it’s fair in regards to race or gender but that has no bearing on this discussion. But I digress…) If there was some sort of requirement to show models of varying body types next to those we’re so used to looking at, maybe that would help as well.

  • Robert Remillard

    I understand, better than most, how devistating eating disorders can be. I had a girl friend become an ex girlfriend because she became bolemic. This was a while back when Anorexia was still largely underdiagnosed and there was little information in it’s regard. I tried to help her but I just kept running into brick walls so we went our seperate ways. She has since recovered but it took years.
    My wife of 23 years at age 44 still battles a form of body dismorphia that has vexed me for nearly 23 years. Since I’ve been involved in her life the symtoms have manifested themselves in a number of ways. On many occasions she was anorexic(but never bolemic). Other times she would overexercise. At one point she was running, kickboxing and doing yoga every single day. She would get home from work and change into her workout clothes and be gone past when I went to bed. I even suspected an affair so I followed her on two seperate occasions only to end up in a gym parking lot watching her trudging in. Even our/her 3 YO daughter wasn’t enough to convince her that it was better to be at home than running herself ragged. This illness is complex and may be initiated by many different things. My wife(who is an OB/GYN) tried SRI’s looking for relief and found some temporarily with that medication but was about to go to the third version of them when she, at my urging, had a hormone panel done. From this panel she discovered that she had the levels of testosterone and HGH of an 80 YO woman. She was also lacking sufficient progesterone. Shortly after she began supplementing what she lacked she was able to toss her anti-depressants away and her dismorphia issues greatly diminished. She, now, regularly homone tests her patients that are showing depression and/or self image issues and has successfully treated many of them who had gotten no relief from any more conventional treatments. I urge anyone with these tendencies to seek out an HRT clinic or visit an endocrinologist. There may be relief for you there.

  • Dannielle Levan

    This article prompted me to write about it from a fashion photographer’s perspective:

  • Rachel Jackson

    This is also a good video (a commercial parody for a product named “Fotoshop by AdobĂ©”) that was recently created by filmmaker Jesse Rosten (most of it is about makeup, but there’s stuff about weight/body shaping in the second part):

  • Pingback: Body Image and the Younger Generation | Strangekitty()

  • Becca Friedman

    Back when the concept of regulating models by BMI was first introduced, there was a lot of backlash particularly because of the fact that many believe that BMI is NOT an indicator of health. I’m on board with that train. The trouble is that more comprehensive tests, are just that. They take time and effort and god forbid someone lost wait between one test and the other. I don’t think there IS an answer to how it should be done. I AM on board with the false advertising issue. But I also believe that should extend beyond just weight alteration. I don’t believe it should be legal to advertise a mascara that lengthens your eye lashes, while digitally enhancing them. If you were to take the same idea and apply it to a more serious advert- say a medicine- and say, “it removes all rashes” and you photoshop a fake rash on a before image, that’s false advertising. And yet… we still don’t regulate it even though there are laws about false advertising.

    So I hope that part of it DOES stick.

    To those that say it’s acceptible to shop out stretchmarks and wrinkles… are you selling anti-wrinkle cream? Then choose a different model, don’t alter the image.

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