A runway model for Israeli-American designer Alber Elbaz

News broke recently that has major ramifications for multiple industries, namely teen health, print and online advertising, and high fashion. Starting today, male and female models in Israel must have a documented body mass index (BMI) above 18.5 percent, the Jerusalem Post reports, or they’ll be told to do their little turn on a different catwalk.

The legislation, passed on January 1, 2013, “aims to protect impressionable teens from eating disorders.” A BMI of 18.5 percent is said to signify malnutrition; the law, in turn, is cognizant of the effect the mainstream media can have on teenagers seeking to emulate what’s labeled as sexy and desirable, especially in Israel, a country obsessed with models.

According to the law, an agency that produces advertising with overly skinny models can be taken to court, as can companies that utilize such models for a fashion show or to promote their brand.

Furthermore, said JP, “any advertisement made to look with Photoshop or other graphics programs as if the model has a BMI under 18.5 has to be labeled with the warning that the image was distorted.” The warning can’t be relegated to a small, obscure space either, but must be displayed prominently over at least 7 percent of the ad space.

Body mass index is a calculation of the ratio between one’s weight and height. While “model fever” is perhaps less pronounced in the U.S. versus abroad, the ubiquitous rail-thin fashion model is an everyday reality here too, images of which are beamed to TVs and smartphones incessantly, plastered on magazine pages and billboards so much that the effect of which oftentimes might not even register. Tabloid magazines and reality television often push weight loss, too. Hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear about a Kardashian’s body triumphs or tribulations.

But for the target demographic–teens–the ripple effect can be devastating, conflating beautiful models with glitz and glamour, often spurning body image crises that can only be solved one way: by losing weight. “Every year, some 1,500 teenagers develop an eating disorder,” the article reports of the statistics in Israel, “and 5% of those suffering from anorexia die each year.”

Supporters of the law contend that banning models with BMIs below 18.5 percent will help instill positive body images in Israel’s youth–and hopefully begin a trend of similar legislation elsewhere. But critics wonder why the emphasis was placed on weight instead of health, contending that lots of women are naturally skinny. It’s also worth noting that teenagers in Israel certainly aren’t just subjected to the models in Israel, so while their country’s fashion shows may be bulking up, there are plenty of others that are sure to feature models who aren’t held to such standards.

If nothing more, this law turns the spotlight to an issue that tends to emerge in short fits of fiery debate, only to slink quietly back to the comfortable solitude of cultural norms. If the pop culture emphasis was placed on healthy rather than skinny, wouldn’t everyone benefit?

Do you think this legislation is a step in the right direction? Any chance it could work in the United States?

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Image via Chinadaily.com