Friday, March 30, 2012

Israel bans underweight models in ads

Did any of you hear the news that Israel has banned the use of underweight models in ads? My initial reaction, when I read about this a few weeks ago, was approval. Models in Israel now have to provide proof that they are not malnourished by the World Health Organization's standards, which states that a person with a body mass index of below 18.5 is malnourished. I think it's wonderful that Israel cares enough about its citizens that it would try to do something to prevent the development of eating disorders in its girls and women. Plus, I think we’re all aware of how prevalent “thin worship” is in the media.

But when I started to think about it more, I decided I’m not totally on board with the idea. For starters, a woman who is a dedicated runner could have a BMI below 18.5 and still be considered healthy. Now, it’s not likely that a marathon runner is going to want to be a model, but you never know. If this law was passed to promote health in Israel’s models and citizens, then maybe more attention should be focused on the condition of the models’ bodies rather than their weight. A chain smoker could be overweight and extremely unhealthy, whereas an avid marathon runner who eats well could be underweight by this standard, but still healthy. Yet only the former would be allowed to model in Israel.

Also, there are women in the world who are naturally skinny, and try as they might cannot gain weight. So even if one of these women wanted to be a model in Israel, she would be turned down because her appearance could inspire anorexia in young girls, even if she doesn’t have anorexia herself. “Skinny” is just as valid a size as “overweight.” Some people try so hard to make larger people feel good about themselves that they resort to making skinny people feel bad about themselves.

In the article I linked to above, they give an example of a woman who is 5-foot-8 being considered underweight if she weighs less than 119 pounds. If you weighed 118 pounds at that height, you couldn’t be a model. If you weighed 119 pounds, you could. One pound is not much difference, and is almost certainly not an indication of increased health, and yet that’s all it would take to get a girl a modeling job that had been previously denied to her because of her weight. Since “thin worship” is still an issue, I don’t think these models are going to try to exceed the required weight. In fact, I think they’re going to try very hard to weigh as little as possible while still meeting the requirements, because “thin” is still what people want to see. Most models wouldn’t be willing to weigh 130 pounds, even if it would be healthier, if they could still get jobs at 119 pounds. Changing the law isn’t going to change the way people think, and if they think “thin” is what’s attractive, then that’s what models are going to strive to be.

I would really love to hear all of your thoughts on this issue! Do you think the law is a step in the right direction? Do you think it’s misguided? And how do you think people in your country would react if they tried to pass a similar law?


  1. I heard they would need a doctor's note stating they were healthy if they weighed less than the law's requirements. So I guess this would help in cases where weight and BMI alone would be misleading.

    1. Yeah, that's true, so hopefully doctors will do more than just a cursory exam.

  2. BMI was developed as a aggregate population-level indicator of health. The average BMI of France compared to the average BMI of the US predicts fairly well the relative health of each country.

    BMI was never intended as an individual-level indicator of a healthy weight. And it's horrible. Olympic athletes have BMI's that indicate they're obese. And marathon runners might easily fall into the underweight category.

    Normal, healthy children are often indicated by BMI to be seriously overweight. BMI was never, ever, ever validated for use with children.

    The idea of requiring healthy women in advertising is laudable. But you're right, BMI's not a good measurement. You need to separate the idea from the measurement. BMI gets used because it's simple and intuitive, not because it's a good measurement.

    Assuming there was a good and accurate indicator of health, would you then be in favor of the idea?

    1. I would definitely be more in favor of the law if it set standards of health and not just weight. I mean, I think the whole point of a law like that is to prevent models from developing anorexia, and in turn preventing the general population from developing anorexia in an attempt to look like those models. But of course, it would be nice to reach a point where a law like that wasn't even necessary, because magazines were doing everything in their power to embrace all body types.

  3. I applaud you for this post! I have struggled my entire life to gain weight. I cannot tell you how many times someone has made a hurtful comment about my body TO MY FACE! "You're so thin! It's disgusting!" "oh uh... thanks?" "you would look much better if you'd put on 3 or 4 dress sizes" "oh... uh... I'll do my best?"

    I think when we can all be happy with ourselves for doing the best to be healthy, we wills tart to be happier with other people as well. BMI is a ridiculous indicator and I think the best way to keep unhealthy models from being used in advertising is to STOP BUYING magazines that use these models!

    Thanks again for the post!

    1. I'm glad you appreciated the post, Leah! And I'm sorry people have said rude things to you about your weight. I wish people could be a bit kinder when they speak of the way others look.

  4. I think Israel's heart is in the right place, but I don't think they're going about it quite the right way. There are such things as "skinny fat girls" which are women who look thin, but have no muscle-tone and who are unhealthy in spite of their thinness.

    I think the focus should be health, not size.

    1. I think the "skinny fat" condition is one reason why women shouldn't strive so hard to be thin, because it shows that even if you look thin, your body may be unhealthy inside. And health is a million times more important than size.

  5. Stacey this is such an interesting subject to blog about. thank you for this post. i have to admit that i agree with you, there is a huge difference between slim and anorexic and i don't think that they should turn down a girl that is very very slim. i think that instead of having rules that determinate the weight a model should have, they should promote a healthier image in any size. curvy girls, or very slim or athletic girls that still are healthy, meaning that their weight is appropriate for their height and body type.
    i am not sure if you get what i mean.
    however this new rule can have a nice impact since curvier models should have more regnotion.
    i am your newest follower, and i admit that i love your hair color, its such a fab one, i have to suggest something. why don't you curl them into loose, wavy curls??? or straight them into a straight beautiful type? i think that very straight or bouncy, curly hair would look fab on you.
    i wonder if you could find a few mins to check out what i blog about (which is editorials> many many interesting fashion editorials)> i want to get my blog a bit more popular and get new readers, meet new people so if you check it out that would be awesome.
    a comment or follow would be totally awesome as well
    of course i leave it up to you to decide

    1. I'm glad you liked the post, Marianne. And YES, I agree with you that magazines/ad companies should promote healthy images of all sizes. This law may not have been necessary in Israel if people could learn to love all body types.

      As for your hair style suggestion, I've actually been wanting to try loose curls in my hair for years, but I only just bought a curling iron last week :) So maybe I will try that soon!


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