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In Western culture, the media is saturated with slim models who are idealized by viewers desiring to look like them. However, excessively skinny models are often unhealthy and present an inauthentic image of the average female body.
Most companies use Photoshop or other retouching methods to make their models appear flawless. Additionally, pressures to look a certain way or fit a certain size have taken a negative toll on models’ health and self-image.
The Model Alliance reports that 68.3 percent of models suffer from anxiety and/or depression, 65.1 percent have been asked to lose weight by their agency, 31.2 percent have had eating disorders, and 48.7 percent do fasts, cleanses, or other methods to restrict food intake over short periods to lose weight.
According to NPR, the average international runway model has a body mass index under 16, which is low enough to indicate starvation by the World Health Organization’s standard.
Not only does this pressure to achieve unrealistic beauty standards affect models, but it also negatively impacts the masses viewing these ideals through various media platforms. This is especially concerning as the National Institute of Mental Health reports that anorexia results in more deaths than other mental illness.
According to statistics provided by the National Eating Disorders Association, 69 percent of American elementary school girls who read magazines say that the pictures influence their concept of the ideal body shape, and 47 percent say the pictures make them want to lose weight.
In order to minimize health hazards to models, as well as the numerous people influenced by visual culture, countries are finally enacting groundbreaking changes to the fashion and advertising industries, as they pass laws restricting unhealthy or unrealistic images of women’s bodies.
Israel, for example, became the first country in the world to pass legislation that aims to prevent eating disorders by encouraging healthy body image through the media. The “Photoshop law” in Israel requires a note alongside images with computer-generated changes to make models appear thinner.
Furthermore, the law insists fashion and commercial models must have a body mass index of at least 18.5. A 5-foot-9 adult weighing 124 pounds or less, for example, has a BMI under 18.5 which is considered underweight, and she would be ineligible to pursue a modeling career.
BTRtoday talks to Dr. Yael Latzer, a certified psychotherapist and family and couples’ therapist. As a founder of the Israeli Association for Eating Disorders, Latzer is known both locally and globally as an expert in the field of eating disorder treatment and research.
“It took about three years to pass the law. It was very difficult,” Latzer says. “They were concerned that it may violate freedom of speech, freedom of advertising, and the freedom of occupation.”
Israeli lawmakers adopted the legislation in March 2012, and the law did not take effect until January 1, 2015. Those who pushed the bill, including Latzer, expressed concern about the health of models, and the alarming number of eating disorders among pre-teens and teens triggered by advertisements with unrealistic female figures.
“A misleading advertisement may send the wrong message which becomes internalized and becomes their reality, and sometimes they don’t know what is real and what is not, and they perceive themselves as not good enough and not thin enough,” Latzer says.
”Not that we are against models or against any media and advertisement–all we have to say is that the role models should be more adapted to reality, and not eating disorders.”
This law influenced a recent bill passed in France on December 2015, which set limits for models’ weight to prevent the profusion of overly thin models. Similarly to Israel’s law, the French law requires digitally altered images to be labelled “touched up” and the health of models be evaluated by a medical professional, who must take into account the weight, age, and body shape of each model to determine their wellbeing. Models working in the country must possess a medical certificate deeming them fit to work.
Local initiatives also regulate models in Milan and Madrid. Those bans were imposed in 2006, after the high-profile deaths of two models, Ana Carolina Reston and Luisel Ramos.
This groundbreaking law could spark a change globally to reinforce advertisements featuring healthy, authentic models. So the question is: Should the United States take action next?
While certain advertisers have already started pursuing the use of “real models,” if the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) set regulations requiring models to have a BMI of at least 18, or require them to receive medical permission from a doctor, it could vastly reduce the number of eating disorders seen around the country.
Banning images of exceedingly skinny models could benefit all women, both on and off the catwalk, as well as all over the world. Setting standards for the safety and health of those in the fashion industry will protect the wellbeing of models who drive themselves into eating disorders for the sake of their career, while also changing the mindset and expectations consumers set for themselves based off of the dangerous images they see.