New law in Israel bans underweight models

By Teaira Haynes |

For years now, the fashion industry has been blamed for the growing number of eating disorders worldwide by promoting an “unrealistic and unhealthy” idea of beauty with thin models. On March 19, the Israeli government passed a law that banned the employment of underweight models.

In an effort to stop the spread of eating disorders like anorexia, which affects 2 percent of all females in Israel, a model must have a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5–as well as have previous medical records that date as far back as three months–to prove she is healthy. This means a model of 5 feet 8 inches, the average for most models, must weigh at least 125 pounds.

While many are calling this a milestone in the fashion industry and believe it’s a turn in the right direction, others believe this new law is unfair and it discriminates against models that are healthy and naturally thin.

“Using BMI as a standard for model employment doesn’t give an accurate representation of her or his health,” said Flagler College psychology major, Sara Walley, who has participated in local fashion shows as a model.

Walley said while something should be done about the media’s standard of beauty, evaluating a model’s BMI is not the way.

“If legislators want to employ standards for models to continue their work, evaluations should be based on a model’s over all health, not just the number on the scale,” Walley said.

Laurelie Fontana, a local who’s been modeling since she was 13-years-old, agrees.

“I was born thin. I’ve never been physically able to surpass 130lbs,” Fontana, 23, said.

She said she’s at a a height of 5 feet 8 inches and weight of 120 pounds.

Fontana began modeling in middle school when her parents believed she needed a boost to her self-esteem, she said.

“They sent me to a modeling school where they teach you how to take care of yourself, [like] makeup, hair, walk runway and pose for pictures,” Fontana said. “Modeling is a release. It’s a lot of fun for me.”

However, if this law was passed in the United States, Fontana would be disqualified, along with other models that are naturally thin.

Some argue that a BMI reading is not the most effective measurement.

“They’re not always accurate if you’re really tiny or tall,” said Flagler instructor, Jeanie Summerfield, a nurse practitioner and certified midwife in Jacksonville, Fla.

Summerfield said the media encourages girls and young women to be under their ideal weight, but while there are those who force themselves to be a particular weight, it is possible to be healthy and underweight.

But Israel isn’t the first to take action against the use of underweight models in the fight to stop eating disorders.

In 2006, Madrid Fashion Week disqualified 30 percent of models who participated in previous shows because their BMI was below 18. The Spanish Association of Fashion Designers also implemented guidelines that only allowed girls with BMI of 18.5 or higher.

But Fontana said she feels laws like the ones in Spain and Israel will only discriminate against naturally thin models with a healthy diet and healthy workout routine.

“Skinny doesn’t mean unhealthy,” Fontana said.”There’s a huge difference and lawmakers don’t see that.”

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