JERUSALEM, Jan. 3, 2013— -- A law that regulates people's body weight would probably get little traction in Congress, not to mention U.S. courts.
But not so here in Israel, where a new law took effect Jan. 1 that aims to prevent fashion models from losing weight to the detriment of their health and the wellbeing of others inclined to follow in their footsteps.
Israeli lawmakers adopted the legislation in March 2012 stipulating that fashion and commercial models should have a body-mass index of at least 18.5. A 5-foot-8 adult weighing 120 pounds, for instance, has a BMI of 18.2, disqualifying her -- or him -- from pursuing a modeling career in this country of nearly 8 million people.
It is also called the "Photoshop law" because it demands that computer-generated changes to make models appear thinner be noted along with the images. Although the law targets adults in general, it is clearly aimed at female models. Eating disorders mostly affect young women.
Images of thin fashion models are not the only factors contributing to eating disorders, but one doctor specializing in treating them says they do nothing to help her patients get better.
Dr. Adi Enoch-Levy, a psychiatrist who treats people with eating disorders at the Safra children's hospital in Tel Aviv, cites the perception that "thin is beautiful" and its influence on impressionable young females.
"It is a known fact that there is a genetically inherited cause to eating disorders," Enoch-Levy said. "In spite of that, observations show that eating disorders have spiked in number together with the exposure to the modern media, the same media which brings to many homes the fashion shows and commercials.
"It is also a fact that mainly anorexia cases have appeared in societies not previously exposed to images of the 'ideal physique.'"
Israeli fashion photographer Adi Barkan initiated the legislation to regulate fashion models' body weight. His inspiration: Hila Elmaliah, an anorexic friend and model who weighed 60 pounds when she died in 2007. His subsequent campaign against the fashion industry culminated with the passage of this law by the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, early last year.
Not everyone was on board, however.
Shai Avital, owner and CEO of Elite Israel, one of the most successful fashion model agencies in Israel, says the law is unnecessary.
He says that many of the most successful models he represents in Israel have a BMI higher than the legal requirement. He says he will abide by the law and is prepared to present medical proof of his models' BMI. But he also defends thin models whose careers he says could be over through no fault of their own
"The law disregards the fact that some models are thin due to genetics and nothing they would do would increase their BMI to the legally accepted level," Avital said. "This law ends now their careers. Israel is today the only country where a body weight legal control is in effect and this is not necessarily something to be proud of. "
For her part, however, Dr. Enoch-Levy hopes that the young girls who are her patients will have the chance to be exposed to a different image of what they consider to be the ideal female body image.
"I think the importance of this law is that young women, who until now had only one very narrow definition of what the body model to aspire to was," she said, "will from now on have a wider definition of physical beauty."