To combat a growing problem with anorexia and bulimia, a new law in Israel bans fashion models who are considered unhealthily thin and requires the labeling of photos that are digitally altered to make the models look thinner.
Unhealthily thin is defined as a body-mass index lower than 18.5. An example being tossed around is that a woman 5 feet 8 inches tall who weighs 120 pounds would be considered, well, not quite kosher for the cameras. That’s a long way from zaftig, but certainly an improvement over the bony waifs that have too long been held up as icons of beauty.
The backlash against unrealistically thin images of what people, especially women, should look like is welcome, and in the United States, a handful of fashion magazines have pledged to use only “healthy” models, whatever that means. But it’s still a little unclear what this measure will accomplish, especially considering that body-mass index is a faulty way of measuring healthy weight. It’s essentially a ratio of weight and height that is supposed to indicate body fat, but people with heavier bones and greater muscle mass who are low in body fat will often have a higher BMI than a person with more fat but a small build.
More to the point, rules with a narrow focus, like a particular BMI, can often be gamed. The rules might help avoid killer eating disorders among the models, but with the tricks that lighting, camerawork and so forth can achieve, it remains to be seen whether the images that teenagers view will change appreciably.
But the required marking of photos retouched to give models that insanely lean elongated look—sometimes giving women the proportions of a two-legged giraffe--makes wonderful sense. Consider it truth in advertising. Create any fantasy you want on the page, all you fashion editors and advertisers, but be honest with the girls and women who look at it: This is fiction, not reality. Then the message isn’t, this is what you could look like if you lost enough weight and bought an article of clothing that costs more than most people earn in a week. It would be: this is what you could look like if you gained our level of expertise with Photoshop.