Israel mandates minimum BMI requirement for models

Sydney Tischler Junior, John Burroughs School

In January 2013, the Israeli government passed a law to combat the unhealthy and almost unattainably thin look that has become popular in the modeling world during the past few decades.

Models working in Israel are required to maintain a body-mass index (BMI) of 18.5 or higher, which represents a healthy height-to-weight ratio. They must maintain this BMI for at least three months leading up to a runway show or photo shoot.

BMI is the measurement of a person’s weight divided by the person’s height to determine how much fat a person has on their body. The BMI range for a normal adult is 18.5 to 24.9, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Israeli government also discourages the digital  manipulation of images of  men and women in advertisements by forcing companies to clearly mark photos that have been edited. The United States has no such laws regulating the modeling industry or digital manipulation.

The goal of the Israeli law is to counter the unrealistic standard of beauty set by ultrathin models. It was passed in response to an increase in eating disorders among adolescent Israeli girls.

The law has helped alter the way girls living in Israel look at themselves and define their beauty.

Shira Aviv, 16, who was born in Israel and recently moved back there from St. Louis, sees a difference between American and Israeli modeling cultures.

“As a girl growing up in America and looking at all the skinny girls on the front covers of the magazines, I was always a bit jealous because I always wanted that body type,” Shira said. “Here in Israel, you see models that you can relate to.”

While most girls adopt role models who are closer to home, it is comforting to know that Israeli girls are not being bombarded by unrealistic body images in the media.

“I do think it makes Israel a great place for teenagers and young girls to grow up,” Shira said.

Opinions about the Israeli law vary among American teenage girls. Some, like former model Natalie Probstein, who attends John Burroughs School and was represented by Mother Model Management, disagree with certain aspects of the law.

 “I wouldn’t say that the industry sets unrealistic beauty standards,” Natalie said. “There are plenty of girls out there, like myself, who are extremely tall. There are also girls who are very skinny that I’m sure feel pressure just as much as everyone else.”

Natalie knows the business from the inside out, so she has an informed perspective on the struggles faced by models as well as their audience. She understands that models are sometimes used as human hangers for a designer’s work, which is the reason why so many are thin.

“Models’ jobs require them to be thin. That doesn’t mean that they like it or that they are to blame for people’s self-confidence problems,” Natalie said.

Caroline Adams, a senior at John Burroughs School, believes that the Israeli fashion industry is headed away from stick-thin models toward a healthier image to which more girls and women can relate. However, Caroline is interested in seeing many different body types in the media, including girls with petite frames like her own.

“Whether or not the model falls on the scale of ‘normal’ or ‘underweight,’ I feel that the real issue lies in the lack of diversity in body types shown [in advertisements and on the runway],” she said. “There are certainly some people with BMIs that fall on the ‘underweight’ category, and I feel like it makes a bigger impact if an effort is made to show true body diversity rather than banning any certain size.”

On the other hand, many people are thrilled by these Israeli laws and would like to see them adopted in the United States.

Clara Abbott, a freshman at Haverford College who acts as an advocate and is dedicated to empowering women and girls, said seeing models who “look like me on the pages of a magazine” would make her feel more accepted by society and less inclined “to try to change myself to fit the expectations of the world around me,”

Though she believes that images of stick-thin models have a subconscious effect on people’s perception of beauty even if the image is altered through digital manipulation, Clara is firm about the importance of the law.

“Knowing when models are Photoshopped in an ad would hopefully force girls to stop looking toward the media for definitions of beauty and start looking inward and defining beauty on their own or with the help of the real women around them,” Clara said.

Model Katie Schmid, 17, of Centro Models in St. Louis and Major Models in New York City, also likes the BMI law that has been instituted in Israel. As one who spends so much of her time pursuing a professional modeling career, Katie understands the pressure placed on models by the industry.

 “I think a BMI law would encourage models to not so strictly focus on the measurements listed in their profile and, instead, focus on staying healthy,” Katie said. “I know so many of my friends who model, including myself, who worry whether they’re thin enough for the shoot coming up or the runway show next week.”

Katie said that if similar laws were adopted in the United States, they would counter the pressure to maintain the “perfect” body type and encourage a healthier and more realistic body image for models and society alike.