Rachel Adato, an Israeli parliament member with a background
in medicine, as well as prominent photographer and fashion model agent Adi
Barkan, championed the law.
Barkan has been working to help girls with eating disorders
since he discovered the epidemic firsthand in 1997, when a 15-year-old girl
named Caty asked to meet with him to understand what a "model should look
like." She arrived at the meeting five-foot seven-inches, weighing 79 pounds.
"It was obvious she required hospitalization," Barkan told me over email. Caty
was hospitalized for 5 months, during which time Barkan says he visited daily.
A few months after Caty was released, Barkan appeared as a
guest on an Israeli lifestyle TV show to discuss his work. "During the
interview the hostess told me she had a surprise for me," he recalled, "a girl
who claims I saved her life, and then Caty came in and told her story."
"The following morning there were 174 messages on my
answering machine from anorexics and bulimics asking for help. I met all of
An icon in the fashion world, Barkan tried to deal with the
issue from the inside: appealing for change within his beloved industry, to an
overwhelmingly negative response of doubts, jabs, and apathy.
"I became immersed in this world very quickly. I gave up the
agency and photography and delved into the dark world of anorexics and
bulimics," he said. "I realized that only legislation can change the situation.
There was no time to educate so many people, and the change had be forced on
the industry. There was no time to waste, so many girls were dieting to death."
Working with members of the Israeli parliament, he met
Adato. The pair spent two and a half years working on the legislation:
presenting scientific articles to the Israeli parliament and demonstrating the
connection between media portrayals of peoples' bodies and eating disorders.
The law forbids underweight models from working on advertisements. A doctor
must certify that a model can be employed by measuring him or her and
determining that the model's Body Mass Index (BMI) is at or above 18.5, which
the World Health Organization defines as indicative of malnutrition. A
five-foot, seven-inch individual, for example, must weigh at least 118 pounds
to work as a model in Israel. On March 19, the bill was easily passed by the
majority of the parliament.
Adato explained the legislation and its easy passage simply:
eating disorders are an epidemic in this small country, and the government had
the responsibility to take action to protect the vulnerable.
"In Israel, there are 1,500 new cases of eating disorders
every year, and 10 percent of teenagers suffer from eating disorders," she told
me. Israel's population is only 7.5 million, making the high rate especially
alarming. "We also know that the first cause of death in the age group of 15-24
is anorexia, so when you hear those numbers, they're frightening."