Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Israel Fights Anorexia, or Something

On Sunday, Israel could become the first country to make it illegal for agencies to use obese models.

"...Adi Barkan, an Israeli photographer and model agent, became acutely aware of the pervasiveness of obesity when he interviewed 12,000 females aged 13 to 24 in a televised interview of some of Israel's teenage children. He estimated that between 35 and 40% of these average children were obese, due to their increasingly sedentary lifestyle. This realisation, combined with repeated encounters with the illness, persuaded him to launch a crusade to combat it within his industry.

This Sunday, a committee of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, will decide whether to proceed with a bill to compel model agencies to monitor the health and body mass index (the ratio of height to weight) of models. Models would have to undergo regular medical tests to ensure their body mass index (BMI) is 30 or below. The most morbidly obese can have a BMI as high as 40.

If the Knesset passes the bill, Barkan, today sporting a T-shirt bearing the logo 'NO FAT CHICKS', hopes the effect will be two-fold. First, agencies will be forced to confront a problem they have for long ignored and, second, only "healthy" models will be seen on television, in magazines and on billboards..."


I am choosing, right now, to leave aside issues regarding freedom of the press, as well as the imperfections of BMI as a measurement tool. There are a number of points that interest me much more. The first, and most concerning, is the inherent hypocrisy that no one seems to see here. Why is it acceptable to write legislation which (in effect) condemns a body type? Isn't the attempted regulation of what women can and cannot show themselves in advertisements a step BACK for feminism, regardless of the laws' intended effects? In the drive to protect models and teenage kids from anorexia (it is, by the way, unclear which group the law is intended to affect more), this law is actually just reinforcing the idea that body image is something to be worried about.

Second, I am tired - both as a skinny person and as a person, in general - of the recent backlash the various "love your body" ad campaigns are creating against thin chicks. All of a sudden, now that it is ok to be "normal" or "chunky" or whatever you choose to call it, it is also ok to condemn people who are thinner than you for being "fake" or "conforming to the standards of beauty laid out by society" or what have you - and not only is it ok, it's actually implicitly encouraged. The sense of entitlement apparently gained by these so-called "normal" weight people by being oppressed by years of skinny people in advertising is rearing its ugly head as even more weight persecution.

Regarding this topic I say: first, there is no "normal" weight, size, or body type, so using this term to describe the, er, less-stickly women now on some billboards is not only incorrect but others those who comprise either end of the bell curve. Second, being thin is not an automatic guarantor of fantastic body image, ok? Believe it or not, but skinny women also feel belittled by advertisement; chances are, even if we do have the "right" kind of waist, we do not have the "right" kind of hips, breasts, or junk in the trunk. Not only do we receive, then, the same pressures as all other women, but we also get laid into by those other women, who make themselves feel better by making us feel bad.

I will repeat myself and in bold, because I've been wanting to say this for a long time to a lot of people:



So to require that all models have a BMI of 19 or above places another insult to add to the injury of the naturally-skinnys; now we have even more to worry about in order to make ourselves socially (or here, professionally) palatable.

Third, if we assume that this law will be in place to combat anorexia among models: anorexia is a disease, not a lifestyle choice. Not only will requiring regular BMI checks reinforce already-rampant body paranoia, but jeez - don't make these kids illegal, get them some medical and psychiatric help. You wouldn't pass a law saying no cancer patients could be in advertisements because the process might interfere with their treatment, would you? What about anyone with heart disease? You don't villainize the disease, you destroy the cause - which, in this case, should be effected by a self-conscious, self-governing association of advertising agencies who say they want to help fight anorexia, not a law which will probably just ensure more airbrushing and bare-minimum compliance.


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