Take Two #23: Israel's Model Policy
Late last monday – that being March 19 – Israel took a large legal step against the rising rates of eating and body dysmorphic disorders sweeping across nearly every developed nation the world over. Their new law bans the Israeli media from using models with BMI's under 18.5 in catwalks, commercials and advertisements. Furthermore, the law also requires that disclaimers be placed on all images in which the models have been digitally altered to appear thinner. This is a good thing, and yet change always has a way of sparking the kindling of debate.
I don't quite understand how this is an issue. For me, it's simple. The media, whether it was the original intention or not, sets the visual ideal. Advertisements are, in fact, designed to make you want to have/use/be something “better.” And it just so happens that their product is what will get you there. Food commercials are orchestrated to make you hungry, car commercials to make you desire whatever new feature your current car doesn't have, and cosmetic commercials to make you feel ugly. Want is okay, but it's that feeling of need that makes you seek out a product. Do you get where I'm going with this?
So this feeling of need. We're a consumer culture. We all have too much stuff. Period. So how the heck do these companies plant that seedling of need for more into our brains? As I hinted at earlier, they make us feel inadequate. What we have/use/are isn't good enough. It's that simple and that slimy.
I first found out what cellulite was as a 14 year-old watching late night commercials because nothing else was on. I don't even remember what the product was, but I remember that it made cellulite go away. At 1am, I got out of bed and looked at my thighs and backside in the mirror, seeking out this strange new anatomical ugliness. And I found it. Let me point out here that at this time I was playing on a traveling national club volleyball team and attending martial arts classes over six hours a week. I was 5'4” and weighed between 115 and 120 dense pounds. That put my BMI at between 19.7 and 20.6 and my clothing size hovering around a women's two. Yet I was now convinced I needed to somehow get rid of this gathering fat that I hadn't even known existed just 30 minutes ago. That's what the media does.
This has only gotten more ridiculous with the now virulent use of digital photo editing software commonly referred to as “Photoshop” after the industry standard. If you don't know what I'm talking about, go to Youtube and search for “extreme photoshop” or something of the like. What this powerful software can do is unbelievable – both amazing and terrifying. I've definitely used it in the past to clear up my skin, maybe smooth out an odd puff of clothing, and even slim down my arms on occasion (an area I've always felt self-conscious about). The software, however, can also be used to hide ribs, shed pounds, enlarge eyes, lengthen necks, define muscles, enhance eyelashes and eye colors, inflate bust sizes and really anything else you could want. We've reached a point where not even the picture perfect models can live up to their pictures anymore. What hope does that leave for the rest of us?
The media has an obscene amount of power and influence and yet very little accountability. They hide behind the claimed assumption that everyone knows models are skinny and all photos are photoshopped. And while that may be true, I would bet Lionsgate stock right now that the majority of people have absolutely no idea to what extent print ads are digitally modified. Nor does that change the way people compare themselves to the hundreds and thousands of “ideal” bodies and faces they see on a daily bases.
The main argument against this new Israeli law is that some models are just naturally skinny. For these people, the BMI is not an indicator of health at all but rather just another unfair standard to which they now have to measure themselves against. To that I really have to say, and I mean this in no offense, too bad. Modeling has never been for all body types despite many unfit-for-modeling bodies being quite beautiful. That hasn't changed one iota.
This law is about the media portraying a responsible, healthy image and curbing the number of girls starving themselves into hospitals. It's about the media no longer catering to the outlier and instead finally taking responsibility for the effect it has on its audience as a whole.