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The fashion industry has received much criticism for the apparent trend of employing seemingly thinner and thinner models in fashion advertisements. The resulting unrealistic body images are believed to shape eating habits among young women, who look to the models as representations of the “ideal body.” Accordingly, many believe the fashion industry has contributed significantly to the spread of eating disorders. Pressure on the fashion industry to change has intensified in recent years, fuelled by the death of several models from complications linked to eating disorders. But, until now, the industry has been self-regulated. This changed on March 19, 2012, when Israel became the first country to use legislation to take on the fashion industry.

Under the new law, Israel bans underweight models from local advertising and requires publications to disclose whether they have used altered images to make the models appear thinner. The new law requires models to produce a medical report, dating back no more than three months, at every photo shoot that will be used in the Israeli market stating that they are not malnourished by World Health Organization (WHO) standards. That agency uses the “body mass index” – calculated by dividing weight by height – to determine malnutrition. Under the WHO standard, a body mass index below 18.5 is indicative of malnutrition. Under that standard, a woman 5 feet 8 inches tall should weigh not less than 119 pounds.

In addition, the law requires that any advertisement published for the Israeli market must also have a clear written notice disclosing if the model used in it was digitally altered to make them look thinner.

The law was championed by one of Israel’s top model agents, Adi Barkan, who said that in the last 30 years, he had seen young women becoming skinnier and sicker while struggling to fit the shrinking mold of what the fashion industry considers attractive.

Critics of the law said the legislation should have focused on the overall health of the models, not just their weight. In addition, the law does not apply to foreign publications sold in Israel. Therefore, it is not clear whether the law will have a measurable impact on Israeli teens, who are influenced both by international and local publications.

Nevertheless, the law’s sponsor, Dr. Rachel Adato, who compares the battle against eating disorders to the struggle against smoking, says she hopes that the Israeli law will be an example other countries can study.