No more Photoshopping models without disclosure -- in Israel

In an effort to curtail eating disorders, a new Israeli law requires advertisers to fess up to certain kinds of digital editing.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
2 min read
Under the new law, top Israeli model Adi Neumann, above, is banned at her current weight from appearing in local advertisements. Screenshot by Elizabeth Armstrong Moore/CNET

A law passed late Monday in Israel is not only banning underweight models from appearing in local advertising, it's also requiring publications to disclose when models -- male or female -- have been digitally edited to appear thinner than they are.

"We want to break the illusion that the model we see is real," Liad Gil-Har, the assistant to the law sponsor, told the Associated Press.

Supporters of the law, which appears to be the first of its kind anywhere, say they hope it will help reduce the rate of eating disorders, which in many developed countries (including Israel and the U.S.) is estimated to be severe in 2 to 3 percent of teenage girls.

The first part of the law is clear: at every photo shoot that may be used on the Israeli market, models must produce a medical report that is no more than three months old stating that the model is not malnourished according to World Health Organization standards, which sets being underweight at a body mass index below 18.5. (This means a woman who is 5 feet 8 inches must weigh more than 120 pounds.)

The law is hazier, though, on how it will deal with altering models to look thinner. In some cases the edit may be obvious (the famous chopping off of a Ralph Lauren model's hips comes to mind), but who will decide if a slight reshaping of cheekbones or shadowing of the eyes counts?

Critics of the law argue that it should focus on a model's health instead of weight, so that naturally skinny models are not banned from work. Also, the actual effect of the law on girls in Israel may be limited, given that there are only a few hundred professional Israeli models.

The law was championed by Adi Barkan, a top Israel model agent who reports that during 30 years working in the industry he has watched women become sicker as they try to maintain lower and lower ideal weights. "They look like dead girls," he told the AP.

It's worth noting that Adi Neumann, a top Israeli model, won't be allowed to appear in Israeli publications at her current BMI of 18.3. She says she eats well and exercises, and argues that instead of a strict weight requirement the law should instead enforce healthy behaviors.

Of course with every new law there are new ways to skirt it; in this case, a model could very well eat a huge meal before weighing in at the doc's and then throw it up immediately after getting a certificate of approval. Unfortunate, yes, but if two pounds is the difference between a paycheck and no check, such a scenario may not be far-fetched.