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The Boston Globe

Health & wellness

Underweight models banned in Israel in effort to fight eating disorders

Kudos to the Israeli Parliament for voting on Monday to institute a ban on anorexic-looking models. Models who want to strut the Tel Aviv runways or pose for ads that will appear on the Israeli market must produce a current medical document stating that they’re not malnourished; the law uses the World Health Organization definition -- a body mass index of below 18.5, or under 125 pounds for a 5-foot-9 woman.

The law also requires any Israeli print ads that are digitally manipulated to make models look thinner have a statement informing readers of the artificial rendering.

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It’s intended to not only protect the health of models but to fight against eating disorders and body image problems in young Israeli teens trying to emulate skeletal-looking images they see splashed on billboards and magazine covers.

Rachel Adato, one of the bill’s sponsors, told Reuters she hoped the law would shift women away from seeking unattainable body ideals. “Beautiful is not underweight, beautiful should not be anorexic,” she said.

With the deaths of several models in South America due to eating disorders, I think the law is a long time in coming and it would be great to see other countries, like ours, adopting similar regulations -- much like we have a ban on steroids in sports.

But I also think we’d be fooling ourselves by thinking that’s all we need to do to combat eating disorders and the misery some young people endure on their never-ending quest for ultra-thinness. Our peers can be just as bad as those photo-shopped models, according to a 2011 study from Harvard Medical School. The messages they impart about ideal body types can have just as much of an impact on whether teens develop an eating disorder as the media they’re exposed to, the researchers found.

And it may take time for those new slightly-curvier models to filter into the consciousness of teens who are used to seeing anorexic bodies as runway perfection.

Deborah Kotz can be reached at dkotz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.

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