In an attempt to thwart the problem of unhealthy body image and the rise of eating disorders, Israeli law now bans models with a body-mass index of less than 18.5 from appearing in advertisements. In addition, it also governs publications to disclose the use of altered images which make women (and men) appear thinner than they are. The standard of thinness has been an issue the fashion industry worldwide has grappled with ever since the phrase ‘heroin chic’ was penned around the then up-and-coming Kate Moss. It’s a topic designers, models and magazines alike have been forced to talk about year after year, trend after trend – the discussion is permanently ‘in fashion’, if you like, yet every time it pops up it’s uncomfortably met with misdirection and dissenting opinions.
The law, which came into effect early this year, is another notch in the ‘health is beauty’ belt. It follows suit from Spain and Italy who attempt to regulate models’ weight by banning women with a BMI below 18 from the Madrid Fashion Show, and a BMI below 18.5 from Milan Fashion Week. Over in the US, body image activists resulted in the Council of Fashion Designers of America writing a list of industry guidelines to endorse healthy body sizes. Here at home, 2012 saw the inaugural Positive Body Image Awards taking place in June to honour fashion media that promoted healthy body image. These initiatives tell us that lobbyists from here and there are determined that fashion take responsibility.
In May of last year, Conde Nast International set out to directly address the issue by launching the Health Initiative, an agreement between the editor’s of Vogue’s 19 international publications to “encourage a healthier approach to body image within the industry”, adding, “Vogue is uniquely placed to engage with relevant issues in order to make a difference”.
All of this poses the question, what have we actually seen?
Granted that there is no compelling evidence that the fashion industry causes eating disorders, they are responsible for producing distorted realities of what it means to be beautiful. This is why Israel’s legislation is so important; it tackles an issue of relevance head on and, in turn, creates a dialogue for a new generation. What do we think needs to change? As for the rest of the Planet Fashion, perhaps it’s a false claim that you only get one chance to make a first impression. The baubles are in your court.