Adi Barkan’s BMI battle

Adi Barkan, a fashion photographer, has been working for years to get the Knesset to outlaw underweight models, following his own exposure to models suffering from anorexia and bulimia.

Back in 2007, after the death of former model Hila Elmalich who was 34 and weighed less than sixty pounds, he told me the following for Women’s Wear Daily:

“The problem is with society, and the low self-esteem of these girls,” says Barkan. “We need to put this out there, to make it a societal norm in Israel and the rest of the world. People need to see these anorexic bodies and move their butts and do something about this.”

Israel21c interviewed Barkan several times about the issue, and posted the following video:

In March, his perseverance paid off, as the Knesset passed what is being called the Photoshop law, for the aspect of the law that regulates the use of Photoshop to make women appear perfect in advertisements. That’s a huge accomplishment. The bulk — no pun intended — of the law focuses on banning underweight models based on their BMI, or Body Mass Index.

The law is making waves in Israel, and around the world. Can Israel set the precedent for changing the way the fashion industry views and uses models’ bodies?

Interestingly enough, it was on Israel’s new fashion channel,, that a panel of fashion professionals, including clothing designer Yosef and a local fashion magazine editor, agreed that despite the new law and its groundbreaking potential, the fashion world will still view impossibly thin model bodies as the ultimate in goal.

“No one wants to see a curvy, zaftig model,” said Naama Chaisin, who is the second generation in the Tovale designer line of clothing. “And I say that as someone who is curvy and has fought to lose weight my whole life.”

Here’s to hoping she’s wrong.

Israeli models can pack it on

Now maybe more models will look like the shapely Bar Raphaeli

ISRAEL21c has been reporting about it for four years, and now, it’s finally on its way to becomin a law.

Last week, the government endorsed a bill aimed at preventing underweight models from being featured in advertisements. The Ministerial Committee on Legislative Affairs voted in favor of a bill proposed by Kadima and Likud Knesset members.

According to the bill, commercial groups will be prohibited from displaying underweight models, and model agents will be banned from employing or representing such models. This also includes a ban on shooting underweight models, who will not be allowed to serve as label spokespersons. The bill requires models provide a medical permit indicating their body mass index (BMI) is normal.

The exposure the issue has received, pun only partially intended, is thanks to Adi Barkan, one of Israel’s top fashion photographers, and today the head of one of the country’s most successful modeling agencies – Simply U.

Barkan, who, in his past, contributed to the whole culture of ultra-thin models, turned the other cheek a few years ago, when he realized the diasatrous health situation he had helped to create among models.

His commitment only deepened when, in 2007, 33-year-old Hila Elmalich died in his arms as he rushed the anorexic model to the hospital.

There are some 200-300 female models working in the country, he says. “More than 70 percent of them suffer from undernourishment. They would rather their periods stop than add a kilogram. We’re talking about a life-and-death matter,” he told The Jerusalem Post.

According to the bill:

“The prevalence of eating disorders, including anorexia, has been on the rise in recent years in the Israeli society, particularly among young girls. Studies show that one of the reasons for eating disorders among teenage girls is the influence of the media and the advertising industry, which feature particularly thin women as role models, thus influencing teenagers’ standards.”

“The fashion and advertising industries, in particular, have created a distorted image of an ideal woman using many underweight models. The purpose of this bill is to reduce the extent of teenage eating disorders.”

The bill, which was proposed by MK Rachel Adatto (Kadima) and MK Danny Danon (Likud), is based on adequate body weight definitions according to height, which are globally recognized.

While the success of Israeli models abroad has grown over the years, the size of the models has shrunk, Barkan told The Post.

“Today’s models are about two sizes smaller than those who worked a decade or 12 years ago. Those two sizes are the critical difference between a healthy, slim and sexy model and one suffering from the plague of deadly eating disorders,” he said.

Barkan hopes that the message of healthy models conveyed in the law will be carried around the world, and there has been international interest in the initiative. Thanks to ISRAEL21c’s initiative, CNN did a big report on Barkan and the bill, calling it the first of its kind.

To put some flesh into bill, Barkan has been also actively recruiting major Israeli advertisers such as the Strauss food giant and the Castro fashion chain to back the cause by using “healthy” models.

Jane Russell, come home. All is forgiven.


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