Guest blogger Talia bat Pessi is a Harvard-bound teenage Femidox (feminist Orthodox) pro-Israel Jew. Her work has appeared in over 40 publications, including the Jewish Week, Ms. Magazine blog, Jerusalem Post, Girl w/ Pen!, Jewish Press, and FBomb. She’s not quite sure how she manages to find spare time, but when she does, she enjoys going to rock concerts, fuzzying with her rescue dog, eating (a lot), messing around in Photoshop, and procrastinating on the Internet.
As of January 1, what the media has dubbed the “Photoshop Law” has gone into effect in Israel. This law mandates that models working in Israel have to have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of at least 18.5, the lowest healthy BMI possible, and companies have to clearly label advertisements containing pictures that were even slightly Photoshopped. Foreign ads must also comply. Considering 10% of teenagers in Israel suffer from eating disorders and anorexia is the number-one killer in the 15-24 age group, this law was sorely needed.
Rachel Adato, the sponsor of the bill, has been very involved in women’s health throughout her career. She served as the Chairperson of the National Council for Women’s Health and Advisor to the Minister of Health on Women’s Health, and was a member of the Steering Committees for Prevention of Violence Towards Women and Establishing Medical Centers for Victims of Sexual Assault, as well as a member in four delegations to the UN on women’s health.
Adato and Adi Barkan, a prominent Israeli photographer and agent, worked on writing the law together. I really commend Barkan for spending time and effort on this law. As a member of the fashion industry, he could suffer professionally, so it’s really heartwarming that he decided to bench his personal interests on behalf of young women’s welfare.
Thankfully, the law was passed by a large majority in the Knesset. I mean, who would be against this law? “Oh, I think eating disorders are a good thing, and girls should have extremely low self-esteem!”- said no one ever.
I’m confident that this law will, if not completely solve the issue, begin to improve the situation. Hundreds of studies have shown a correlation between eating disorders among teenage girls and images of hyper-skinny models with completely flawless skin, teeth, and hair in the media. Although ads and commercials will still be showing heavily made up models who are very thin (but still have a healthy BMI), it’s important that these images aren’t completely unrealistic.
I think it’s excellent that Israel is really dedicating itself to fixing this overly-prevalent issue. I wish that the United States would pass similar legislation, but it’s doubtful that such a bill, if ever proposed, would meet with any success. Donald Downs, a University of Wisconsin professor and First Amendment expert, said that a Photoshop law like Israel’s “would be in tension with American cultural support for free speech in cases in which the harm is not direct or clear. We are much more wary of giving the state the power to prohibit expression in such contexts because the harm is not usually direct.”
Magazines have shown that they’re not going to voluntarily label digitally-altered photos and ensure the models they portray are healthy: in May, when a teenage girl petitioned Seventeen to stop using Photoshop, the magazine celebrated her efforts but did nothing in response. Seventeen has made it clear that the only way they’ll stop abusing Photoshop is if they must. It’s clear that America needs legislation. I just wish it could be a reality.