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March 20, 2012

Israel has passed a law forbidding models who are malnourished by World Health Organization standards.

The new law requires models to produce a medical report no older than three months at every shoot for the Israeli market, stating that they are not malnourished by World Health Organization standards.

The U.N. agency relies on the body mass index, calculated by factors of weight and height. WHO says a body mass index below 18.5 indicates malnutrition. According to that standard, a woman 1.72 meters tall (5-feet-8) should weigh no less than 119 pounds (54 kilograms).

Also, any advertisement published for the Israeli market must have a clearly written notice disclosing if its models were made to look thinner by digital manipulation. The law does not apply to foreign publications sold in Israel.[…]

The law won support from a surprising quarter: one of Israel’s top model agents, Adi Barkan, who said in 30 years of work, he has seen young women become skinnier and sicker while struggling to fit the shrinking mold of what the industry considers attractive.

“They look like dead girls,” Barkan said.

In the United States, such a law would likely be ruled unconstitutional under the First Amendment.  But I do not want to debate the freedom of speech issues raised by this law.  Instead, I want to acknowledge the tragedy that it was necessary for the Israeli Knesset to pass such a law in the first place.  The unhealthy effects of commercial fetishization of girls has been at the subject of some heated debate here at BLT (example:  here.)  According to this article:

In Israel, about 2 percent of girls between 14 and 18 have severe eating disorders, a rate similar to other developed countries, experts said.

This state health report (which reports on US national statistics) is equally grim:

*  Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness

*  A study by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reported that 5 – 10% of anorexics die within 10 years after contracting the disease; 18-20% of anorexics will be dead after 20 years and only 30 – 40% ever fully recover

*  The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate of ALL causes of death for females 15 – 24 years old.

*  20% of people suffering from anorexia will prematurely die from complications related to their eating disorder, including suicide and heart problems.

And there seems little doubt that adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to this sort of pressure:

*  Anorexia is the 3rd most common chronic illness among adolescents

*  95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25

*  50% of girls between the ages of 11 and 13 see themselves as overweight

*  80% of 13-year-olds have attempted to lose weight

I think that pressuring girls to live up to wildly unrealistic expectations is the sign of a cultural mindset that is unhealthy.

Imagine if instead, we read that 80% of 13 year-old girls (and boys) were attempting to master mathematics, or science, or foreign languages, or advanced rhetorical skills, or history, in the hopes of going onto college and become professionals.  What we have today is a culture where malnutrition (in the form of anorexia) is a leading cause of death for adolescent girls and presidential candidates claim that it is snobbery to have children aspire to college education.

We live in a society that encourages mental disease and academic underachievement – particularly among girls.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 21, 2012 10:10 am

    What we have today is a culture where malnutrition (in the form of anorexia) is a leading cause of death for adolescent girls and presidential candidates claim that it is snobbery to have children aspire to college education.

    Thank you for posting this very difficult news and state of affairs! The particular US presidential candidate who is pandering with weird anti-intellectualism has three degrees from institutions of higher education. His parents both had college degrees. And his spouse has degrees, including one in nursing and another in law. Their eldest child, Elizabeth, is in her junior year at the University of Dallas. The eldest son, Johnny (Richard Jr.), is a freshman, I believe. How many of the other five Santorum children will Rick not encourage to go to college?

    And where are the women candidates in this presidential race? It’s 2012 and the world’s nations elsewhere find top leaders who are women.

    Let’s don’t get into any more heated debate here, if possible. But I do want to note, that in Israel, Dr. Rachel Adato is one of the sponsors of the legislation. She’s an MD (ObGyn), a lawyer, and a legislator. And, of course, she’s a woman. It is extremely important, it seems to me, that women have a voice in what a nation, a government, decides about women’s bodies! (On a side note, and this might spark debate again, it was women in Israel who posed nude last November in support of Aliaa Elmahdi, the 20-year-old-Egyptian woman blogger who posted nude photos of herself to say that male religious extremists should not control how and how much women dress. These women insist on allowing women to decide about women: “Regardless of whether they are Jewish, Arab, straight or Lesbian – because here, as of now, it doesn’t matter…. Let us show the doubters that our international discourse doesn’t depend on governments.”,7340,L-4150344,00.html )

  2. March 21, 2012 12:48 pm

    There was a women presidential candidate, Michelle Bachmann, and even a black presidential candidate, Herman Cain. They fell out of the race; and I do not recall the main opposition to them being based on Bachmann’s gender or Cain’s race. At least some parts of the campaign against Romney, though, has a very explicit anti-Mormon flavor.

    I did not know about the November nude pose last year before your comment, but I notice the article you mentioned said “Unlike Elmahdy, however, the Israeli women did not fully display their intimate parts for the camera.” In fact, the article includes the Israeli photograph, and I would say it was not particularly sexual at all. I think that it is different from commercial advertising which falls under Tomi-Ann Roberts’s critique:

    Girls are not passive recipients of these cultural messages. Girls are active agents. We know from developmental cognitive psychology that young boys and girls, once they know what their gender is, are very motivated to be the best example of their gender. And if the examples of femininity around you are a sort of tarted up, pornographied sexuality, then that’s what you’re psyched to be.

  3. March 21, 2012 2:12 pm

    Yes, Theophrastus, Bachmann came in as the only woman in the race, but she also ran as a woman who is a wife who is a wife “submissive” to a man, her husband. Suzanne posted on that here:

    In 2011 – 2012 in the USA, the fact that this sort of gendered hierarchy exists may have nothing to do with “the main opposition to” Bachmann. However, I suspect sexism in America still has lots to do with the fact that we aren’t anywhere close to having a president who is a woman.

    On Aliaa Elmahdi, you are correct to see that the Israeli photograph shows the women somewhat covered. Their choice again. An entirely international response came on March 8, 2012, International Women’s Day. Here’s a link to that, but I’ll have to warn everybody that there’s nudity discussed and shown:

  4. March 21, 2012 5:50 pm

    Kurk, I’m not so sure that a female president is so unthinkable. For example, in the very close 2008 race between Clinton and Obama, if Clinton had won the Democratic nomination, I think she would have gone on to win the general election. Obama set his own firsts (first African-American president, first President with a name like “Hussein.”)

    One could also point to Sarah Palin, who if she had been a bit more intelligent and politically savvy, could have potentially been a serious candidate.

    From “nine-nine-nine” (“nein-nein-nein”) to colonies on the moon to the debate on outlawing contraception, this has been a presidential campaign rather bereft of deep thought. I have no problem reading thinkers who have radically different political positions than mine if they have interesting things to say (Plato or Leo Strauss for example.) But I cannot recall any actual interesting ideas that have come up in the race so far.

    I’m not going to defend Michelle Bachmann or to spend even a little energy trying to understand her theology or positions on gender — to my mind, she has been yet another crazy person running for President. But the way gender has come up so far in the national zeitgeist has been in ways that I would not have expected: Susan B. Komen, contraception, “slut,” etc. It seems to me that there is no problem with a woman candidate — but there is significant debate over women’s issues. (I could make a similar argument about social class.)

    In fact, looking at things like Brown vs. Whitman race in California, it seems to me that being a woman is not even an advantage when competing for women voters.

  5. March 21, 2012 5:53 pm

    I’m sorry Kurk — I don’t think that appearing nude is a politically significant form of expression. The issues being raised about freedom of expression are serious, but I think that relatively few people are swayed by nudity — instead, I think the common reaction is “Wow, these people are nuts.”

    Finally, I think that commercial advertising is in a completely different category than these odd amateur efforts. In particular, commercial advertising apparently does have a significant effect on children — and is apparently directly related to a leading cause of death among adolescent girls.

  6. March 21, 2012 6:12 pm

    Yes, I believe Clinton was the best, the strongest candidate for president – who’s also a woman – that the USA has seen to date. She’s our third Secretary of State, our 67th, and is doing a job equal and superior to some of the others. Some time ago, I documented Karlyn Kohrs Campbell’s sketch through the rather rich history of American candidates for president:

    And I agree with you that this recent Republican race has been just crazy.

    On women’s decision to appear nude for political purposes and its significance, you must have your own opinion. I do feel we men must be careful telling women how to present and represent themselves, their bodies.

  7. March 21, 2012 7:09 pm

    By the way, I do not think that political campaigns need to be bereft of ideas.

    For example, I think that candidate Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” (March 18, 2008) speech on race was one of the most interesting and idea-filled political speeches in recent American history.

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