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Israeli law eyes super-thin models as bad examples

JERUSALEM (AP) — Told she was too fat to be a model, Danielle Segal shed a quarter of her weight and was hospitalized twice for malnutrition. Now that a new Israeli law prohibits the employment of underweight models, the 19-year-old must gain some of it back if she wants to work again.

Not that she was ever overweight. At 5-feet-7, she weighed 116 pounds to begin with. Feeling pressure to become ever thinner, she dropped another 29 pounds. The unnaturally skeletal girl weighed 88 pounds by then, or about as much as a robust pre-teen, and her health suffered.

The legislation passed Monday aims to put a stop to the extremes, and by extension ease the pressure on youngsters to emulate the skin-and-bones models, often resulting in dangerous eating disorders.

The new law poses a groundbreaking challenge to a fashion industry widely castigated for promoting anorexia and bulimia. Its sponsors say it could become an example for other countries grappling with the spread of the life-threaening disorders.

It’s especially important in Israel, which, like other countries, is obsessed by models, whose every utterance and dalliance is fodder for large pictures and racy stories in the nation’s newspapers. Supermodel Bar Refaeli is considered a national hero by many. She is not unnaturally thin.

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 5 feet 8 inches tall should weigh no less than 119 pounds.

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.

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

The law’s supporters hope it will encourage the use of healthy models in local advertising and heighten awareness of digital tricks that transform already skinny women into seeming waifs.

“We want to break the illusion that the model we see is real,” said Liad Gil-Har, assistant to law sponsor Dr. Rachel Adato, who compared the battle against eating disorders to the struggle against smoking.

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.

Aspiring model Segal says she’s thrilled with the new law and wishes it had been passed years ago. “I wouldn’t have grown up thinking that this (being underweight) is a model of beauty. I wouldn’t have reached the point I reached,” she said.

Segal said an agent told her three years ago that she had a beautiful face — but not a “model’s body.” Trying to attain that ideal through drastic diets, she ended up in the hospital twice and stopped menstruating.

Barkan estimated about half the 300 professional models in Israel would have to gain weight to work again.

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