Real Israel: Slim pickings

Most models are consumed with watching their weight, but proposed legislation acould prevent them dying on the job.

fashion model 311 (photo credit: Courtey)
fashion model 311
(photo credit: Courtey)
Will the country’s fashion models become lifesaving role models? This was the heavy topic being discussed in the cabinet and Knesset last week around the preliminary reading of a bill aimed at reducing the number of superthin models suffering from larger-than-life eating disorders.
The bill, which could make “heroin chic” a bad trip down memory lane, was initiated by Kadima MK Rahel Adatto, a physician, and Likud MK Danny Danon, who chairs the Knesset Committee for the Rights of Children. But the man putting all his weight behind it is Adi Barkan, who runs one of the country’s most successful modeling agencies. After taking a break from the business for a few years, Barkan made a comeback with his Simply U agency which makes a point of employing only models who pass a weight test.
Barkan admits he is making up for past sins by pushing for the legislation and social change that shows that beauty is more than skin deep.
Hungry for success, most models would eat their hearts out for a good contract. But they wouldn’t eat real food. That would change if Barkan has his way. 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.”
Barkan talks with passion. He’s been promoting his “Be beautiful and stay alive” campaign for close to a decade. Five-and-a-half years ago, a similar bill backed by MK Inbal Gavrieli was discussed, but the Knesset was dispersed before it came up for a vote in the plenum. “I think this is the last chance we have of saving these lives,” says Barkan of the latest bill which breezed through preliminary reading.
“This is not New York,” says Barkan. “The market is small.” There are basically only five or six influential modeling agencies in the country.
“This is the No 1. prevention plan. It won’t cost much money and it will be easy to enforce. The Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor has already agreed to help with the enforcement.”
The bill is a thing of beauty, taking a two-pronged approach. First, agencies will not be allowed to employ models who do not provide a doctor’s certificate attesting they are not underweight, defined by a Body Mass Index of less than 18.5. And photos which have been altered by Photoshop to make the models look thinner will have to carry a notice to that effect, somewhat like the “Smoking can endanger your health” warnings on cigarette packets.
While the success of Israeli models abroad has grown over the years, the size of the models has shrunk, Barkan notes. “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,” Barkan states.
When I mention a book I have just reviewed on Marilyn Monroe, Barkan laughs dryly and quips: “She wouldn’t even get a job selling cosmetics in a supermarket today.”
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.
Much of the problem lies with those dying to get into the business.“Would-be models turn up for an audition and are told to lose fivekilos,” says Barkan. “But, of course, it never stops there. They keepon dieting and keep on losing weight. A girl who gets into such a cycleis emotionally dead from Day 1.”
Barkan is also trying to make photographers see the bigger picture.“The fashion scene is dominated by gay photographers and their tastesare not for tits and bums,” Barkan says.
Altogether, admitting that change has to come at a societal levelrather than simply through legislation, Barkan has been activelyrecruiting major advertisers such as the Strauss food giant and theCastro fashion chain to back the cause by using “healthy” models. “OnceI’ve explained the situation to the marketing personnel or CEOs, mostget the point,” says Barkan.
While the public can probably relate more to the normal-size model –how many of us can say we’ve shrunk two sizes in the last decade, afterall – at the moment you have a fat chance of finding them.
“When the day comes that a talent scout tells a girl, ‘You’re tooskinny,’ we’ll know we have succeeded in getting our message across,”Barkan states.
Barkan hopes to change the lives and perceptions of more than just thewannabe Bar Refaelis. He wants young girls (and boys) and perhaps alsotheir parents to see healthy role models also in key positions in theentertainment industry and on TV where the superthin still rule,creating an unhealthy example.
“It’s a small country. Change is possible,” says Barkan.
But it’s clear the battle won’t be over until the fat lady sings.