Israeli Law Bans Underweight Models in Ads

As someone who specializes in health, I am in favor of the Israeli law. How wonderful that Adi Barkan, a top Israeli modeling agent proposed the law.

I have been to fashion shows in NYC where I was so uncomfortable watching corpses try to walk down the runway –I wanted to walk out. 

Yet, I applaud at the end of the show instead of being outraged. 

Outraged at the unhealthy images being promoted, which send the wrong message to men and women through its distortion of body image.  If the fashion industry doesn’t change, consumers need to stop buying whatever they sell.

Sharing an article I wrote in 2006, which is still relevant.

Eating Disorders: Maybe It’s Time for a Little Political Correctness by Maria Dorfner

Recently, I began questioning the usage of the term eating disorders. It used to be referred to as anorexia. The term has since expanded to include not just anorexia, but bulimia, compulsive eating, binge-eating and exercise addiction or as Dr. Margo Maine, a clinical psychologist and author of the book, Body Wars: Making Peace With Womens’ Bodies calls it “excess-ersize”.

I understand the reasoning behind creating a broader term, but I don’t understand attaching the word “disorder” to any of these illnesses considering the sensitive psychological component which exists with them.

By this I mean the negative self-talk and shame which these persons struggle to overcome. Recovery includes avoiding circumstances or environments where negative self beliefs about themselves are triggered. Yet, the very word “disorder”, the label slapped on them by the medical community, conjures up instant images of something negative.

I heard something on the radio this morning which prompted my thoughts on this matter. It was another female celebrity being accused of having an eating disorder and adamantly denying it. It got me thinking that the term “eating disorder” screams, “There is something wrong with you!”

I don’t know anyone that would respond positively when told there must be something wrong with you. Telling someone, “I think you have an eating disorder” sounds more like a harsh accusation than a heartfelt concern for a friend, loved one or significant other. Accusations cause defensiveness, denial and shame.

This can lead people who may need help to isolate themselves from the accusations, feel added shame and not seek treatment. I’m not saying all these celebrities have an eating disorder, but some clearly have bones jetting out from their rib cage and collarbone while boasting about staying in shape with their personal trainer.

Eating disorders are complex and the fashion industry and media are already bombarding young girls, boys and adults with distorted images of what their body should look like. Skinny jeans are back and whereas a size 6 used to be thin, now it’s a size 00. I can only imagine where it will go from here. Size Sub 0 perhaps. If jeans came with warning labels that would be the time to add one, such as Warning: Attempting to squeeze into these jeans could cause an eating disorder.

Recent studies suggest there is a genetic and environmental component which predisposes certain individuals to eating disorders. They have what is referred to as a vulnerable personality which is highly sensitive to the environment or what are clinically called triggers. The odds for recovery get stacked against them when the outside environment is bombarded with them.

Supermarkets and News Stands showing bikini-clad unhealthy images are pervasive, so you don’t have to go far to be exposed to them. Then, when someone achieves this look, they are told they have a disorder. It’s psychologically confusing. When we learned cigarettes cause cancer, the television and print ads with the macho, attractive Marlboro man on a horse stopped. It took awhile, but common sense prevailed. Hopefully, the fashion and media industry will take note that there is a correlation between their mixed messages and behavior.

Change could begin within the medical community as well. No one would dream of calling fat people fat anymore. It may be time the term “eating disorder” be revisited. Most celebs would readily admit to alcohol or drug dependence, but mention an eating “disorder” and all the defenses go up. Who wants to admit to having a disorder? The very word has a stigma to it, and serves only to reinforce or trigger the negative beliefs that are already a part of the eating disorder struggle.

The insensitivity doesn’t end there as the same people who would never dream of saying, “You’re so fat” to someone who is obese or deemed obese by whatever the latest Body Mass Index (BMI) calculator dictates– thinks nothing of saying, “You’re so skinny” to someone who may be suffering from an eating “disorder”.

I don’t profess to know what eating disorders should be called instead. But maybe an open dialogue is needed with clinicians, educators and patients about this topic and whether the term is psychologically detrimental to recovery or to reaching out to friends, family or significant others who may be suffering.

It would be interesting to ask patients how the term makes them feel. I’m thinking the majority of them will say, “It makes me feel like there is something wrong with me — like I’m defective.”

A google search on disorders pulls up an A to Z laundry list that makes your head spin — 204,000,000 hits — so eating disorders are not alone in their defective label. Yet, I don’t know too many other illnesses that can be triggered by a term being used to describe it.

It seems counterproductive to want to help people while potentially unwittingly causing them harm. It may be time for the fashion industry and media to think about the triggering images and mixed messages they distribute, and for the medical community to place a kinder and gentler label on this illness.

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