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ISRAEL: Parliament might put an end to "Photoshop" models

June 14, 2010 |  8:28 pm

"You look too thin."

It's one thing when your mother says it. When the Israeli Health Ministry says it, they mean a person's BMI (body mass index) is less than 18.5. And when legislators said it Monday, this meant a new law is on its way.

bill (note: linked site is written in Hebrew) submitted to Israel's parliament, the Knesset, by lawmaker Rachel Adatto -- a doctor who devoted much of her career to women's health issues -- pushed for legislation to keep underweight models out of commercials; to prohibit modeling agencies from employing them; and to bar advertising agencies and media from airbrushing models into stick figures.

Super-slim models may be good for business but serve as poor role models, says Adatto, who explains that her bill is part of an effort to combat the epidemic of eating disorders. Some, however, dismissed the law as populist, but Adato points out that anorexia can be fatal and hopes the law will provide another tool to keep the disease from spreading among impressionable youth.

Adato's bill was submitted to the Knesset's committee for children's rights together with Adi Barkan, who heads the Israeli Center for Changing Eating Habits. Barkan is the country's No. 1 fashion photographer who, after launching many successful modeling careers, started a campaign to fight anorexia and reduce his profession's contribution to it. Israel is currently doing well in the modeling department, but not all stories end well.

Monday, the ministerial legislation committee signed off on the bill but offered a change. Advertisers will be allowed to use photo-altering software but will be required to identify touched-up images.

The law, while well-intended, raises questions about freedom of occupation, employment and expression -- principles anchored in law. And there are practical questions about the enforcement of digital-alteration disclaimers. Where does one draw the line in an industry that routinely does basic digital favors, without which few (real) people would agree to have their picture taken? A fair degree of fakery is a built-in factor many can live with, but what's fair and how far is fuzzy; similar debates are taking place in Britain and France.

A modern culture of lawsuit hysteria breeds interesting warning labels.  An American publishing house recently came under attack after putting warning labels on copies of the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and other founding documents. The works are a product of their time, said the disclaimer, which suggested parents discuss race, gender and such issues with their children before reading.

Back to altering images.

Some digital accidents are hilarious, others less so. Recently, Reuters got in trouble for cropping a knife and blood out of a photo from the Mavi Marmara during the Israeli raid on the Gaza aid flotilla. The same agency had been embarrassed in 2006 when one of its photographers "improperly treated" pictures during the 2006 Lebanon war, which an Israeli columnist had called "The First Photoshop War."  In 2008, Iran had launched itself an extra missile or two.

So maybe the end is nigh for "Photoshop" models. But the last time Israel had a major Photoshop accident,  it was in an entirely different industry. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Cabinet has two women. And they joined their colleagues in the traditional group photo after being sworn into office in April 2009. But when the new government debuted in some of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish papers, it was quite a bit slimmer. By two whole women.

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem