In recent years, much attention has been paid to how women are portrayed in the media, whether it’s an overly airbrushed magazine model with an impossibly slim waist, or a TV starlet with protruding collar bones.
“Beautiful is not underweight,” says Rachel Adato, one of the creators of the bill in Israel, which forbids use of models with BMI below 18.5 in commercial advertisements. It’s part of an effort to promote health for women of all sizes, and to stop glorifying the ultra-thin.
According to the law, any advertisement in which computer editing was used to make a model thinner, would have to say so clearly. The law does not apply to non-commercial advertisements. Israel’s law may be the catalyst needed to help make change. But others say it could make things worse.
Many magazine editors, modelling agents and casting directors say they want to use more diverse models, but can’t because of industry expectations – with each blaming the other group for setting the tone. Regulating the types of models that can be used may be a good way to “shock” the system into making changes.
BMI, a ratio of height to weight, is best used as a way to measure the average size of groups of people, but is not a good indicator of personal health, says Margo Maine, a clinical psychologist who is specialised in eating disorders.
What would be more effective would be encouraging a wider variety of body shapes on TV and in media in general. Otherwise, the message is not to celebrate bodies of all shapes and sizes, but to reject extreme thinness.
By targeting women who are thin, whether they have an eating disorder or are naturally thin, focus is on individuals, instead of challenging the culture that buys into it. Thin women may have an easier go of it than fat women, but they’re still subject to attacks about their size. Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, is subjected to constant speculation about her health and comments about her weight.
Angelina Jolie’s Oscar appearance set Twitter alight with criticisms of her thin frame. “Angelina Jolie looks like her arms are ready to snap in half at any moment. Gross,” wrote one user.
Speaking out against very thin star celebrities can feel like a satisfying blow against unrealistic body standards, says Raegan Chastain. As an advocate for fat acceptance she has often heard people criticise women for being too thin. Still, she warns those trying to come to terms with their own size to leave other people out of it. Weight and health are two separate issues.
The goal: not to define one body type as attractive and another type as unattractive.