Legislating Beauty

In the eternal debate of Big vs Small Government, the basic freedom to have your own taste in feminine beauty, whether Big or Small, has been protected in every democracy in the world.

The idea that the definition of female beauty will be legislated by central government is unique to Israel.

Last week, Israel’s Knesset passed a bill which outlaws the use of models who have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of less than 18.5. In other words, who are too skinny.

Danny Danon of Likud and Rachel Adatto of Kadima drafted the law, which intends to discourage the idealization of excessively thin bodies. Such idealization, it is claimed, have led to the high rates of eating disorders, particularly in teenage girls.

Whereas no-one expects this law in itself to lead Israelis to fancy plumper women, it is considered a first small step in the direction of young women having less of a hang-up about their body weight.

According to AP:
"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.

There is no doubt that the media plays a leading role in defining female beauty, and that since Twiggy in the 1960’s, skin and bone have been considered  more attractive features than fat.

Consider the Barbie doll – with her impossibly long legs and skeletal torso.    

Eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, affect about 2% of Israeli girls between 14-18. These conditions can be fatal - indeed Anorexia Nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder.

Here are some other statistics from the US Department of Mental Health:
  • A study by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reported that 5 – 10% of anorexics die within 10 years after contracting the disease; 18-20% of anorexics will be dead after 20 years and only 30 – 40% ever fully recover
  • The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate of ALL causes of death for females 15 – 24 years old.
  • 20% of people suffering from anorexia will prematurely die from complications related to their eating disorder, including suicide and heart problems 

 "The Reader," a Fragonard painting from 1776
Perhaps we can return to the ideal female shapeliness of yesteryear – the well rounded ladies of Fragonard (above) and Rubens. 

Not only healthier but, surely, cuddlier too.


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