Photographer who pushed through Israel’s ‘skinny model’ law now seeks to do the same in the US

The death of a model friend from bulimia prompted Adi Barkan to take on his own fashion industry

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Adi Barkan at his other work (Courtesy)
Adi Barkan at his other work (Courtesy)
Adi Barkan at his other work (Courtesy)
Adi Barkan at his other work (Courtesy)

It took fashion photographer Adi Barkan nearly 10 years to secure the passage of his so-called Photoshop law — the recent Knesset legislation requiring a minimum weight for models according to the standard Body Mass Index and the regulation of Photoshop use in advertising. But the battle isn’t over yet, Barkan warns.

Barkan and his organization, Simply U, which educates models about proper eating and weight through a 12-course program, are working with the Ford modeling agency in New York, planning a department of Simply U in the agency. He’s also hoping to meet with Vogue magazine editor Anna Wintour and the Victoria’s Secret lingerie company, in his efforts to influence decision-makers about the importance of banning underweight models from the fashion industry.

The US buzz about Barkan’s legislation is positive, although experts warn that it would be much more difficult to institute a similar law there. What could succeed, however, is working within the industry, with companies and agencies that have the power to make a major shift when considering minimum weights for models.

“I’m looking at the next generation of models, the next Linda Evangelistas,” said Barkan. “We’re starting with the young models and in four to five years we’ll see a new model of models.”

Barkan began his campaign against underweight models and the prevalance of anorexia and bulimia in the Israeli modeling industry after his friend, former model Hila Elmalich, died from bulimia.

He worked with young models, tried to convince modeling agencies and clothing companies to stop Photoshopping their advertisements, and eventually began working on legislation with several Knesset members.

“People weren’t interested because they don’t want to make changes and there’s a lot of ego involved,” he said. “We needed a law because it wouldn’t have changed otherwise.”

The new law, passed in March, goes into effect on January 1, 2013. That gives models, agencies and the companies that use models nearly 10 months to get themselves ready for the new era, said Barkan, as some models will need to gain weight in order to meet the BMI standards. At that point, if companies hire underweight models or use improper Photoshopping to touch up pictures, they can be sued by the model, “for being influenced to lose weight,” and fined “anywhere from thousands to millions of shekels,” said Barkan.

“I want one company to not pay attention to the law and then get fined,” said Barkan. “We’re a small country and we can do this. How many campaigns are there, how many photographers? It’s not that hard to check it all out.”

The Ministry of Industry and Trade is responsible for overseeing the industry’s adherence to the new legislation, which also requires photographers to keep their photographs for at least three months, allowing inspectors access to the files.

“If companies don’t go along, those fines will be a lot of money for us,” said Barkan, who is planning on opening a center for women suffering from anorexia and bulimia.



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