Adobe Photoshop caught in the war between fat and thin

The Israeli government took time out from its busy schedule of bringing peace to the Middle East by enacting a daft law banning the use of Photoshop by fashion magazines.

It seems that the nation has finally declared that thin people are dangerous and has sided with the lardies in persecuting them.  The Israelis have bought in a law which discriminates against a certain type of woman and defines that only women of a certain shape are allowed to work.


The law also declares that technology which makes women look perfect has to carry a government health warning.

For a while, a campaign has been running on Facebook which is designed to make men feel guilty if they don’t fancy fat women. Comments on the bottom of such posts usually have a token bloke saying something emancipating such as “I like a woman with meat on them”.

Now the Israeli government has decided to stop fashion media and advertising from using Photoshop to make people look thin.

The idea is based on the simplistic view that young women are pressured into being anorexics by the media. This is much more palatable than more likely reasons such as parental pressures and child abuse.  It implies that there is something wrong with people who are thin because they are not like the rest of us.

The Israeli parliament passed legislation known as the Photoshop laws. The new regulations on the fashion and advertising industry ban underweight models as determined by the Body Mass Index (BMI) and regulate Photoshop usage in media and advertising.

The law has been championed by Rachel Adato, an Israeli parliament member with a background in medicine, as well as photographer and fashion model agent Adi Barkan.

The law forbids underweight models from working on advertisements. A doctor must certify that a model can be employed by measuring him or her and determining that the model’s Body Mass Index (BMI) is at or above 18.5, which the World Health Organization (WHO) defines as indicative of malnutrition.

So an Israeli model who is five-foot, seven-inch must weigh at least 118 pounds to work as a model.

But the problem is that some women are naturally skinny and eat rather well. But Adato and the law say that only five percent of girls that are under 18.5 BMI are girls that are eating well in Israel. Even if that were true, those five percent are going to start feeling very self conscious and are going to be unemployable.

But the law also means that the technology of airbrushing, computer editing, or any other form of Photoshop editing to create a slimmer model must clearly state that fact.

Do you notice the inconsistency here? If you airbrush a few wrinkles out you are not being agest, if you lighten someone’s skin you are not being racist, but if you shop out a bit of overhanging fat there is something wrong with you.

What is perhaps alarming is that Israel expects to export this law and thus lead to discrimination against people who are not lardie. This could include athletes who spend a lot of time working out and eating like a horse, but keep their BMI low.

Daniel Le Grange, professor of psychiatry and director of the eating disorder program at the University of Chicago told the Atlantic, that Israel’s legislation on Photoshop could have an even greater impact than its BMI regulations.

Le Grange said images of perfect women are very discouraging for his patients who for one reason or another desire that perfection, and they page through every magazine and see every face that’s perfect.

He admits that unrealistic portrayals of beauty in fashion spreads may not be the ultimate cause of the eating disorder epidemic thinks they are a contributing factor.

La Grange pointed out that developing an eating disorder is a complex process in terms of specific constellation of personality traits that one’s born with. These are genetic, environmental, societal things have to come together in a vulnerable individual, so it’s not just one piece that makes it possible.

The Israeli photoshop law means that a vulnerable individual is protected from environmental things. Whether or not they may not develop an eating disorder is difficult to say.

Donald Downs, a professor at the University of Wisconsin said it would be difficult to get an anti-Photoshop law in the US. He said that the Israeli law is paternalistic in that it prohibits something because of the effect it might have on others in the longer term.

But what it is skipping here is the darker unpleasant fact that while the West becomes fatter, there is an increasing pressure for thinner people to conform. More confident fatter people try to sell their body image to others, thinner people are going to get increasingly hassled.

While eating disorders are bad, the health dangers over overeating are more encompassing and far more common. Yet there are no laws being considered that would prevent the depiction of overweight people, or Photoshoping a few pounds onto someone.

The fact is that neither side is right. Views of body image should never be extreme, and calling someone too thin is no worse than hassling someone for being too fat. Such laws are just Photoshop[ing the real problem of human prejudice and sticking more persecution on the statute books.