Q&A with two IJFAB authors

November 13, 2015

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This fall we published a fascinating special issue of IJFAB: International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics on Just Food. Food is one of those galvanizing topics – we all eat, and we all share some degree of interest when it comes to how, where, and with whom we consume food. Food culture has begun to overlap with diet culture in many regards, and the cultures surrounding bodies. Given this wide scope, this special issue of IJFAB‘s was able to examine a variety of topics ranging from eating disorders to breast feeding.

We invited Galya Hildesheimer and Hemda Gur-Arie, authors of “Just Modeling?: The Modeling Industry, Eating Disorders, and the Law” to answer some question about their article, their experience publishing it with IJFAB, and how their research fits into the wider study of feminist bioethics.

Q: Your article, “Just Modeling? The Modeling Industry, Eating Disorders, and the Law,” was recently published in volume 8, number 2 of IJFAB: International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics, a special issue on “Just Food.” Why did you select IJFAB for its publication, and what was your experience working with the journal?

A: IJFAB provides an exceptional platform to present valuable multidisciplinary studies discussing the interplay between feminism and bioethics. In addition to the distinctive viewpoint of the journal in general, we found the opportunity to publish our work in a special issue dealing with “Just Food” particularly appealing. Our paper on “Just Modeling” presents a unique and interesting perspective on the general theme of this special issue. Not only does the paper point out the health detrimental aspects of the modeling industry and the beauty ideal it presents, but it also exposes the public nature of what is otherwise considered the private issue of eating habits, and thereby provides a deeper understanding of the public health concern about eating disorders.

To us, working with IJFAB was a productive and rewarding experience, and we very much look forward to future collaboration with the journal.

IJFAB contributor Galya Hildesheimer IJFAB contributor Galya Hildesheimer

Q: The Israeli Law for Restricting Weight in the Modeling Industry (the Modeling Act) has been in effect since 2013. Has it been effective in combating eating disorders, not just in the modeling industry but more widely? How has it been successful, how has it failed, and what more needs to and can be done?

A: We reply to this question with due precaution, as it requires in-depth sociological inquiry. We can positively determine limited conformity with provisions of the Modeling Act. A brief look through up-to-date Israeli advertising is sufficient to reveal only very partial compliance with the legal requirement for a noticeable disclaimer concerning the graphic editing of models’ pictures for the purpose of narrowing body measures. The law is commonly violated due to lack of enforcement measures that were not included in the final version of the act as we describe in detail in the paper.

However, we can point out an ongoing public discourse regarding the presentation of ultrathin models, which can possibly be attributed to the law, at least partially. One example is the casting of the actress Alma Dishi as a lingerie presenter of the Israeli Triumph campaign despite her dubious compliance with “ideal” appearance standards usually expected from models, which certainly prompted people to talk about body image. Public awareness of the issue is manifested in the vast public denunciation of “Castro,” a leading Israeli fashion brand, after declaring that it declines to market certain women’s wear in plus sizes. Also worth mentioning is the recent Tel Aviv fashion week that took place last month. Motty Reif, the producer and founder of the event was quoted as stating that all participating models were required to present a medical certificate confirming their healthy BMI. Another interesting initiative is that of Moshe Fadlon, mayor of the Israeli city of Herzliya, who called last year for enforcement of the Modeling Act in public advertising within the local boundaries of the city. Furthermore, last summer, Yedioth Ahronoth, a newspaper considered highly influential in Israel, banned all use of Photoshop on celebrities and models whose pictures appear in the paper. The latest on this issue is the declaration of the Israeli Council for Cable and Satellite Broadcasts earlier this week of its intention to forbid children’s channels to cast very skinny actors and hosts.

As to what further can be done, we recently approached the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) Committee on Status of Women and Gender Equality with a request to initiate a discussion regarding the Modeling Act and its underenforcement. The committee chairperson, Knesset member Aida Touma Sliman, expressed her initial interest in the topic, and we currently await further response.

Henda Gur-Arie IJFAB Contributor Hemda Gur-Arie

Q: Why weren’t the supporters of the Israeli Modeling Act more effective in arguing against the constitutional and other legal arguments that led to its diminishment?

A: Actually, during our research we asked ourselves the same question. After publishing the article, we incidentally came across a potential answer.

During a recent field trip with our law students to the Knesset, we attended a lecture by Eyal Yinon, the Knesset legal advisor, who, in the course of describing his role in the Knesset, explained how he suggested alterations of certain provisions of the original Modeling bill in order to adjust it to constitutional principles and, more importantly, to the right to freedom of occupation. The importance attached, in his view, to this specific right required significant changing of the bill.

It therefore seems that the Israeli constitutional climate that concentrates on “negative rights” is so deeply embedded in Israeli legal discourse that even the legal advisor of the legislators sees it as a legal necessity rather than as an ideological or political choice.

We assume that once presented by high ranking legal advisors as a leading constitutional right, legislators accepted the right to freedom of occupation as a central factor. Thus, they failed to initiate a serious discussion concerning the social importance of the positive rights to dignity, life, and health, as well as the potential of these rights to overcome the negative right of freedom of occupation.

Q: Many people will be surprised to see modeling presented as the subject of serious bioethical inquiry. Could you explain why this often trivialized practice requires professional ethical scrutiny?

A: This is exactly what we find so fascinating about bioethics—the ever expanding boundaries of the discipline that reach beyond issues commonly considered as bioethical.

We perceive the bioethical approach to modeling as manifesting a contemporary movement to widen, as largely reflected in IJFAB scholarship, the relatively narrow range of themes commonly subjected to bioethical inquiry. Whereas the role played by the trivialized practice of modeling in Western societies is often underestimated, a bioethical analysis highlights the important issue of major health detriments modeling inflicts on both models and the public at large. That is, the bioethical outlook points to otherwise concealed health implications that require thorough ethical consideration. This presents major challenges to a variety of disciplines that go far beyond medicine and health professions, among them public health, labor law (i.e., work safety and occupational health regulations), and even commercial law. The Israeli Modeling Act is an interesting example of how ethical scrutiny leads to legal intervention in the commercial field of modeling. Our paper illustrates how ethical considerations lead to profound criticism of a wide range of commercial industries that, being under no legally imposed regulation, contribute vastly to eating disorders and to other health detriments of the modern beauty ideal.

Q: Women suffer from EDs at a much higher rate than men. Yet, men also suffer. Do you think the cultural etiologies are primarily gender specific or overlapping? If men suffer for different reasons in different ways, would this require a whole separate set of intervention?

A: We believe addressing this issue requires applying a gender-specific-medicine viewpoint in order to study efficiently the effect of the modeling industry on the health of women in comparison with its effect on the health of men. The requirement of the Israeli legislation to provide a noticeable disclaimer pointing out the usage of graphic editing to narrow bodily measures has a distinct vision. Its main purpose is to prevent eating disorders by clarifying that what appears to be a picture of a skinny model actually reflects an abnormal human image. This is a clear message to the public at large, but, as a protective measure, it might be more essential for women than it is for men as women are more likely to be subject to the health detrimental effects of viewing pictures ofultrathin models. However, graphic editing in the modeling industry serves other purposes as well. Pictures are sometimes altered in order to present falsely a model with highly developed muscles and create an image of a fit and muscle pumped model who is in good shape. This manipulation is more commonly used on pictures of male models. Viewing such pictures might have health detrimental effects on men more than on women as men might be led to undergo excessive and damaging fitness trainings and workouts. This critical apprehension regarding men’s health is not considered by the Israeli law, and this is another aspect of its myopic nature, which is also gender specific.

Q: Respond, if you would, to any readers wondering about the physical appearance of these bioethicists who seem to have it out for the modeling industry.​

A: As explicated in our paper, we live in a culture where appearance plays a significant role in people’s lives, and disproportionately so in women’s lives. It is hardly an overestimation to consider it a prerequisite to success. Furthermore, ironic as it may sound, it seems as if the higher the social status of a woman, the greater the social pressure imposed on her to comply with strict appearance standards. In fact, the economic status of a woman is almost identified with her looks as her “good looks” are considered an asset she can actually “afford.” Similarly, women with fewer financial assets strive to acquire socially accepted appearance ideals as well. To them, it is no less necessary as they struggle to improve their social status. Willingly or not, consciously or not, women from a wide range of the social spectrum, including academic scholars and feminist bioethicists, internalize these strong cultural demands and manifest to different extents their adherence to appearance pressure. Feminist scholarship is fully aware of this. Feminism is strictly critical of the social phenomena of internalized oppression and false consciousness. It is definitely not critical of the victims of the oppression as most of us probably are, at least to a certain extent. We thus consider our approach neither a feminist nor a bioethical plea for women to submit themselves to feminist ideals by disregarding appearance demands when the inevitable outcome is a heavy social price. We do not call for replacing an unjust detrimental social practice with an ideal that might lead to equally burdensome implications. What we do call for, however, is increasing awareness of the need to set limits to oppressive social structures and to their detrimental effects. We do so by exposing the public nature of regularly regarded private conducts such as eating, grooming, exercising, or undergoing cosmetic surgery. We believe such consciousness raising could prove to be a good starting point that might lead in the long run to an important and necessary social change. The Israeli Modeling Act definitely serves this goal.

To learn more about IJFAB including how to subscribe or submit your work for publication, please visit www.utpjournals.com/ijfab

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