A new law in Israel is leading the charge to protect models from eating disorders, writes Suna Senman of the Huffington Post.
At four years old, I was deliberating over whether I should be a princess or a ballet dancer when I grew up. Ultimately, I chose the latter. By my twenties, I was the stereotypical anorexic ballerina.
Ballerinas must conform with a waif-thin look to avoid getting booted out of the profession. Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia compensate for the gap between reality and fantasy, and are therefore endemic to the world of ballet.
They are not, of course, confined to that world alone. Eating disorders affect 1.6million people in Britain, according to charity Beat. Of that number, 89 per cent are women.
These disorders run the gamut – anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS). In addition, the problem starts early. In the US, 46 per cent of girls aged nine to 11 are on diets, according to the National Eating Disorder Awareness Association (www.nedawareness.org).
Beat is unable to give an equivalent statistic for British girls but a spokesperson says: ‘We are aware children are developing problems around body image and low self-esteem at a much younger age. Daily we are bombarded with so-called “ideal” images that apparently we should all aspire to. It’s no surprise that this permeates through to young children, who are much more media-savvy and exposed to these messages than ever before. The main influence is the relentless promotion of a body ideal that is very thin. Young people compare themselves to the ideal and feel it is their fault that their bodies look so different.’
According to Adi Barkan, an Israeli fashion photographer who has worked with top modelling agencies and corporations throughout Israel and Europe, eating disorders are a direct result of images promoted in the fashion world. ‘We are the problem,’ he says simply.
Barkan broke ranks after a social worker approached him with a 15-year-old anorexic girl in tow – Keti, a 72lb (5st) wannabe model. ‘Take me to Adi,’ Keti had challenged the social worker. ‘He will tell you that I have to be this thin to be pretty.’ Deeply moved to take action after meeting Keti, Barkan subsequently went to her home four days a week, encouraging her to eat, until she was a healthy weight again.
Word got out and a national TV show invited Barkan and Keti to share their story. Immediately, anorexic girls and women across Israel called Barkan, asking him to save their lives too. Each one, Barkan recalls, repeated the refrain that they just wanted to be pretty like the women in his photos. Suddenly Barkan understood his role in contributing to poor body image and dangerous eating habits, and he decided to do something about it.
In an about-face, Barkan turned against the tide of the fashion industry and approached the ministry of health, armed with his portfolio of stick-thin women. The ministers initially refused to believe that the incidents of anorexia were high enough for alarm. But Barkan challenged them and they finally agreed to his proposal: an advert would be placed in the paper saying he was looking for a young woman to cultivate into Israel’s newest supermodel. The catch was, every woman who applied had to undergo a health screening at the ministry of health. ‘About a quarter of the women were so anorexic that they were ready to be hospitalised,’ Barkan recalls.
Suna Senman is a blogger for The Huffington Post.
Fairwinds Treatment Center is a dual-diagnosis eating disorder treatment facility located in Clearwater, Florida. If you or a loved one are struggling with an eating disorder such as anorexia (anorexia nervosa), it is crucial to seek treatment as soon as possible. For more information on contact out admissions team at 727-449-0300 or through our website here.