עברית / English
I heard the word “anorexia” for the first time in 1996. Before I fully understood the disease, one of the most famous stars I represented fell to it.
“Adi, Save Me!”
For a year I took her to the eating disorders clinic at Tel Hashomer Hospital. We would arrive at dusk to avoid "celeb" detection. I realized something was wrong when another model asked me about the star's skyrocket success despite her low weight. She wondered, "Why do you make so much noise about her? I was with her in a lingerie audition. That girl is plump."
That girl was far from plump. When the shoot took place the model was expecting her period in a few days. She was a bit bloated, but certainly not plump. At that moment I realized how one cutting comment about weight can crush a successful star of this magnitude.
During an audition for a swimwear company in 1999, one of the models collapsed in the changing area of the studio. While searching for her cell phone to get help, her friends found pills in her bag and introduced me to Laxadin, a laxative. They explained, "Adi, this is the way to do it when you want to drop 6-8 pounds."
In 1999 I met an amazing girl named Katie, an anorexic at 5.5 feet tall and 75 pounds. Her social worker asked me to step in as a mentor. Katie and I immediately bonded. Back then, the number of hospital beds available for people suffering from eating disorders was a single digit number, and the waiting time for treatment was more than six months. There was no other alternative but to admit her to a psychiatric hospital for treatment.
What is a 15 year old girl who just wants to lose a few pounds doing in a psychiatric hospital with patients who are suicidal? This was the only option available then, and after several months in treatment we were able to get her discharged at an appropriate weight. However, in 2000 I got sucked into the darkest of worlds. This was the year Michal Zoaretz invited me to be a guest on her T.V. show where the other guest was a girl who claimed I had saved her life. It was Katie, the same amazing girl I had worked with the year before.
After the show aired there were 174 voicemail on my office machine from girls, women and even some men. "Adi, save me!"
The Real Start
After meeting with several of those email writers, I understood that everyone wants the same things: acceptance and to look good, in fact, to look like those pictures we take. The models I photographed in general were a healthy American size 8 (European 38). Soon enough, however, I found myself surrounded by dozens of young girls and women suffering from the worst epidemic - eating disorders.
I met with representatives from the Ministry of Health and with commercial companies. I pointed out the relationship between the anorexia epidemic, the beauty industry, and the twisted and surreal social model we have built.
In 2003, Knesset member Inbal Gavrieli agreed to push forward a bill that limits the hiring of underweight models. The situation at this time was so desperate that we understood the only real solution was through legislation. Unfortunately, two weeks before we were able to file the bill, the government dispersed and I had to start all over again.
Hila Elmaliach, of blessed memory
In 2007, I experienced the death of a fashion victim for the first time. Hila Elmaliach was a 29-year-old anorexic model with whom I worked and counselled three days a week for three years. I helped her gain weight after 17 years of illness. We were in contact frequently, so I was really concerned when I hadn’t heard from her for three weeks. One evening her mother called me. She told me Hila was not answering my calls because she was afraid to tell me, but something happened, and I had better get to the hospital quickly.
I drove two and a half hours to the hospital more than 100 miles away. When I got there, Hila begged me to help her out of bed for a cigarette. I knew instinctively this was likely the end. I gently lifted her out of bed. She was like a chicken from the refrigerator in the supermarket, loose limbed and scrawny. She managed to smoke half a cigarette in the hallway before she collapsed in cardiac arrest. She died three hours later.
When I left the hospital in sadness and exhaustion, I vowed to myself that no matter the price, how long it will take, or what is needed, I will not allow this to happen again. It’s up to me and the many professionals in our industry to refuse to participate in the degradation of women. Here, by our own hands, our industry will no longer create this mindset that, like a drug, smashes body image and ruins the lives of so many. This disease will no longer control our lives.
My Mission and my Calling
This national eating disorder epidemic was acute, and my name and reputation so closely aligned with the cause, that when I would arrive at my studio each morning I could expect approximately 30 applications to the modelling agency, and about 20 requests concurrently on anorexia and bulimia. I realized that I could not live in two worlds at once, not as they are. I knew I needed to put everything aside and go with my calling, even if it required stepping out of my profession almost completely.
I felt I had brushed the tip of something larger than my personal experience. I’ve been privileged to live a full and wonderful life, but there is nothing like the feeling of taking a 15 year old, completely crushed and with a pulse rate of 35 beats per minute, and helping her return to school as a fully functioning, bright young girl with a smile on her face.
I realized that this is my mission and my calling.
Under the title of Simply You, we held social events throughout the country. We ran beauty contests, auditions, workshops and lectures. I met with thousands of young people each month in schools and youth communities. I met men and women soldiers and developed a collaboration with soldiers in the army to present workshops to their peers. We lectured to the business community as well, and I saw how infected and poisoned we all are from this deceptive "Skinny Drug."
It does not matter who you are or where you are from: 15 or 55 years old, if you live uptown or downtown, everyone wants to be slender. We are all striving to be thin without even knowing what the definition of thin is. Is thin 80 pounds? 120 or 140 pounds? When I started in working professionally in 1997, most models were an American size 8 (European size 38).
In 2005 I founded an NPO - The Israeli Center for Eating Habits Reform and I was able to gather good people who genuinely care about this issue to work with us.
The Israeli Center for Eating Habits Reform
As part of the NPO we found ourselves acting as a medical center. We tried to assist girls who came through our organization to get the help they needed by offering treatment by qualified nutritionists, psychologists, and life coaches free of charge. It was just a drop in the ocean.
Even if we could help a thousand girls, it would be nothing compared to the enormous chasm that has drawn almost a hundred times that number, nearly one million people, in the country today.
Eating disorders do not only come from the social model. There are 1001 reasons that can lead to a state of eating disorders, but I am a living witness to the beginning of this social disease. I was a test photographer, one of five, for international modelling agencies Elite, Ford and IMG. I was hardcore in the industry. I lived with models 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
I will never forget a press conference held by Calvin Klein to announce that the campaign featuring super skinny supermodel Kate Moss had increased sales by 450%. You may remember Kate Moss and her nearly-skeletal body as the inspiration for the term "heroin chic." At the end of the press conference, a colleague of mine said, "Well Adi, you should be pleased. From now you will only photograph real women. Because the language has changed in fashion now. Designers chose otherwise."
That same month, all the fashion magazines in Europe and in the United States promoted the new heroin chic. Photographs emphasized prominent collarbones, and many tried to imitate the famous photo of Kate Moss’s protruding spine.
I still did not understand the implications of this trend, but I realized that the emphasis was being placed on something very, very wrong.
I met with major advertisers and CEOs of leading companies in the country. I tried to persuade the very people enslaved to the thinness model. I tried to explain to them, show them, and let them experience what I see. Unfortunately, almost nobody cared. Fashion industry leaders: CEO’s and VPs of Marketing, Advertising Agency creative department supervisors, all turned a blind eye to this epidemic. No one would stand up and say “No.” They may have understood the problem after I exposed it, but none had the strength of character to break with the pack and not use anorexic models in their promotions.
For 12 years I attended every meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, where they discussed this issue. Finally the Secretary of Public Inquiries found someone who would be sympathetic to my concerns. The Secretary told me, "I know you're desperate, but before you give up, you must meet an amazing woman, a Member of Knesset, who is a medical doctor." I was introduced to Dr. Rachel Adato.
When I met Dr. Adato I poured my heart out to her.
I shared everything I knew with her; evidence, personal observations, and facts I had gathered in the previous 10 years. "Adi,” she said, “I see you are a marathon runner. I am a marathon runner as well. We must prove only one thing to this House of Parliament. Our bill will save lives." We entered a marathon of work, studies, home visits to patients, site visits to countless hospitals and clinics. We did a complete job.
We used the resources of the Health Ministry, various psychiatrists, professors, and universities. Our objective was to understand the effects of the current beauty model. After a year and a half of hard work we all came to one conclusion: there is a direct connection between the beauty model, body image problems, and eating disorders. The link is direct and decisive.
In all those years we were aided by the media, who took on this cause and exposed it to the public. Israel television channel 2 news and daily newspapers Yedioth Ahronot and Israel Hayom embraced our cause and led the way. There is no way that this law would have passed without their support.
About a year and a half ago, the Photoshop Law passed which basically prohibits underweight models from appearing in advertisements and limits the use of software such as Photoshop to digitally enhance images of narrow waists and unrealistic body images. Sadly, the law is on the books but is not enforced.
So now we’re at a stage where we must decide. I can't answer even 10% of the messages I get for help. It rips me apart. I cannot run workshops as frequently as we need to because there are more and more girls in desperate need of attention. It is time we all take responsibility and act on two levels: prevention and treatment.
In the past year we have prepared ourselves well and planned the revolution. In our arsenal we have an excellent legal team at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, led by Attorney Ilan Jonash and mentor attorney Dr. Raanan Har-Zahav. We have a concept that fits the schools and the education system, and we are in contact with the people in charge. There is a new wind blowing in the Ministry of Education and it is blessed.
We created a new language, a new website and an army of soldiers and activists around the world. We have opened our first branches in London and New York, and are looking to have outposts in at least 16 other countries. Our foot soldiers are all young, talented professionals hungry for change. The new language differentiates between the lie and the truth. It makes a distinction between fantasy and reality, between the real and the unreal.
Our mission it to make advertisers and fashion designers understand they have gone too far. The images they hunger for of thinness by using software to manipulate photographs is destructive. From now on, we will set the rules. Fashion designers must understand that their mandate is to match the clothing to the woman and not the woman to the clothing. There is a wide variety of body types. Real women do not exist in only one size.
We understand the fashion industry has its foundation in the realm of fantasy. We support creativity. However, fashion must be connected to reality, to a realistic vision, one that you can smell, one that you can touch. Certainly not one that you can die from.
This revolution is a shift in perception. It will not impact revenue. It is not a major change. We must distinguish between thin and too thin. It’s really the difference between life and death
Regarding treatment, we have a mission to open a unique center specializing in body image issues. We have all the tools, the knowledge and an amazing team in place to pull it off. This is where all of our resources will go to. All that remains is to establish it.
The number one cause of death in Israel for young people between the ages of 15-24 is anorexia. More than a million patients in the country suffer from eating disorders. At least 50% of them are social disease patients. It is possible for that 50% to be decreased to 0. We remains firm in our commitment that the end justifies any means.
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