With dark eyes, full lips and never-ending legs, Caroline Pires had little difficulty getting into the modeling industry. Spotted on a New York street by a model scout when she was 12, Pires quickly landed a highly coveted Ralph Lauren campaign. But when she turned 16, Pires started to "fill out." She had curves that weren't there before -- and clients weren't happy.
"I was now a size 2, and I definitely had hips," the 5'11 brunette who has had a recurring role on Army Wives told IBTimes. "That was considered unacceptable."
Clients would call Pires in after seeing her pictures, but she didn't fit into the size 0 or 00 clothes they wanted her to put on. "I lost out many times because they didn't think I was thin enough."
This week Pires, now 20, and others in the fashion industry, are debating the merits of a new law passed in Israel banning skinny models with a Body Mass Index -- weight divided by height -- lower than 18.5. Aimed at curbing eating disorders among young women, the law also requires advertisers to disclose if models have been digitally altered in Photoshop to make them look thinner.
With a relatively tiny population of 7.6 million, Israel seems an unlikely agent of change. But the U.S. Congress took similar action in February, creating the first-ever caucus to address eating disorders, while Milan and Madrid have previously instituted the same guidelines for their Fashion Weeks. Now model managers, fashion designers and editors are scrambling to explain why the United States should not follow suit.
"There are always models who are trying to fit into a body they don't have," Michael Farkas, a New York-based talent manager who has worked with Ford, Elite and Wilhelmina, said. "But this law could adversely affect models who are naturally thin. Agencies and advertisers aren't asking for certain measurements to be mean or manipulative. There's a standard sample size of clothing that a model needs to fit into."
Farkas says reputable agencies are vigilant about sending home models who are unhealthy. "None of the agencies I've worked with actively supported anyone who was in distress," he explained. "Most agents would confront the problem and try to assist the model."
Though Israeli lawmakers, like Rachel Adato, who sponsored the bill, are concerned about the health of models, they are more alarmed by the growing number of eating disorders among pre-teens and teens. Lynn Grefe, president and CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association, sees a direct link between these advertisements and, what the organization estimates as, 24 million eating disorders in the United States each year.
"Maybe the ads don't cause the eating disorder, but they certainly contribute to it," Grefe said. "Looking at images of skinny models without a single pore or wrinkle makes girls -- and even boys -- feel like they're not normal."
Grefe is thrilled with the Israeli law and wants to use it as a platform for U.S legislation. "It takes strong leadership to get this engine on the tracks," she said. "If this country took this step it would send a message on a much bigger level."
Hollywood isn't immune to this problem. Today, most of the covers of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar feature celebrities, not models. This change has created added pressure among stylists and their clients. "Four is the sample size for most editorial shoots," Pamela Watson, a stylist who works with Jessica Simpson, explained. "Unless you have that body type, it's difficult to fit into the mold."
As a result, she has seen many actresses "freak out" on set if they are not fitting into the clothes they're given. To avoid anxiety and drama, Watson will often cut labels out of clothing so that actresses don't become obsessed with the number. "I don't have time for a mental breakdown when I'm trying to get someone on the red carpet or set."
Before Spanx was invented, Watson used to Saran Wrap a celebrity's stomach so it would look narrow and tight. She admits that Photoshop has made her job easier, but it hasn't made celebrities any less nervous.
When lunch arrives on the set, many stars move the food around their plates without consuming much at all, Watson says. "They put food on their plates so it looks like they're eating. But they then [shuffle] the food around like chess pieces. So most of it goes in the garbage." By that point, Watson says, other people on the set aren't paying attention.
For this reason, Watson applauds Simpson for agreeing to appear on Elle's April cover nude while pregnant. "Jessica's weight has always fluctuated," she said. " Going naked showed that she's beautiful and confident" in this larger body.
Despite these pressures, Adam Moore, a wellness coach at The Sports Club LA in Manhattan, and Sharon Gesthalter, an Israeli brand strategist, both feel that the focus on Body Mass Index, or BMI, is misguided.
"BMI doesn't give us an accurate sense of what's going on with the body," Moore said. "You could have two women with the same BMI. One is healthy and the other isn't." One of the problems, trainers contend, is that BMI doesn't account for the ratio between muscle and fat.
Moore and Gesthalter also suspect that models will find quick ways to gain and lose weight in order to get around the law. "Is this law around to save models? Or are we trying to change the way little girls think?" Moore questioned. "Skinny dolls and cartoons send a message, too."
"The intention of the law is good," Gesthalter, who has worked on Israeli ad campaigns, said. "But the solution is off. I would prefer to see people devising educational programs for children and adults."
Nevertheless, Gesthalter believes that a Photoshop disclosure has merits. "Where do you draw the line?" she asked, referring to digitally altering photos. "Advertising is a big industry and we're not going to eradicate it. So we need to work with what we have."