TODAY   |  February 18, 2013

Israel bans overly thin models from working

Iconic fashion photographer Adi Barkan pressed Israeli politicians to create a law that bans models who are too thin from hitting the runway and appearing in advertisements after one of his models died from anorexia. While many applaud the law, now if effect, some in the industry think it stifles free speech. NBC’s Jim Maceda reports.

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>>> fashion week just wrapped up here in new york. a chance to see the latest styles and to renew the debate over those waif-like models used to promote them. one country is saying enough is enough. nbc's jim maceda has that story. jim , good morning.

>> reporter: good morning, carl. well, kate moss , giselle and clearly many of the models here at london fashion week as well, beware. it's now official. you'll be out of work, at least in israel, if you're too thin. every photo shoot is a personal victory for israeli model margo stelman. her sister, also a model, died from anorexia, the eating disorder . but stelman, 21, is working at the highest level and not starving herself.

>> i thought it a very sad, sad thing to it. and now we're bringing the healthy models back.

>> reporter: in fact, super thin models are now illegal here. israeli law bans them from working if their body mass index or bmi, combination of height and weight, is less than 18.5. that is, less than 118 pounds if you're 5'7". it also prohibits advertisers from publishing digitally manipulated images without a clear, written warning that the pictures you are seeing are photo shopped.

>> they look at the tv and want to be skinny without any reason just because they saw beautiful and skinny girls. that, we can change.

>> reporter: an iconic fashion photographer until one of his models died in his arms from anorexia. shocked, he put down his cameras and reached out to hundreds of sick, young models, offering help. he eventually pressed politicians to pass the world's only law that protects the vulnerable from the fashion world's dark side .

>> for now they're not going to be too skinny. this is the difference between life and death .

>> reporter: model whose lived on crash diets are flocking to his studio and eating burgers during breaks. but not everyone is happy. an international model whose image appears on some of the world's top magazine covers, but her bmi is too low to work in israel. she thinks it's a stupid law . i'm a healthy person, she said, but this law deprives me of the right for me to practice my profession. indeed, it never would pass in another country that suffers from eating disorders . america.

>> that would not fly here. it would be an impermissible abridge to free speech.

>> reporter: spreading, embraced by young models, putting the pounds back on and loving it. some israelis leading that charge say they're coming to new york in april to persuade top fashion companies to ban super thin models there as well. the fight, they say, has just begun. we'll see. carl, back to you.

>> jim maceda, thanks, jim .