Last month, the Knesset passed a two-pronged law aimed at tackling eating disorders. Fashion models are now required to produce medical records proving that they are not malnourished. In the absence of proof of sufficient body mass — in accordance with World Health Organization standards — they cannot be hired for photo shoots, commercials, or runway shows. In addition, images of models that have been airbrushed or Photoshopped must have an accompanying disclaimer.
The idea behind the legislation is to prevent further self-starvation on the part of models, while assisting the rest of the female population to espouse a "broader" view of beauty, both literally and figuratively.
Good intentions aside, this law will not eliminate anorexia and bulimia — mysterious mental illnesses that go way deeper than Barbie-envy. Nor will it be of help to any other women in the normal range of misery about their appearance, unless there is a sea change in the overall attitude toward "looks," which have come to occupy a higher rung on our ladder of priorities than substance.
Two blatant examples from the past week come to mind, and they aren't pretty.
The first is the endless chatter about a commercial that aired during the Super Bowl. The ad is for "Go Daddy," an internet domain registrar. In it, Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli kisses "Walter the Nerd" (played by actor Jesse Heiman). The slogan: "When sexy meets smart."
Judging by the amount of coverage the commercial received, one could easily assume that the notion of such a gorgeous woman making out with a man of a lower aesthetic caliber was more disgusting than the prospect of a blatantly anti-Israel Chuck Hagel being appointed as U.S. defense secretary or the renewal of ties between Egypt and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The list of actual horrors goes on, but you get the non-airbrushed picture.
Not one critic of the inane commercial has suggested that maybe "sexy" would be lucky to meet "smart." Nor did any man-or-woman-on-the-street express anything other than revulsion at Refaeli's jaw-locking with someone so "beneath" her on the sizzle scale. (Clearly, none of these geniuses has contemplated whom they'd rather have with them while trying to stave off an Iranian attack.)
The second case of public outrage exploded after Tuesday's swearing-in ceremony for the 120 members of the 19th Knesset.
This outcry erupted not due to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu having yet to assemble a coalition. Nor was it the result of the Arab MKs exiting the hall, so as not to be present during the singing of the national anthem. No. What preoccupied the press most was the black lace dress with a see-through midriff that Netanyahu's wife, Sara, wore to the event.
Indeed, photos of the heavy-set woman in the poor choice of outfit circulated everywhere, with no disclaimers of any kind. The very Knesset that just re-enacted a law to prevent us from idealizing skinny Sports Illustrated cover girls was now the focus of ridicule due to the stomach bulge of the first lady.
The fact that neither Bar Refaeli's kiss nor Sara Netanyahu's clothing was relegated to the fashion or gossip pages is a good gauge of the "weight" that is given to beauty, or lack thereof.
It is this ugly state of affairs that explains the meteoric rise of Yair Lapid to "kingmaker" in this Knesset. His TV-star looks, stage presence, and confidence in the spotlight were far more important to the throngs who cast their votes for him than his political ideas. Hardly anybody bothered to read his past op-eds, many of which directly contradicted the platform on which he eventually ran. But even if they had, it wouldn't have mattered; his campaign was based on his pretty face and promises of "hope" for the "equal distribution of societal responsibilities" — which means having the ultra-Orthodox serve in the military.
Slim platform pickings, considering the threat from Iran and its proxies and a second term of U.S. President Barack Obama, who is about to pay a visit to the region to pressure Netanyahu in person. Still, both the public and the press expect Lapid to become the next foreign minister. "He's handsome and he speaks English," is what is listed as his qualifications at water coolers and over the airwaves.
With those criteria, Netanyahu could give Bar Refaeli the job. And she wouldn't even have to produce her Body Mass Index papers to qualify.
Ruthie Blum is the author of "To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the 'Arab Spring.'"