Barkan says that he has always seen the campaign to promote healthy body images as a matter of life and death.
When a 15-year-old girl named Katy came to him in 1997 for help in finding modeling jobs, he instead immediately brought her to the hospital, where he sat with her every night to make sure she ate. Shortly after Katy was released from the hospital, Barkan appeared as a guest on a morning television show. The host said to Barkan, "I want to show you something, a girl whose life you saved," and Katy appeared on stage to tell her story and express her gratitude, Barkan recalls.
After his television appearance, Barkan received 174 phone calls from women pleading “Help me, I’m going to die,” he recalls.
“I saw them all – children, women – everybody wanting to be good-looking. When I asked them, 'What does it mean?' they said, 'The girls that you shoot.' Then I understood that we are the problem,” Barkan says.
In 2007, when another client, a girl named Hila Elmalich who was diagnosed with anorexia, died in his arms at the hospital, he was spurred to greater action – campaigning for legislation that would help suppress the rising trend of underweight models.
“We went out on the balcony and she started to smoke a cigarette. She had a heart attack, and fell down upon me. Right then, I took an oath that I would not give up until I pass this law,” Barkan says.
His campaign to raise awareness of anorexia, which he had initiated three years earlier with the coordination of Ms. Adato, the Knesset member, gained momentum, despite the fact that illness remained relatively unacknowledged in Israel. In March 2012 the law was finally pushed through the Knesset.
Adato, a former lawyer and gynecologist, says she hoped it would promote a healthy body image among Israeli women, and consequently lower the rates of anorexia and other eating disorders. As is the case in many other countries, eating disorders in Israel have risen with globalization and the subsequent import of American goods and culture, say experts here.