Addressing the idea of plus-size in Israel

Have you heard the story of Israeli fashion blogger Zohar Vasilevitsky?  Quite literally, her story is last week’s news. Still, brings with it an issue that in itself is quite timeless.

It’s the story of real women who get fat shamed for being “plus-size.”

I cringe when I hear the word “plus-size.” Many of your friends will tell you the same. Zohar, however, is empowered by her curvy figure. She’s so empowered that she’s started an outfit-driven fashion blog, embracing her body and showcasing it to the world in the latest beauty and fashion trends. She’s not afraid to post a picture of herself wearing a hip hugging pencil skirt, a sleeveless top or even *gasp* a tight fitting, skin showing red bikini.

Here’s the thing about Zohar. She’s totally not afraid to flaunt her figure, but she definitely won’t stay quiet if someone decides to insult it.

Image Courtesy of Zohar Vasilevitsky

Recently, a male fitness instructor Zohar did not know decided to take that picture of her in the bikini and compare it to a picture of a Miss Fitness America/body builder type in a Facebook post.   

He lined up the photos side by side and told his Facebook audience that most of the women in the world look like Zohar, but that most of the women should look like the body builder, implying they would if they worked out in the gym (and worked out with him.) One of the readers of Zohar’s popular Israeli fashion blog Little Miss Sunshine, sent her the link and she sat her in her room staring at the picture for 5 hours. She didn’t know what to do. She was hurt, offended, and insulted, but not for the reason you might think. Sure, it was traumatic to have your photo taken and posted without your consent. Still, the real insult was obvious — this fitness instructor was making a generalization about Zohar and all full-figured women everywhere. He was saying that there was a reason for them to be ashamed of their bodies.

After some serious thought and some reaffirmation that she truly did love her curves, Zohar decided to take action. She wrote a scathing reply to the male fitness instructor telling him that she was proud of herself but distraught that he would not only take her picture without her permission but also suggest or imply that women that look like her can’t be proud of their bodies. “One who acts with bullying – will eventually get a dose of his own medicine,” she wrote in Hebrew.

In fact, the fitness instructor did get a dose – and it came on stronger than anyone could have imagined. Zohar’s story spread like wildfire in Israel – eventually going viral and gaining the attention of some very powerful Israeli media publications and broadcasters including Mako, Yediot Aharonot, Zmanim Modernim (Modern Times) magazine, and more. Zohar also posted to her own Facebook page and blog, promoting her “real girl” vibe and urging other girls to rebel against the negative perceptions of beauty in society that like the idea that an overweight woman can’t be beautiful.

The responses earned her an appearance on the most popular Israeli morning show, 8,000-plus likes on Facebook and comments that were mainly positive. Something she learned upon reading the talkbacks – the men were the most supportive of all! The majority of the men who commented praised her body and said they prefer more meat than skin and bones. “The media and diet industry did such a good job on us,” she wrote in Hebrew, “It’s amazing how disconnected from reality we are in our desire to lose weight.”

In the end, the fitness instructor who put up the picture without her permission apologized to Zohar and she forgave him, believing he learned his lesson.

But while she may have won her battle, the weight war rages on in this country.

So what is the deal with the idea of plus-size in Israel? This answer is much larger than the space of a blog post and a few recent events makes me think we’ve got a long way to go.

Recently, a controversial ad campaign appearing on billboards across Tel Aviv drew harsh criticism because of its grotesque depiction of obese children. The ads urged parents to be aware of their child’s behavior and eating habits so that they won’t become obese. Behind the campaign was a company called JCDecaux, an advertising company trying to raise awareness about obesity in children. While the campaign raised eyebrows for its assertive nature, much of the population found it shameful because the ads embarrassed parents and children without offering any viable solution to combat the child obesity problem.

Image Courtesy of Mako

We all know that Israelis are known for their blunt honesty, but why do some of them feel the need to fat shame in order to get their message across?

According to a blogger that spoke to Mako, there is another poster that says that one out of every four girls in Israel does not like to shop due to a weight problem.

My thoughts on the matter? It’s not only that people are uncomfortable being plus-size in Israel. It’s that the idea of plus-size is not completely and totally accepted by the general public in a variety of ways. Your average plus-size woman will understand this when she tries to go shopping and realizes that her choice of clothing is extremely limited.  With exception of stores like ML, specifically targeting plus-size women, there are very few sizes offered to full-figured women with big busts, larger bellies, or growing backsides.

This begs the question: Do many of the middle-age women in Israel dress badly merely because their options and resources are limited? While farfetched, this theory may not be far from the truth.

Did you know that Israel has an annual Miss Fat & Beautiful pageant held every year in Beersheva? Are these women embarrassing themselves or are they merely flaunting their physiques?

In truth, not everything is negative when it comes to weight issues in Israel. I have a close Israeli friend who, like Zohar, completely owns her curves. I think she dresses better than any Israeli plus-size woman I’ve ever seen. She is a queen and she knows it. When I ask her if she has trouble shopping for clothes, she shrugs but says that she easily finds all her clothes in your typical Israeli stores – Golbary, ML, Honigman, and picking through the shops on the streets of Allenby. When it comes down to it, most of the Israeli plus-size women are not ashamed of their voluptuous bodies. In fact, they own it and only wish that there was more available to them.

Two other great examples are fashion bloggers Ray Segev and Maxine Butlion. Not yet 30 years old, Ray Segev has already made a career out of being curvy. The story goes that Ray, a design school graduate and costume and set designer by profession, was photographed by a photographer about 3 years ago in an event that changed her life. It was then that she realized that she spent too many years hiding behind the camera lens instead of being in front of it and her dream of being a model was realized after she started a blog that proved that her natural beauty was at the heart of her pictures, not her size 14 clothing. Since starting her blog RayPlus in 2009, this model has appeared in campaigns for the likes of Israeli fashion brands Castro, Alembika, Delta, and magazines like Zmanim Modernim and Vogue Italia. Her blog Ray Plus has a slew of avid followers and she regularly runs workshops on the subject of youth and body image.

Image Courtesy of RayPlus

Maxine Butlion, a native South African, lives in Israel where she waxes poetic about girly plus-size fashion on her blog The Big Princess. The blog was formerly known as Big is Also Beautiful. She writes that her blog is to show that young plus-size women can be beautiful and dress with style. Her page carries the badge Fat Acceptance Blog and Maxine wears form fitting little black dresses with pride. Like bloggers Zohar and Ray, Maxine has become somewhat of a celebrity in Israel after appearing on the Israeli TV reality show Dating in the Dark where she continued her to tell the world how proud she was of herself and her body.

To cap off this blog post, I’d like to remind you that it was an Israeil photographer that urged the Knesset to pass body image laws in Israel banning the use of underweight models in advertising. The law requires that any ad agency that digitally alters a photo to make a model look thinner must say so in the ad. The law bans the use of thin images from foreign advertising in Israel. Models with a body image index of 18.5 or less will not be allowed to appear in advertising. The passing of this law gained much media attention from fashion publications around the globe with many saying the rest of the world needs to follow in Israel’s footsteps.

If this is the same country that can create a healthy law like that, why can’t it be more accommodating to the full-figured woman?

About the Author
Simona Kogan is an online writer, content editor and pop culture fanatic whose favorite topics include Israeli fashion and culture. Originally from New Jersey, she exploded onto the Israeli scene in December 2007. Back then, she was one of the first writers to blog about Israeli fashion in English for her blog Fashion Israel.