Flick through the pages of any magazine, and you will find heavily airbrushed images of thin models presenting a very narrow ideal of beauty.
Bombarded with dozens of these advertising images every day, it is no wonder that we internalise these messages. Body image pressure on women, and increasingly men too, can lead to low self-esteem, and in some cases more extreme impacts. Cosmetic surgery rates are rising dramatically, as are the numbers of people being treated for eating disorders.
We must challenge the commercially-driven conformity of the “perfect body”.
For starters, we should bring some honesty into advertising. Advertisers make big money from false images of seemingly flawless women. Creating insecurities helps to sell ever more fashion, beauty, and slimming products. The images in the ads are fake – touched up in the computer suite to flatten tummies, slim down thighs, whiten teeth, inflate breasts, plump skin and thicken hair. It’s downright dishonest, and we have a right to know what has gone on. All adverts should carry labels with information about the extent to which the people in them have been retouched. Industry should be consulted to develop a clear and consistent labeling scheme, and the Advertising Standards Authority can enforce this with a simple change to their code of practice.
So far the ASA have refused to act, citing a lack of complaints about airbrushed adverts – last year just 5. As a result of our campaigning so far this year they have received almost 1000 complaints.
By labelling the extent of airbrushing in adverts, people will be more informed, and companies may also feel pressure to be a bit more restrained with their digital enhancements – just like food manufacturers made their recipes healthier in response to the traffic light nutritional labelling scheme.
Getting a wider range of body shapes and sizes represented in the media is also important. Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” using real women is ground-breaking, but 5 years on it is still notable as the exception rather than the rule.
“All Walks Beyond The Catwalk” (www.allwalksbeyondthecatwalk.org) is trying to change the world of fashion. Designers currently produce tiny sample sizes which dictates that the models must also be tiny: change is needed right through the industry from design schools to model agencies and advertisers.
Change is also needed from consumers, wielding their purchasing power and complaining about irresponsible images to the ASA (www.asa.org.uk) and advertisers directly. If you also want change, then do your bit. You can sign up to support this campaign at www.realwomen.org.uk