Academics say airbrushed images do harm girls and boys

A group of 44 academics is lobbying the Advertising Standards Authority to change the rules on ads featuring airbrushed models, following the publication of a research paper which says that such ads encourage eating disorders and self-harm.

The paper was organised by the Liberal Democrats as part of their Real Women campaign, which calls for a ban on airbrushed advertising images aimed at children, and for ads aimed at adults to carry a disclaimer.

From the Telegraph:

The paper has been submitted to the Advertising Standards Agency with a call for all airbrushed adverts to carry a notice making clear the images have been artificially enhanced.

It has been written by Dr Helga Dittmar of the University of Sussex, Dr Emma Halliwell of the University of the West of England and backed by 42 more academics.

The experts write: “Media images that depict ultra-thin, digitally altered women models are linked to body dissatisfaction and unhealthy eating in girls and women.”

Among the problems that can arise include “unhealthy dieting regimes and problematic eating behaviours (starving, bingeing, and purging), clinical eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia), cosmetic surgery and extreme exercising.”

Read the full Telegraph article here to find out how boys were also found to be affected by airbrushing in advertising, and Jo Swinson MP’s hopes that the research will persuade the ASA to change the rules.

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  • Few questions:

    Have those involved in this issue given any thought to how this would be policed, and how much that would cost?

    Do those involved with this issue really think that making professionally lit, professionally shot models very slightly less perfect will make a measurable difference to anyone’s body-image problems?

    Have those involved in this issue considered that they might be better off in the bloody Labour party with all the other reactionary dingbats who think that banning things is the answer to everything?

  • How do you enforce it, from a technical point of view?

    As someone who works with digital images, I can’t see any way that doesn’t simply rely on trusting the publisher to tell the truth.

    And if you can’t enforce it, then what’s the point in legislating for it?

  • Iainm I’m sure I’ll be corrected if this is wrong but the proposal at conference was only for something to be enforced by the ASA, which as I understand it is not taxpayer funded.
    Of course that does make me wonder about their impartiality, sounds about as good as the press complaints commission or Guido’s story of the Tory MP’s ‘independent research’ done by a company set up by his previous parliamentary researcher and daughter.

  • Iainm you probably couldn’t manage 100% enforcement and it would probably just make the advertisers search harder and pay more for models who have naturally unobtainable beauty.

    However it would be pretty easy to enforce it partially (which is all the ASA does with it’s current rules anyway). Which according to the science bods in the article above (I can’t say I’ve ready any of the research) would improve matters.

  • James:

    It makes no difference to the basic point. The ASA couldn’t enforce it either, because it’s unenforceable. So what’s the point?

  • Andrew Suffield 10th Nov '09 - 2:00pm

    Well, primary enforcement is going to be against the most egregious cases, which are also the major problems: photographs that clearly do not look like the well-known person they are displaying, because somebody has taken two inches off their waist and added a cup size. Changing the weight and body shape of models (to proportions that would be unhealthy) is what people are most concerned about.

  • Andrew:

    That doesn’t answer my question, it just re-states the ‘problem’.

    The overwhelming majority of photographs that appear in any kind of advert have been digitally re-touched to some extent. That’s true whether it’s a photo of a celebrity, or a holiday destination, or a car, or a can of baked beans. So the proposal isn’t about putting warnings on photos that have been re-touched, it’s about putting warnings on an arbitrarily defined sub-set of those photos; photos that have been re-touched ‘too much’.

    And if this policy is to be enforced at all then not only do you need to come up with a much tighter definition of what constitutes ‘too much’ than ‘just the most egrarious examples’, but you need to come up with a way of identifying which photos belong in that category, and of proving that they do once identified. Waving your hands in the air and declaring that the ASA will sort it out just doesn’t cut it I’m afraid.

    Really, this whole thing smacks of ‘Something must be done. This is something, therefor we must do it.’ If I’d seen this proposal in isolation I would have assumed it to be a Harriet Harman policy, and there’s really no worse condemnation than that. It’s exactly the sort of half-baked New Labour nanny-state drivel that people are sick of, and it’s astounding and depressing to see it being championed and supported by so many Lib Dems.

    I’d even go so far as to say it makes me oddly glad that you have no chance of forming a government. As trivial is the issue may be (which is part of the problem) it does give a little insight into what a ‘liberal’ government might look like in practice, and it’s not flattering.

One Trackback

  • By ASA bans ‘misleading’ Twiggy advert on Wed 16th December 2009 at 2:21 pm.

    […] recent Liberal Democrat commissioned report by the world’s leading body image experts contained scientific evidence showing how the use of airbrushing to promote body perfect […]

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