Home Office report recommends labelling of airbrushed images aimed at children

The Home Office has published an independent review into the sexualisation of young people, conducted by psychologist Linda Papadopoulos.

The report warns that children are being increasingly exposed to sexual imagery through advertising, music videos, computer games, magazines and some children’s clothing lines.

From the BBC:

Unless sexualisation is accepted as harmful, we will miss an important opportunity… to broaden young people’s beliefs about where their values lies,” said Dr Papadopoulos, a psychologist. The report’s 36 recommendations include calling for games consoles, mobile phones and some computers to be sold with parental controls already switched on.”

Other recommendations include banning “sexualised” music videos before the TV watershed, making digital literacy a compulsory part of the curriculum from age 5, and labelling airbrushed images:

Evidence suggests that even brief exposure to airbrushed images can lead to acute body dissatisfaction. To help combat this, efforts to raise levels of media literacy should be accompanied by initiatives aimed at encouraging society to take a more critical and questioning approach to the harmful perpetuation of unrealistic ideals. I therefore recommend the introduction of a system of ratings symbols for photographs to show the extent to which they have been altered. This is particularly critical in magazines targeting teen and pre-teen audiences.
[Sexualisation of Young People Review by Dr Linda Papadopoulos, page 83]

The BBC, in reporting the findings, indulges in a little airbrushing of its own:

Both Labour and the Conservatives are examining the issues.

Where’s the mention of the high profile Real Women campaign led by Jo Swinson? (BBC ignoring Lib Dems? Surely not…)

Jo, along with Lynne Featherstone, met with the Advertising Standards Authority this week to discuss the use of airbrushed images, and told Lib Dem Voice,

The Government has been dismissive of Liberal Democrat proposals to tackle harmful airbrushing, but now the Home Office’s own review shows that this is issue which needs urgent action.

Pressure on children to conform to unhealthy body image ideals is something many parents are extremely concerned about, and we welcome Dr. Papadopoulous’ report. When it comes to children, airbrushed adverts aimed at them need to be banned.

We will be holding a body image debate in Parliament on 8th March to take this important campaign forward.

You can read the full report: Sexualisation of Young People Review by Dr Linda Papadopoulos here.

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This entry was posted in News.


  • Oh Jock, surely if we’ve learned any lesson from the past twelve years it’s that there is no such thing as too many rules or too much bureaucracy, and that if a policy is well-intended then it is worth pursuing no matter how impractical or bone-headed it may be.

    You clearly haven’t been paying attention.

  • What, this report by Dr Papodopolous vindicates Jo Swinson’s policy which was based on the last report by Dr Papodopolous which said exactly the same thing.

    It’ll be done and dusted when Dr Papodopolous releases her next report then.

    What an embarrassment, and a stark indication that the Lib Dems possess a nannying instinct at least as cloying and irrational as anything you’d find in the Labour party.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 27th Feb '10 - 1:14am

    Now, now Jock. You know Mark is right. We should be more humane.

    Just try to be More Like Mark.

    (Not when he’s plastering Tory Councillors’ personal problems all over the Internet, of course, But that’s completely different. Votes are at stake there, for heaven’s sake!)

  • The most amusing thing about this policy is the idea that labeling these images will somehow magically help the “problem”.

    An unattainable ideal is an unattainable ideal. Sticking a warning label on it makes it no less unattainable and, more importantly, no less of an implied ideal. The message doesn’t go away just because you’ve labelled it.

    All this policy will achieve is to add a layer of bureaucracy and associated cost to the advertising industry which ultimately will get passed on to consumers. I suspect most ad guys will just live with the labels and they’ll become so ubiquitous they’ll lose all impact, a few will find ways around the rules, a few will intentionally provoke the ASA in order to get a bit of publicity, and a tiny number will adhere to the rules in the spirit they were intended but no one will notice because the only indication that they’re doing so will be the absence of a label that no one says attention to anyway. The images we see in the media won’t change substantively and so little girls (or psychologists, or MPs) with body-image problems will just have to lump it exactly as they do now.

  • Go on then Huw, or anyone else who wants to have a go, please define ‘Image manipulation’ in a way that’s enforceable, i.e. that isn’t either so vague as to be meaningless or so wide as to apply to all images. And then describe the mechanism by which you would identify such an image and prove that it had been manipulated.

    I’ve challenged proponents of this policy to come up with such a definition a few times but I’ve yet to recieve one. All I ever get is a load of hand-waving about how easy it should be.

  • The only thing that bothers me about this whole issue is… that without airbrushing, surely there will me more pressure on models and performers to look absolutely perfect even without airbrushing. Certainly the idea of a rating system might help. That you can look at a picture and know instantly that it has been airbrushed. Also, in the long run, the better thing is to aim for a culture where all shapes and sizes are accepted, and attempts to make people look “perfect” are frowned upon, and seen as cheap and tacky.

  • I have a problem with the idea that we should look at ‘sexualisation’ as harmful. Not necessarily. That view easily leads to moralising prudish oppression, more harmful than any ‘sexualisation’ (which, if nobody has noticed, is natural).

    Having said that there is no problem with labelling airbrushed photos, I would be mildly interested to know which have been.

  • Providing useful information isn’t the same as censorship or nannying. There’s always been resistance to it, of course – but ingredients labelling on food, film classification, and the like are a valued part of life. I expect that the airbrushing labels will become the same.

    I also suspect that many people commenting here have little or no knowledge of young people, and how vulnerable they are to pressure. Naturally these airbrushed ads are just one part of a culture which puts overwhelming, damaging pressure on children, particularly female children; but every little helps. Bring on the labelling system!

    (While writing, I wish to add that I’d be happier if the Government would be slightly less eager to employ people who have been on the telly, and slightly more eager to trust those who have relevant, respected research experience in the subject at hand. Sigh.)

  • Does every little help? If something does not work, it does not work. Crossing fingers will not encourage it to work nor will citing the fact that people feel under pressure to conform.

    If Lib Dem are so keen on education, then it should start at home and they should educate themselves about the evidence for this scheme actually working.

  • The point is, though, that these images are *lies*. There is extremely good research which shows that these lies do indeed have detrimental effects (eg Groesz et al, 2002). Whilst I always encourage policymakers to implement some sort of effectiveness measure along with new initiatives, I truly can’t imagine why a lie – particularly such a damaging one – shouldn’t be flagged as such, and the benefits of this action monitored later.

  • Alix, good post. I would say though that having a little notice ‘this photo has been airbrushed’ is pretty harmless (and ineffective, but anyway) so I have no problem with it.

    I think there is another confusion to the ones you’ve outlined: what is this targetting? The Home office quack said this was about sexualisation. I see that as unplausable. It may be about expectatations and conformity pressure (in which case, it would inlcude women, as you say, not just girls), which is a good thing to tackle in principle, but I don’t think this, or any other solution I’ve heard will help. It really is about parenting and education: there may be things the government can do, directly or indirectly, and things indeed may be going on as we speak to that effect. But culture is (thankfully) out of the hands of government to a large extent.

    I know that as people wanting to get votes, MPs will trumpet minor adjustments as game-changing solutions, but it just seems a bit weak.

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