Jo Swinson Stands Against Unrealistic Body Image in Advertising
The name Jo Swinson may not be familiar to you. I didn’t even know she existed until last week. Yet, she is now my new heroine. Swinson, a Scottish politician successfully lobbied against two makeup ads in the UK and got the Advertising Standard Authority in the UK to ban them. The reason: both ads featured unrealistic results of what a specific makeup product could achieve and were exaggeratedly misleading. Both ads were overly airbrushed (aka photoshopped). The two women featured in the ads were Julia Roberts and model Christy Turlington.
In the states, we’ve had our own successes pulling dangerous ads off the air. For example, Yoplait pulled an ad about a month ago after receiving pressure from the National Eating Disorder Association. The ad, according to the association, could trigger dangerous behavior in people with eating disorders.
The difference between the UK and the US is that no official advertising watchdog exists in the states and the Yoplait ad only got pulled thanks to heavy lobbying from one association. But no standard protocol or entity exist this side of the world to formally curb misleading, dangerous advertising that promote unrealistic body images. Advertisers are pretty much able to digitally manipulate anything we see on the air, leading girls and women of all ages to falsely believe the promises some of these so-called miracle creams, pills, and beverages can do.
Many people would argue that the responsibility lies on the consumer; in fact that “they should know better”. But it’s hard to tell fiction from reality when all we get bombarded with is images of perfect, ageless women. But, what about government’s responsibility to protect their own citizens from unscrupulous corporations who basically sell false hope in a bottle? There are federal bureaus to protect us from toxic waste, from terrorism, and in the past few years from smoking. And yet, beauty and self-image issues are rarely touched upon. Beauty and self-image are implicitly tied to health and wellness, yet, government has overlooked the importance of promoting realistic images.
Even false medical info-tainment for pills or other products, that will “give you the body you always wanted” and which many have been proven to be dangerous, get away with selling just by adding fine print to an ad saying “this hasn’t been approved by the FDA”. So, I guess my question is: If the FDA hasn’t approved it, then why the heck do we allow these companies to get on the air and sell in the first place?
As a communications professor I also see the ethical dilemma. Advertisers should be able to sell and market the product but we have to ask how far is too far. This isn’t only an advertising issue. Some modeling companies in Europe have also taken a stand and will not accept women that are overly skinny, which is another step forward.
Yet, here in the states a lot of work still needs to be done. This is not something that should just be left to zealous advocates, non-profit organizations or even bloggers like us. Bottom line is that more should be done at higher levels so that advertisers and media executives understand that creating unrealistic body images is inhuman and ultimately dangerous.