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M. Lopez 9th November 2009 10:38

Ads ruin body image (report)
The work of Dr. Helga Dittmar of the U of Sussex has always found many enthusiastic fans on this forum. In her research on body image, she has exploded many media myths about weight and beauty. In one report, she determined that plus-size models could sell products just as effectively as underweight models, as long as the models are attractive. In another, she found a sharp discrepancy between how images affect fashion/media professionals versus how they affect members of the general public (i.e., the public experiences body-image improvement when looking at plus-size models, while fashion/media professionals do not).

Now, in a new report that Dr. Dittmar (joined by forty other body-image researchers) has delivered to the British government, she has proven, once and for all, that images of underweight models DO cause eating disorders. As a result, she has called for such images to be banned. Report

The story:


Airbrushed Ads 'Cause Eating Disorders'

Monday November 09, 2009
Jo Couzens, Sky News Online

Airbrushing of models and celebrities in adverts is fuelling eating disorders and depression among girls as young as five, leading body image experts are warning.

In a shocking new report, a group of over 40 doctors, psychologists and academics are calling for a ban on digitally retouching photos in advertising aimed at under-16s.

The researchers, from Britain, America and Australia, have written to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to say the "clear majority of adolescent girls" are experiencing problems with "depression, stress, guilt, shame, insecurity and body dissatisfaction" as a result of the unnatural-looking girls featured in magazines.

In the past year, the ASA has received over 1,000 complaints about airbrushed adverts.

This month, a survey by Girlguiding UK found that nearly half of girls aged 11 to 16 are dieting to be thin....

Now, here's the part that's especially important, because fashion-industry apologists (and, insanely, even some people in the size-acceptance movement) have tried to pretend that images of anorexic models don't cause eating disorders. This report proves that to be false, once and for all.

But the ASA has so far refused to act, insisting that no scientific evidence has been provided to back up the complaints.

The authors of the Impact Of Media Images On Body Image And Behaviours report hope their findings are about to change that.

"Body dissatisfaction is a significant risk for physical health, mental health, and thus well-being," the report states.

"Any factor, such as idealised images, that increases body dissatisfaction is thus an important influence on well-being."

The letter to the watchdog adds: "We hope that the advertising authorities in the UK and other countries will give this evidence serious consideration and see the urgent need for policy change."

Lib Dem MP Jo Swinson said: "This paper spells out the real damage irresponsible airbrushing is doing to young women's physical and mental health.

"The Advertising Standards Agency now has all the scientific evidence it needs to act."

The report was written by Dr Helga Dittmar, of the University of Sussex, and Dr Emma Halliwell, of the University of the West of England, and researchers from the US and Australia.

Well, no more excuses. Now the British government - and all governments - can no longer pretend that there is any ambiguity in this matter. The promotion of an artificial standard of beauty must be stopped, as a matter of public health and safety, no less.

Hannah 9th November 2009 11:51

Re: Ads ruin body image (report)
Another story about the report appears here:

It turns out that the link between anorexic imagery and eating disorders is supported by "more than 100 studies worldwide" (!). That's pretty overwhelming, and a sharp rebuke to anyone who anecdotally claims otherwise.

Experts want a ban on airbrushing ads that leave girls loathing their own bodies

By Tim Shipman
Last updated at 12:06 AM on 09th November 2009

...More than 40 of the world's leading experts on body image issues today call for a ban on touching up photos in advertising for the under 16s.

In a hard-hitting report they warn that such unnaturally skinny models can make girls as young as five become self-conscious about their weight...

In a letter to the Advertising Standards Authority, the academics from Britain, America and Australia say that the 'clear majority of adolescent girls' have problems with 'depression, stress, guilt, shame, insecurity and body dissatisfaction'...

But the watchdog has previously refused to act because those who have complained have not provided scientific evidence for their claims.

In response, four academics have written a report detailing the damning conclusions of more than 100 academic studies worldwide.

The paper was written by body image experts Dr Helga Dittmar of the University of Sussex and Dr Emma Halliwell from the University of the West of England and researchers from the U.S. and Australia.

It has been signed by a further 40 doctors and psychologists worldwide. In a letter to the ASA, the researchers say: 'Exposure to the media ideal is linked with greater body dissatisfaction and more unhealthy eating beliefs and behaviours in women...

I like the fact that this article also noted Dittmar's findings (as M. Lopez mentioned above) that plus-size models are just as effective at selling products as their emaciated rivals:

Tackling the widely held view in advertising circles that 'thin and sexy sells', the authors cite research showing that average-size models - size 14 - are just as effective in advertising products as ultra-thin models, as long as they are equally attractive.

A ban on body-size airbrushing is a definite advance. Hopefully this will be a step toward the elimination of skeletal models and underweight imagery altogether, in favour of full-figured models.

Kaitlynn 10th November 2009 19:16

Re: Ads ruin body image (report)
Yet another story about the report appears here:

Here's one of the action items that the report is advising:

It will call for the restriction of airbrushing and ask for ads showing altered images to carry a notice.

The call is being backed by another 42 experts, who agree the images "that depict ultra-thin, digitally altered women models are linked to body dissatisfaction and unhealthy eating in girls and women".

No question about the degree of damage that they cause. And given that, I'd say that while the idea of carrying a notice is better than nothing (like the "cigarettes kill" warning labels on tobacco products), it's simply inadequate, given the magnitude of the problem.

The "restriction of airbrushing" is better. But really, ads promoting emaciation shouldn't exist at all. They should be banned outright as being the triggers of potentially fatal illness. There is no reason to use anorexic-looking models when plus-size models are just as effective at what models need to do, but without the negative effects on body image.

MelanieW 4th December 2009 08:08

Re: Ads ruin body image (report)
An important article on this topic appeared just the other day in the New York Times:

It covers a French legislator who, commendably, wants warning labels put on all images that have been airbrushed:

VALÉRIE BOYER...has also created a small furor here and abroad with her latest proposal: a draft law that would require all digitally altered photographs of people used in advertising be labeled as retouched.

It is a topic that consumes her. “If someone wants to make life a success, wants to feel good in their skin, wants to be part of society, one has to be thin or skinny, and then it’s not enough — one will have his body transformed with software that alters the image, so we enter a standardized and brainwashed world, and those who aren’t part of it are excluded from society.”
Yes, brainwashing - exactly. The images promoting emaciation are so commonplace, so universal, that whole generations of women have been brainwashed into thinking that starvation is normal, or (insanely) somehow "attractive."

It is also encouraging to hear the voices of those who say that simply providing warning labels is not enough:

Philippe Jeammet, professor of psychiatry at the Université Paris Descartes, said it “is the least we could do.” He said that photos “are a factor of influence, especially for the most vulnerable young girls.” He would go further. “There should even be sanctions,” he said. “Retouched photos are a deception, an illusion, and we must think about the consequences.”

I find the other effort that Boyer has proposed to be even more important:

Ms. Boyer drew attention last year when she drafted another law, which would make the promotion of extreme dieting a crime punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of some $45,000. That law is largely aimed at Internet sites and blogs advocating an “anorexic lifestyle”...

“Children look a lot at the Internet,” she said, adding, “even if you’re close by, even if you’re attentive, even if you love them a lot, that’s not enough to protect them. Especially when they target them, because [these] blogs are aimed at young girls in particular..."

That is also an especially important point - to those who claim that parents should just "monitor" their children, such monitoring is NOT POSSIBLE. The Internet is everywhere. Short of living like the Amish, there is no way that parents can screen their childrens searches 24/7, and protect them from the harmful pro-starvation influences on the Web.

Ironically, the best statement in the article comes from one of Boyers supposed critics:

For [Dominique] Issermann, the problem is not photography, but a “prepubescent style” — a kind of adolescent androgyny, in which skinny, not very muscular young men are paired with skinny, not very curvaceous girls “disguised as women.”
YES! Exactly. This style IS the problem - but photography is the accessory to this problem, because it facilitates this style and brings it to the public.

Both the androgynous style, and any photography or airbrushing that promotes it, should be eradicated, as a matter of basic public safety.

At least Boyer realizes that the fashion industry will NEVER police itself, never stop spreading emaciation, and that only government regulation can stop this toxic epidemic. I hope both of her proposals, about banning airbrushing and criminalizing the promotion of starvation, pass, and become law - not just in France, but in all Western nations.

Hannah 4th December 2009 14:49

Re: Ads ruin body image (report)
One of the comments in response to the NYT article, posted by a SharonS, gets to the heart of the matter:

I don't think that editing photos per se is the problem...The real problem is the current fashionable ideal of women's beauty, and the willingness of digital artists, publishers and the fashion industry to promote an absurd depiction of women. Tagging photos with editing labels might help, but what's really needed is the public shaming of the current trend of carving women up into skeletal proximities of human beings.

That does correctly identify the issue. Photoshopping is just a tool - a tool that's being used for harm. The real problem is the androgynous, emaciated standard that this tool is being used to propagate.

The only flaw in Sharon's argument is her implicit belief that "public shaming" would be enough to stop this. Not a chance. If we've all learned anything, it is that no amount of public opprobrium or even media hostility will ever make the fashion industry change. If anything, it makes them dig in their heels even more. That's the type of personalities that we're dealing with.

Remember, these are people who often live drug-addled and immortal lifestyles. Breaking the law, living lives that everyone scorns, that's what they do. Their whole culture is a promotion of toxic lifestyles. Why should it surprise anyone that they push this kind of unhealthiness as well?

No, Boyer is right. Only government legislation, strictly enforced, will ever finally put an end to this blight on society.

HSG 30th December 2009 15:13

Re: Ads ruin body image (report)

How encouraging to find Dr. Dittmar's name in the press. We have long had the greatest respect for her work, and hoped that she would someday speak out publicly on this topic.

It is endlessly frustrating to hear fashion-industry insiders, and even some individuals in the size-acceptance movement, making the ludicrous claim that anorexic-looking models do not cause eating disorders. Of course they do! Decades of research by Dr. Dittmar and (as the articles notes) literally hundreds of other colleagues in her field has long since proven the link. At this point, anyone denying the connection is as misguided a member of the Flat Earth Society. The evidence is irrefutable--but it has been locked in university circles and confined to academic journals, leaving fashion-industry apologists free to deny reality.

Both Dittmar in England and Boyer in France are adopting the best approach this crisis, the only approach that has any chance of making a real impact: through government legislation.

As Hannah observes,

Originally Posted by Hannah
no amount of public opprobrium or even media hostility will ever make the fashion industry change. If anything, it makes them dig in their heels even more. That's the type of personalities that we're dealing with.

Remember, these are people who often live drug-addled and immortal lifestyles. Breaking the law, living lives that everyone scorns, that's what they do. Their whole culture is a promotion of toxic lifestyles. Why should it surprise anyone that they push this kind of unhealthiness as well?

No, Boyer is right. Only government legislation, strictly enforced, will ever finally put an end to this blight on society.

And yet the androgynous, emaciated look is so very unnecessary. The purveyors of this destructive aesthetic are merely using commercial interests as an excuse to throw their perverted lifestyles in people's faces. It's an entirely juvenile impulse, a perpetual "Nyah, nyah" to long-gone parental figures, a raised middle finger to everyone outside of their circle; a pure expression of their contempt for women, for Middle America, for society at large, and for anyone who isn't them; a puerile "We're gonna do what we want and you can't stop us" mentality--the attitude of a delinquent adolescent, intent on defacing anything of beauty out of pure spite, and of putting ugliness in its place to make it an expression of his own warped soul.

But it is even more serious than a cultural blight, because actual human lives are ruined by their unnatural standard. As Kaitlynn says, "ads promoting emaciation should be banned outright as being the triggers of potentially fatal illness."

Dittmar's research has conclusively demonstrated that plus-size models are just as effective at selling products as waifs, so long as the full-figured models are beautiful; furthermore, that they improve rather than damage women's body image. But this should come as no surprise to Judgment of Paris readers--or, for that matter, to anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of history.

Here is the third in our series of ads featured the gorgeous Hilda Clark, the contemporary of Lillian Russell, and an actress who possessed a similar fair-featured, round-faced look--the look of timeless beauty. Although the picture is regrettably small, it shows how stately and buxom she was, how full a figure she possessed. The fact that she wears a corset is regrettable, of course, and prevents one from forming an accurate impression of the breadth of her waist. But judging by her voluptuousness, which is even more marked than that of Lillian Russell, and by her round arms and full facial features, she may have been even more generously proportioned than Lillian. Yet she obviously managed to sell Coca-Cola perfectly well. (Her contract was renewed for a second campaign after the first season was completed.)

Such images of timeless beauty met every advertising need a century ago. Models with a similar kind of soft, full-figured beauty--i.e., plus-size models--could fulfill the same advertising needs today, yet in the process they would boost women's self-esteem rather than destroying it.

- Yes, ads can benefit body image

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