This week, the United Kingdom’s official advertising authority is making news for banning a poster ad campaign featuring model in bikini and the words “Are you beach body ready?” Following receipt of nearly 400 complaints insisting the protein shake ad is offensive, irresponsible and harmful because it promotes an unhealthy body image, the Advertising Standards Authority called for removal of the ads and is looking into whether the ad violates the UK code relating to “taste, decency and harm and offence,” which was designed to harness social irresponsibility on the part of companies selling products and services. In a widespread showing of support for the agency’s decision, over 50,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the weight-loss shake ads to be removed because they “body-shame” women.
While the United Kingdom is “just across the pond,” its approach to protecting its citizens from ads that promote unhealthy body image is worlds apart from that of the United States. Glamour UK describes this ad as “strangely archaic,” but honestly, this ad looks like so many ads I see in the US each and every day, especially among ads pushing weight loss products. These American ads usually feature a very thin, lean and attractive woman (or man, depending on the product’s target market), a body-shaming “call to action” and an implication that the product in question will result in the coveted physique displayed. These kinds of ads are pervasive in our society and contribute to an increasingly unrealistic and largely unattainable body ideal, which can often lead to eating disorder tendencies. Unlike in the UK, however, Americans have no formal advertising watchdog with the authority to pull campaigns promoting unhealthy body image. In a country where eating disorders are on the rise among women, men and children, an agency tasked with ensuring social responsibility of advertisers with regard to healthy body image messages would be a welcomed intervention.
Until the US organizes a similar advertising standards authority, we all have the power to identify, challenge and most importantly ignore ads that make us feel badly about our bodies.
- Think critically about advertising content. Many ads seek to motivate action or purchase by making us feel inferior compared to our culture’s body ideal. Pay attention to how ads make you feel, and ignore those that elicit shame, guilt or anxiety about your body size, shape or weight.
- Help young loved ones identify advertisements that promote unhealthy body image. Children and teens are especially impressionable and they represent a vulnerable segment of consumers when it comes to ads touting products and services promising to make them thinner and more attractive. Help kids and teens understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy body image messages, and talk to them about the emotional impact of those images and messages, both good and bad.
- Don’t compare your body to the ones you see in advertising. Most of us will never look like the men and women we see in ads, and that’s okay—we weren’t all meant to look the same. That said, we need to remind ourselves we are all beautiful in our own way and we don’t have to conform to the body ideal to be considered attractive or to be loved.
- Voice your concerns over ads that promote unhealthy body image. While we don’t have an official authority governing social responsibility of advertisers, there are other avenues for calling out egregious advertisements with dangerous body messages. Consider voicing your opinion via social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.), launching or signing an online petition or sending a news tip to your local broadcast news station.
What do you think of the banning of this UK protein shake ad? Do you think a similar advertising authority in the US could help make American advertising more body-friendly? I look forward to your comments below.