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Sat, 24 October 2020

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We need honest advertising where body images have been digitally altered on social media

We need honest advertising where body images have been digitally altered on social media

A click of a button means unnaturally bigger biceps, a swipe of a thumb produces longer, thinner legs, writes Dr Luke Evans MP. | PA Images

4 min read

My Bill is not a call to ban, but a call to inform. Knowledge of when an image has been digitally manipulated will have positive mental health benefits for a wide cross section of our society affected by body image.

As a GP I meet patients who struggle because of poor self-image, whether due to an often-unfounded self-belief of being overweight and at its worst examples of anorexia, bulimia or steroid abuse.

It is part of human nature to compare ourselves. As a child of the ‘90s I would watch shows like Baywatch and, just like countless others, would aspire for the physical perfection I would see on my TV screen.

In those days, theoretically at least, with a personal trainer, perfect diet, the time to spare - and admittedly in some cases the surgeon’s knife – emulating Pamela Anderson or David Charvet was possible.

Yet today digital tools mean those role models have become simply unattainable. A click of a button means unnaturally bigger biceps, a swipe of a thumb produces longer, thinner legs.

Some will argue that there are only small numbers affected by body image but a study done by YouGov with the Mental Health Foundation in March 2019 found that 1 in 5 adults and 1 in 3 teenagers felt shame due to their body image when asking over 6,000 people.

Research from the Florida House experiment showed that 87% of women and 65% of men compared themselves to images in the media.

In their response to the Women and Equalities Committee Inquiry in 2018 Girlguiding referred to their Girl’s Attitude Survey which highlighted that 72% of girls aged 11 to 16 feel the need to be perfect, 88% of girls believe that airbrushed adverts should clearly state that they have been manipulated.

From a medical perspective there is little doubt that legislation to inform viewers and readers when an image has been substantially digitally enhanced will have positive mental health benefits, not just for the most vulnerable but for a wide cross section of our society.

My bill is not a call to ban, but a call to inform. I don’t want to stop people removing red eye on their wedding photos or using Instagram filters to enhance their lighting; but where the body proportions have been fundamentally digitally altered, it is a call for honesty in advertising and publishing.

I am already having meetings with stakeholders to discuss how a warning system could be implemented

We already accept and appreciate warning notices and advisories in many areas of daily life. We know when product placement takes place on TV shows. For decades we have had warning labels on tobacco products, and traffic light symbols on food.

One of the greatest achievements of the Coalition Government was the adoption of the principle of parity of esteem between mental and physical health in our NHS. If we really believe in the principle then we need to be prepared to take action when the product in question affects mental health.

This isn’t the nanny state, this is empowering the individual by equipping them with the knowledge that all is not as it seems and therefore take a closer look.

No one would suggest my Ten Minute Rule Bill, due to be presented on 15 September, is easy to deliver, I am already having meetings with stakeholders to discuss how a warning system could be implemented; but as we all know in politics our job is to face challenges and deliver what is right, not what is easy.

Internationally there is precedent for taking action on digitally manipulated images.

France has introduced legislation which requires advertisers to display “photographie retouchee” on edited images, Israel has regulated the use of Photoshop in media.

In 2017 YouGov asked their panel whether they agreed with principle of the newly adopted French law? 80% of respondents supported the measure, only 6% stated a degree of opposition.

Whilst anecdotal the significant response on my own social media channels has very much been in line with the YouGov respondents.

I am not suggesting that my Ten Minute Rule Bill will solve all of the mental health challenges that we face, but it will have a positive effect. I very much urge my colleagues to support it and Government to consider adopting its measures.

 

Dr Luke Evans is the Conservative MP for Bosworth.

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