Advertising and body image

With spring approaching, many people will be embarking on or in the middle of new fitness regimes in preparation for summer. This usually means many advertisers will be promoting fashion, health and beauty products which focus on physical appearance. Whilst this isn’t a problem in and of itself, marketers should make sure that they don’t portray particular body types in an irresponsible manner, present an unhealthy body image as aspirational or imply people can only be happy if they look a certain way.

Appearance and weight-loss

It is not necessarily a problem to use thin models, however advertisers must ensure that models are not depicted in a way which makes them appear underweight or unhealthy. When making a decision on whether a model looks unhealthily thin, the ASA makes a decision based on how models are presented and what effects this could have on the audience, rather than making a comment on the models themselves. Different poses, airbrushing, clothing, make up and lighting can all exaggerate different parts of the body and therefore make a healthy model appear unhealthy thin.

Advertisers must also take care when promoting weight loss products. The ASA recently considered Skinny ClinicSkinnyJab and Skinny Revolution Ltd all promoted weight loss injections irresponsibly.  They found that the ads irresponsibly exploited people’s insecurities around body image. The claims about the products were also not in line with good medical and nutritional practice, and they were promoting prescription-only medicines to the public, which is illegal.

Marketers should also, given the sensitivity around weight-loss, ensure they don’t include any claims or images that are likely to cause serious or widespread offence.


Whilst, generally speaking, any ad that portrays unhealthy and unrealistic body ideals should be avoided, particular care must be taken with ads that depict or target young people. The ASA’s rulings against Drop Dead Clothing and YSL stated that the ads were clearly targeted at and likely to appeal to young people. Because of this, and the depiction of the models in the ad, the ASA felt they were likely to impress upon their audience that the images were representative of the people who might wear the advertisers clothing, and as being something to aspire to.

Care should also be taken in ads for cosmetic procedures, to ensure that they are not targeted at young people and vulnerable groups. These procedures should always be portrayed as something that requires time and thought.  The ASA determined an ad by MYA Cosmetic Surgery Ltd for breast enlargement surgery exploited young women's insecurities about their bodies, trivialised the surgery and portrayed it as aspirational. Whilst marketers may be able to show individuals as being confident or happy because of surgery, they must ensure they do not include claims or imagery that suggests someone is abnormal for not partaking in surgery, or exploit insecurities.


While advertisers should be able to promote their products in the best possible light, they must stick to the rules; for example they should not exaggerate the effect the product is capable of achieving to provide an unrealistic impression. Therefore the use of production techniques in advertising should be used with caution. The ASA considered the use of social media filters by We Are Luxe in assoc. with Cinzia Baylis-Zullo and Skinny Tan in assoc. with Elly Norris were misleading as they exaggerated the potential results of the products being advertised. Marketers are also reminded that before and after images of those who have undertaken a diet or exercise plan or products, as well as cosmetics, are treated as objective claims and therefore any ‘after’ image should be representative of what consumers can generally obtain from the product.


For further advice, see our AdviceOnline guidance here.  If you’re unsure whether your own non-broadcast marketing is compliant, our Copy Advice team are always happy to help.

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