Body image in advertising - an interim statement

CAP and BCAP are publishing an interim statement following their call for evidence on body image issues in advertising, which closed in January 2022.

The open call for evidence was published to assist us in seeking an up-to-date understanding of the current evidence base surrounding the potential body image related harms from advertising and the potential detrimental impact of those harms on consumers. The primary objective of the call for evidence was to understand whether there are body image harms arising from advertising that are not adequately addressed by existing rules and guidance, or the ASA’s application of those rules.

The call for evidence generated 12 responses from a range of stakeholders including academics, NGOs, thinktanks, a member of the cosmetic interventions industry, a social media company, and a Parliamentarian. We would like to thank respondents for their contribution to the call for evidence. Headline commentary of the responses is set out in CAP and BCAP’s interim statement.

The submissions to the call for evidence were considered against the criteria set out in our Evidence-Based Policy-Making Guidance. We acknowledge the strength of concerns related to body image and advertising, including concerns that relate to children and young people and their engagement with social media, and the potential impact on people with different protected characteristics. However, we consider that further evidence is required to support some of the commentary submitted to the call for evidence, in particular, evidence that demonstrate the link between advertising and the specific body image related concerns raised by the respondents.

We therefore consider that, at present, the evidence received doesn't identify significant gaps in the current regulatory framework, which sets a range of general and specific restrictions to prevent ads from harmfully affecting how audience members see themselves physically and how they believe others see them physically.

Following our evaluation of respondents’ contribution, we will be prioritising exploratory work in the following policy areas:

1. The potential harms arising from digitally altered images in advertising and labelling as a possible intervention;

2. The potential harms arising the depiction of muscularity in advertising; and

3. The potential harms arising from the depiction of women from minority ethnic backgrounds in ads and whether new and unattainable body image ideals could be created.

CAP and BCAP are committed to continue maintaining a watching brief on other areas raised by stakeholders and the evidence base that improves our understanding of the extent to which advertising may harmfully affect how audience members see themselves physically and how they believe others see them physically.

We are remain open to hearing from stakeholders who did not respond to the call for evidence and would invite them to submit relevant evidence to [email protected] while the further exploratory work is ongoing.

CAP and BCAP’s full interim statement can be found in our resource library.

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