In November 2010 CAP and BCAP (B/CAP) received 172 studies from Jo Swinson MP, on behalf of the Campaign for Body Confidence, concerning the harmful effects of media images on body image and behaviours.

B/CAP was asked to consider adopting several policies, including:

  • Prohibiting ads featuring digitally altered models from being aimed at under 16s
  • Introducing clear labelling of digitally altered models in all other advertising. 

B/CAP understands that further research on the effects of labelling ads that feature airbrushed images is currently underway. B/CAP considers that, as an evidence based regulator, it is imperative that it has that research before it can reasonably assess the effectiveness of the proposed policy objective.

B/CAP has, thoroughly assessed the studies against the first policy objective only: that is, whether the evidence presented supports a ban on ads that have been airbrushed from being aimed at children.
B/CAP intends its rules to be proportionate, evidence based and targeted only where regulation is needed. After careful consideration of the evidence presented to it, B/CAP considers that there is not persuasive evidence to support a proposal to include a rule that bans digitally altered models in advertising aimed at under-16s.

  • Some studies argue that the use of unrealistic ideals of beauty in the media are a possible cause of body dissatisfaction amongst girls, while others state that no causal link can be inferred and are equivocal about the cumulative effects of exposure;
  • High levels of body dissatisfaction were more pronounced in girls, yet some studies reported that some girls responded neutrally or even positively to media images;
  • Girls who have internalised the “thin ideal” have a greater tendency to compare their bodies with models and subsequently respond negatively towards media images; however the studies were not clear that advertising or media causes low self esteem, body dissatisfaction or exacerbates existing problems;
  • Some studies suggest that psychological factors can contribute indirectly to the tendency for social comparison and internalisation. Some girls may be predisposed to having a strong belief in the importance of appearance; and
  • In most studies, mothers, peers and the media combined were perceived to encourage girls to lose weight, but most boys and girls reported that the opinions of their peers had the greatest influence over them.

Publishing our review of the available evidence now is timely because the Government has recently announced that Reg Bailey, Chief Executive of Mother’s Union, will undertake an independent review on behalf of Government into the Commercialisation and Sexualisation of children; part of that review will include a sub-review into the matter of body image. As part of the ongoing public debate about these matters, B/CAP considered it was important to place into the public domain the sorts of the evidence and policy objectives it has been reviewing in recent months.

B/CAP’s general policy objective is to create Advertising Codes based on the principles that advertising should not mislead, offend or harm. The Advertising Codes contain specific rules that provide additional protection for children. The ASA and B/CAP therefore shares the Government’s aim to make sure that children are protected from irresponsible marketing. We welcome the independent review by Mr Bailey and very much look forward to continuing our participation in this debate.


CAP and BCAP evidence evaluation on impact of ads on body image.pdf


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