A TV ad for the cosmetic surgery company, MYA Cosmetic Surgery, seen on 16 January 2017, featured various shots of young women talking to each other about their experience of breast-enhancement surgery. The ad began with two women in bikinis in a jacuzzi. One of them said, "I can't believe I used to be so nervous about wearing a bikini in public. Now I feel fine." The other woman replied, "You look amazing." The ad then showed two women on treadmills. One of them said, "My breasts were different sizes. I was so self-conscious until I had them done." The other replied, "I get that." The ad then showed two women in the changing room, where one of them said, "After I lost the weight, my breasts were so saggy, and now they're full and perky again." The other replied, "They look amazing." That was followed by two women talking in a cafe, where one of them said, "I couldn't go shopping for the clothes I wanted. My breasts were out of proportion." The other replied, "Let's go shopping then." The female voice-over then said, "If you've been thinking about breast enlargement for a while, talk to MYA about our free consultation and flexible finance." On-screen text during the first half of the ad stated “No surgical procedure is entirely without risk. Any decision to have cosmetic surgery should not be undertaken lightly. Allow plenty of time to reflect before going ahead with a procedure. 18+ only”.
The complainant, who believed the ad exploited young women's insecurities about their bodies, challenged whether the ad was irresponsible and harmful to those under 18 years of age.
MYA Cosmetic Surgery Ltd said that the ad featured on-screen text which emphasised that surgical procedure was not without risk, and that the decision to have cosmetic surgery should not be made quickly. They said that the voice-over made clear that the ad was directed at those who had already been thinking for a while about having the procedure. They said that the text and voice-over were intended to prevent viewers from rushing into cosmetic surgery, and believed that viewers would be unlikely to interpret the ad to have suggested that breast enlargement surgery was the solution for body confidence issues. They stressed that the characters in the ad were real patients and presented their own personal opinions of the impact of surgery. They said they intentionally used patients who were over the age of 21 and looked over 25, to ensure the ad did not appeal to females under the age of 18. They said the ad had been given a restriction by Clearcast ensuring that it was not shown during or adjacent to children's programmes or programmes commissioned for, principally directed at or likely to appeal to audiences below the age of 18. They also pointed out that the ad had an “18+” disclaimer.
Clearcast said that any type of medical procedure was a personal decision which should be given careful consideration by the patient, and that was made clear by the on-screen text in the ad. They therefore did not believe the ad gave the impression that a procedure should be undertaken lightly. They also reiterated that the characters in the ad were real patients, who reflected their own individual reasons for seeking treatment, and it only used patients who were over 21 and who looked at least 25, to ensure that the ad did not appeal to young women. They believed the scheduling restriction prevented the ad from causing harm to those under the age of 18. They also pointed out that the ad had on-screen text which stated “18+”.
The ASA acknowledged that through the voice-over and on-screen text the ad had indicated that cosmetic surgery was not a procedure that should be undertaken lightly, and accordingly, was not irresponsible on the grounds of trivialising cosmetic surgery. However, that was not in itself sufficient to ensure that the ad was not irresponsible, and also harmful to under-18s, by exploiting women’s insecurities about their bodies.
We noted that the ad featured four separate conversations between different women who had recently undergone breast-enhancement surgery. Some of the women appeared to be under the age of 25, and so could appeal, and be of relevance, to young women and teenage girls. The women discussed the negative perceptions they held of their breasts prior to cosmetic surgery, with comments that their breasts were previously “saggy”, “out of proportion” and “of different sizes”. One of them also referred to the negative feelings generated due to her perception of her breasts, with the comment “I was so self-conscious until I had them done”. Two of the women referred to the activities they felt deterred from doing due to those perceptions, with the comments “I used to be so nervous about wearing a bikini in public” and "I couldn't go shopping for the clothes I wanted”. We considered that the ad has disproportionately emphasised the women’s negative feelings and the impact that had had on them. It had suggested that women who did not have a particular body type should not feel confident and comfortable with their bodies in public. We were therefore concerned that the ad might encourage viewers, particularly young women and teenage girls, to think about and dwell on their own insecurities with their bodies, and to question whether they too felt self-conscious about their bodies and whether they too felt comfortable wearing bikinis in public or wearing any clothes that they wanted. As such, we concluded that the ad was irresponsible and likely to cause harm to those under 18.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules 1.2 1.2 Advertisements must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to the audience and to society. (Social responsibility) and 4.1 4.1 Advertisements must contain nothing that could cause physical, mental, moral or social harm to persons under the age of 18. (Harm and offence).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told MYA Cosmetic Surgery Ltd not to advertise cosmetic surgery in an irresponsible and harmful way by focusing disproportionately on people's negative perceptions of their bodies prior to cosmetic surgery.