CAP and BCAP have published an interim statement and responses following their call for evidence on body image issues in advertising. In summary, having reviewed the responses, they do not believe that any further changes need to be made to the current regulatory regime.
CAP and BCAP were looking to update their understanding of the current evidence base about the potential body image related harms from advertising and the potential detrimental impact of those harms on consumers. They especially wanted to understand if 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.
Having now reviewed the received responses, they acknowledge the strength of concerns related to body image and advertising. In particular, 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, CAP and BCAP 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.
They will be prioritising exploratory work in the following policy areas:
- the potential harms arising from digitally altered images in advertising and labelling as a possible intervention;
- the potential harms arising from the depiction of muscularity in advertising; and
- 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.
It is worth remembering that CAP issued guidance in August on body image issues. The guidance reiterates that all marketing communications should be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and society. Advertisers should ensure that they don’t portray particular body types in an irresponsible manner or present an unhealthy body image as aspirational, exploit people’s insecurities about their body image, or suggest that happiness or wellbeing depends on conforming to a particular physical appearance, or gender stereotypical body type or physical features.
The key points of the advice are:
- don’t promote an unhealthy body image;
- think about targeting - advertisers should ensure that ads do not irresponsibly exploit the insecurities of children, young people and vulnerable groups;
- don’t exploit insecurities or create pressure to conform more generally; and
- don’t create pressure to conform to an idealised gender stereotypical body shape or physical features.
In addition, new rules about the targeting of advertising of cosmetics interventions came into force in May. These targeting restrictions came into effect on 25 May 2022 and essentially require that:
- ads for cosmetic interventions must not appear in non-broadcast media directed at under-18s;
- ads for cosmetic interventions must not appear in other non-broadcast media where under-18s make up over 25% of the audience; and
- broadcast ads for cosmetic interventions must not appear during or adjacent to programmes commissioned for, principally directed at or likely to appeal particularly to under-18s.
CAP and BCAP reiterate that they are committed to continuing to improve their understanding of the extent to which advertising may harmfully affect how audience members see themselves physically and how they believe others see them physically. They are also going to respond to the recommendations of the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee about body image. This is an area of continued focus for them, but for now there are no updates for advertisers.
body image pressures are likely to be intensified for people who possess one or more protected characteristics (such as people from minority ethnic backgrounds, LGBTQ+ people and people with disabilities) and in almost all cases, the ideal body type presented is drawn from a Western conception of beauty