Banning ads that promote gender stereotypes and unhealthy body image. Could this be the new norm in advertising?


Welcome to my third blog. Yes I’ve posted a little early and an ‘extra’ to my weekly blog posts but I had to share this interesting finding along with a couple of thoughts and reflections of my own.

Today I came across an interesting article on LinkedIn exploring a new move by Britain’s Advertising Authority to ban advertising that promote gender stereotypes, sexually objectify women or promote an unhealthy body image and girl was I excited. It’s about time what has become the norm in mass media is challenged with regards to the way women and women’s bodies are portrayed. The impact of this imagery is damaging to not only women and girls, but surely to men and boys. When women are presented in certain ways, viewers are presented with a particular lens from which to view women. This in turn will impact on the ways in which we as women interact with each other (and our bodies) and the opposite sex in ways that are often unhealthy and potentially harmful.

The Advertising Standards Authority issued a report titled Depictions, Perceptions, and Harm which explores the impact of stereotypes serving to “restrict the choices, aspirations, and opportunities of ad viewers”. This is sure to set a new standard, or perhaps I’m being too optimistic here, but I’m hoping it will have some impact on other advertising authorities in other countries to rethink the way women are portrayed through advertising.

Similar laws have been passed in London and other parts of Europe where regulations were made more stringent for ads in a bid to ban ads that cause “pressure to conform to an unrealistic or unhealthy body shape”. I think of my niece who has just entered high school at the start of this year who some years back, she must have been seven or eight, made a comment at dinner that she did not want to eat too much because she did not in her words “want to get fat”. As any good aunty would, I attempted to talk her out of the idea but could not help but ponder to myself how in the world a seven-year-old girl could possibly form such conclusions. I remember growing up and having no concept of “getting fat” and wondering how much things had changed, and mind you I’m only 29.

I wonder what the impact of these changes in Britain and other parts of the world may make in terms of setting a new standard for countries to follow suit. Living in Australia, I can’t help but wonder what this may mean if Australia was to adopt a similar change and the impact of this on little seven year old girls who form the belief that you must limit your food intake to avoid getting fat. This should not be a young girls biggest fear at dinner time!

I think gender equality and promoting positive and healthy images of women is a responsibility that all advertising authorities can and should take around the world. I think of my one and a half year old daughter growing up in a world that tells her, through mass media advertising, that her worth is determined by the shape and size of her body, her complexion, her physical bodily features rather than everything else that makes her valuable as a female such as her character, her intellectual capabilities, the contribution she is able to make in the world through the sharing of her gifts, talents and skills. I envision for her a world where she grows up believing that her gender is not a limitation to her progress as a woman, where she believes that she can and will a make a positive impact in the world in whatever way, avenue and profession she chooses provided she is willing to work hard, not harder then everybody else, but as hard as is required and expected of everyone in order to achieve success. I have some peace, as depressing as the world may seem to be heading at times, that perhaps this ideal can be a reality. Seeing changes such as these gives me a glimmer of hope, however little, to keeping believing and working towards this ideal.

I also watched an interesting video linked to the article with a panel moderated by Katie Courick and a line of interesting speakers including Fiona Carter, Madonna Badger, Queen Latifah and Marc Pritchard exploring gender bias and exploitation in advertising. The video is over 30 minutes long but well worth every minute of your viewing time if this is topic of interest, have a look for yourself and feel free to share with others.

What are your thoughts on the move taken by the Advertising Standards Authority in Britain? Should other countries follow suit? I’m keen to hear your thoughts on this.

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