Airbrushed ads damaging a generation of young women, say experts

A University of Sussex psychologist is the lead author of a report sent to UK advertising authorities condemning the use of ultra-thin, digitally altered women in adverts.

Dr Helga Dittmar collaborated with experts in the field of body image to produce the paper that details scientific evidence on how the use of airbrushing to promote body perfect ideals in advertising is causing a host of problems in young women. These include eating disorders, depression, extreme exercising  and encouraging cosmetic surgery.

The report, signed by 44 leading academics, doctors and clinical psychologists from the UK, USA, Australia, Brazil, Spain and Ireland, was submitted to the Committee for Advertising Practice on 9th November 2009 as part of a campaign co-ordinated by the Liberal Democrat Party, headed by Jo Swinson MP.

Dr Dittmar says: "It is clear that most fashion advertising uses airbrushing technology, capable of  changing all aspects Of appearance and body shape - for example, different size eyes, thinner legs, slimmer waists and enlarged breasts.  More than 100 scientific studies show that exposure to unrealistic body perfect ideals like this in the media leads to body dissatisfaction, negative thoughts and feeling about the body, for the great majority of girls and women."

She says the evidence suggests that adolescents are more vulnerable than adults and that young children also show negative effects on body image. "We want to make sure that girls are educated about the unrealistic media ideals as part of the school curriculum and be sure that policy changes are used to curb the use of artificial and unhealthy body perfect ideals in the media, particularly in under 16s."

Commenting, Liberal Democrat MP, Jo Swinson said: "This paper spells out the real damage irresponsible airbrushing is doing to young women's physical and mental health.

"Airbrushing means that women and young girls are being bombarded with images of people with perfect skin, perfect hair and perfect figures, which are impossible to live up to. The Advertising Standards Agency received five complaints about airbrushed images last year.  This year thanks to our campaign it has had almost 1,000. It now has all the scientific evidence it needs to act.

"Liberal Democrats believe in the freedom of companies to advertise but we also believe in the freedom of young people to develop their self-esteem and to be comfortable with their bodies.  They shouldn't constantly feel the need to measure up to unattainable images that no-one can live up to in real life."



Notes for editors

1. The Liberal Democrats launched their Real Women campaign in August, which encouraged people to go send complaints about airbrushing to the ASA, and resulted in  almost 1000  asking the ASA and the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) to force advertisers to come clean when using airbrushed images and to ban airbrushing in adverts aimed at children. The ASA and CAP responded by asking the Liberal Democrats to provide scientific evidence to back its campaign.

2.The paper was written by was written by Dr Helga Dittmar (University of Sussex) , Dr Emma Halliwell (University of the West of England),Professor Michael Levine (USA) and Professor Marika Tiggemann(Australia). It has been signed by a further 40 leading academics,doctors and clinical psychologists from the UK, USA, Australia, Brazil,Spain and Ireland. Signatories include Dr Susie Orbach, psychoanalyst and well-known writer, Professor Susan J Paxton, the President of the Academy of Eating Disorders which is a global organisation for eating disorder specialists and the Directors of the Centre for Appearance Research in the UK.

3.  Helga Dittmar's research is concerned with the psychological effects of consumer society on individuals, particularly media influences on body dissatisfaction, materialism, and dysfunctional buying behaviour.

4. Proposals in the Liberal Democrat Real Women campaign include:

* Children to be protected from body image pressure by banning airbrushing of people in advertising aimed at under 10

* Adverts aimed at adults to indicate clearly the extent to which they have been airbrushed or digitally enhanced

* Modules on body image, health and well-being, and media literacy to be taught in schools

*  Schools to include greater choice in physical activity to stop teenage girls dropping out of exercising

* Money to be invested in improving school and community sports facilities to make them cleaner, safer and more female-friendly

By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Tuesday, 10 November 2009