Jo Swinson: Beauty and the economic beast

We must change our ideas about women's looks - starting with airbrushing

Share
Related Topics

Who would have imagined that the airbrushing of models in advertising would have become a political talking point in 2009? This week, in response to a campaign by the Liberal Democrats, the Advertising Standards Auth-ority ruled against an Olay Definity advert featuring Twiggy which used heavy airbrushing to sell beauty products. This is only the beginning.

Back in August, the Liberal Democrats launched the Real Women campaign, which addresses many different aspects of women's lives, one of which is the increasing pressure for women to aspire towards a totally unachievable ideal of perfect beauty. While some have denounced this as a trivial matter, it is telling that, of all the issues the campaign addresses, it is this one that has received so much attention. This is something that has a huge impact on people's lives – both men and women. This is something people care about.

Advertisers already adhere voluntarily to codes of conduct which tell them what is and is not acceptable to put in an advert. We are not saying that images should never be digitally altered, just that when manipulating images of people, advertisers should have to declare what they have done. In adverts aimed at children, they shouldn't be airbrushed at all.

When the ASA told me it couldn't take action unless it received complaints about airbrushing, the Real Women campaign machine went into action. Through the campaign's website, we got almost 1000 people to write in and complain about the Olay Definity advert featuring Twiggy.

The ASA has ruled that the ad misleads consumers by suggesting the product can give them a look which was actually achieved through digital retouching, but that it doesn't break the ASA's rules on social responsibility. But there is plenty to suggest that idealised media images can have a very real and harmful effect.

Last month, 44 of the world's leading experts on body image put together a review of the research evidence on the harmful effects media images can have on body image and behaviours, from low self-esteem to serious eating disorders. You can read that report at www.realwomen.org.uk.

Since the campaign started, many people have told me of their – or their children's – battles with anorexia and bulimia, and how pictures of stick-thin models in magazines made recovery that much more difficult. For others, it is simply about wanting to feel good about themselves, improving wellbeing which in turn benefits society.

No one is saying that the media is entirely to blame – indeed, I believe we need a cultural revolution when it comes to our ideas about beauty. We have come to define beauty in an extremely narrow way – the media is a part of this, but we all buy into it to some extent. Promoting the belief that we must achieve that perfect look is highly profitable – it gets us buying all manner of products in the hope that the next one will be the one that makes us who we want to be.

There must be something wrong with any mindset that tells us that a woman as stunning as Twiggy needs to be airbrushed before she can be considered beautiful. It is high time we realised that people can be beautiful in all different shapes and sizes. Changing the rules for advertisers would be a step forward on the way to achieving that cultural change.

Jo Swinson MP is leading the Liberal Democrats' Real Women campaign

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ice skating in George Square, Glasgow  

How many Christmas cards have you sent this year?

Simon Kelner
 

Al-Sweady Inquiry: An exercise in greed that blights the lives of brave soldiers

Richard Kemp
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Scandi crush: Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

Th Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need
Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Its use is always wrong and, despite CIA justifications post 9/11, the information obtained from it is invariably tainted, argues Patrick Cockburn
Rebranding Christmas: More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence

Rebranding Christmas

More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence. They are missing the point, and we all need to grow up