Monday, August 03, 2009

Swinson calls for tighter rules on airbrushing to protect teenagers

One of the huge worries I have as mother of a soon-to-be-teenage daughter is that she will feel pressure to conform to the increasingly unrealistic and actually unattainable expectations about appearance set by advertisers and magazines aimed at young people.

Women are expected to have enormous breasts, disproportionately tiny waists, perfect skin, hair and teeth and they become objects of ridicule if they go out without make up. And if they don't have those things, there's a huge pressure on them to go out and buy themselves new teeth, bigger boobs, liposuction, a straighter nose and so on.

I've seen these magazines poke fun at people for being size 12-14 which for most people is a healthy size with a healthy body mass index. Back in the day, size 12 was a thin size, but now it's portrayed as bordering on the obese. These publications are encouraging girls to go on potentially harmful starvation diets in order to look like the celebs and models in the magazines. Similarly, these images are giving young men completely unrealistic expectations of what women should look like and they will often put pressure on their girlfriends to lose weight when they are perfectly healthy as they are.

I've seen young girls get really anxious about being too fat or not the right shape or their skin and they take some convincing that the models in the ads have had any so called "flaws" digitally removed. Appearance angst is nothing new, but it somehow has become more intense and there's a cruelty about peer group pressure that wasn't there when I was growing up.

I'm pleased to see that the Liberal Democrats in the form of Jo Swinson MP are calling for something to be done about this. Jo wants airbrushing to be banned on ads aimed at teenagers and for school pupils to be given lessons in body image, health and wellbeing.

As a keen runner herself, I'm sure she feels the benefits of healthy exercise in her own life and she wants schools to encourage exercise classes for girls.

I think that these are all very sensible suggestions, but I wonder if they go far enough. Kids read the likes of Heat and Closer which are aimed at adults, so why stop just at adverts aimed at the under 16s, or at least make the requirements to say whether an image has been airbrushed bigger than the imprints that you normally find on election leaflets.

This has to be a better option than seeing a generation of young girls being pressured to try to reach a weight or look that is simply unattainable for them.

UPDATE: There's a lively debate burbling on over at Paul's. He's taking the opposite view to me, but his article and the comments that follow are worth reading.


Ollie Cromwell said...

She brushes up quite well herself.

Warning! This image has been airbrushed

PJ said...

I've worked with teenagers who are struggling with anorexia, and it is a horrific debilitating disease. I applaud Jo for taking this on but I hope she doesn't limit her campaign to teenage girls - almost 25% of teenage anorexia cases are young boys.

This is a wonderful informative site that was set up by the Mum of a young boy who nearly died from anorexia. Well worth a look

I remember reading an interview with Cindy Crawford, who was the uber supermodel when I was at school. She said that nobody looked as good as she did in photographs, not even her. Aspiring to the impossible can only ever lead to a sense of failure. I don't want that for my daughter or my son.


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