Image editing is not a new phenomenon, we know that the advertising industry has used editing software in advertisements for many years, but the snowball effect of this has undoubtedly been a real impact on the health of a generation.
In the past decade, the growth of influencer collaborations and funded posts on social media has added to the ever-growing list of tools advertisers have at their disposal, often using images that look natural and natural to mimic “real-life” situations. In fact, these photos have been secretly edited and strategically placed to grab our attention.
This, combined with the amount of time we all spend endless scrolling through social media, has created a perfect storm for our physical and mental health.
To help address this issue, I’m proposing a new law in Parliament – the Body Image Act – that calls for a disclaimer to be placed on commercial images that show digitally modified bodies.
Simply put, if someone is paid to post a photo on social media that they have edited, they will be legally obligated to be honest and open about their editing. The same goes for advertisers, broadcasters or publishers who make money from a modified body proportion image in any way.
I’m not suggesting that we ban putting a cute filter on our photos of having lunch with friends.
I’m not suggesting that we ban putting a cute filter on our pictures of lunch with friends, nor that we can’t get rid of those red eyes in our night shots – but if you’re paying to post these pictures, or if you’re making money from them, I’m suggesting that you’re ready to be with transparency.
It will not be difficult to do this, in fact there is already a framework for it. Currently, there are ways in which influencers and advertisers are encouraged to take more responsibility for their posts – when posting a paid promotion on social media, influencers must, for example, place an “ad” tag somewhere in the post.
If they fail to do so, these influencers or advertisers may have to remove their posts, or face further action. The vast majority complied with these new rules, and I’m confident my body image bill could work pretty much the same way.
This is important to me, not only as an MP but as a GP. I am deeply concerned about the detrimental effect that this constant desire to alter the natural look is having particularly on young people, who are spending more and more time on social media staring at influencers and role models – some of whom have been pinched and scrolled filtered to unrealistic proportions.
It’s only natural to aspire to have bodies similar to those photos that have been modified to “perfection.” But in some cases, no matter how hard you try, it’s physically impossible to achieve the body you see on your screen — no matter what HIIT workout you try, or what protein you drink.
In an episode of my upcoming podcast, I discuss the truth about what these distorted standards of beauty are doing to our mental and physical health, with two finalists for Mrs. Great Britain also working with young people.
Elle Celine, the first woman to compete without makeup, spoke about her own experience with an eating disorder. Elle tells me that she thinks there isn’t enough to expose the dangerous reality of social media.
“It distorted my sense of self and made me think this was what I was supposed to look like,” explained Elle. I used filters on all my photos and edited my photos because social media made me feel like I needed to do this in order to be accepted. I became obsessed with getting as many likes and comments on my posts as possible, craving this verification, and soon my sense of self-worth was based solely on social media.
Now, through her work as a mental health worker, Elle believes that some of the main issues affecting young people today are body deformity and low self-esteem.
I hope we don’t actually see the disclaimer because advertisers no longer feel the need to change body shapes.
In my work as a doctor, I’ve also seen a rise in people concerned about their body image. It plays a role in other health conditions such as anxiety and depression, and in the worst case can lead to serious eating disorders – it is estimated that 1.25 million people in the UK suffer from eating disorders, and the lockdown has undoubtedly added to the problem.
When the unrealistic and unattainable goals set by the edited photos are not inevitably achieved, body confidence naturally deteriorates and self-confidence can be shattered. Research shows that 1 in 5 adults feel shame about their bodies, with this percentage increasing to 1 in 3 among young adults.
I hope we, as consumers and social media users, will eventually not see the disclaimer I’m suggesting because advertisers, broadcasters, and publishers will no longer feel the need to fundamentally alter proportions or body shapes.
No new law will automatically make us feel better about our skin, but my body image bill will help promote greater transparency and accountability on social media, with healthier, more realistic representations of the way we look. Not dealing with this issue now would undoubtedly be a missed opportunity for our physical and mental health.
Dr. Luke Evans is Representative for Bosworth. You can follow him @drlukeevans on social media and support his #RecogniseBodyImage campaign here.
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