Don’t hold your breath for advertising messages that tell you you’re just fine the way you are.
At the start of the week I posted my thoughts about the Federal Government’s new voluntary body image code of conduct. I said that it was basically OK as far as it went, but that it had ignored a significant contributor to body image dissatisfaction, the objectification of women and sexualisation of girls. The advertising, fashion and beauty industries weren’t being called upon to cease this practice, which is demonstrably harmful to them. You can have a range of body shapes, sizes and ethnicities represented, but they can still be posed and styled in sexually objectifying ways. Objectification in a size 14 is still objectification.
Thinking about the issue further, while in so many ways the code doesn’t go far enough, in one way it demonstrates remarkable naivete in regard to the beauty industry and the way it advertises itself. A section of the code contains criteria for compliance with the “realistic and natural images of people”. As if the beauty industry is going to do that? It doesn’t want to use real and natural women who might have moles, freckles, blotchy skin, pimples, dry hair and bodies which don’t conform to the thin ideal. (And no one is fooled by Dove anymore, given airbrushing in the ‘Real Beauty’ campaign, its skin whitening products for dark-skinned women and the company’s latest casting calls for women with ‘beautiful hair and skin’, ‘nice bodies’ and who are ‘not too curvy’).
The Code also “encourages organisations to ensure the messages in advertising do not contradict the positive body image messages that may be presented in editorial content.” You have got to be joking. The whole aim of beauty advertising is to make women feel bad about themselves, inadequate and in need of improvement. Making women feel good will defeat the whole purpose of what they do. Don’t expect any upbeat messages about how you are fine the way you are anytime soon.
I would love to be proven wrong, of course.
Zero percent of beauty industry advertising would receive the body image tick of approval
Erica Bartle over at Girl With A Satchel has written a really good post on this aspect of the code. In it she argues, quite rightly, that zero percent of beauty industry advertising would receive the body image tick of approval by conforming to the code in regard to ‘realistic and natural’ depictions and ‘fair placement’ which calls on advertising to be consistent with positive body image messages in the editorials and feature sections of magazines. You can read her views here.
Karen Brooks, author of ‘Consuming Innocence: Popular Culture and Our Children‘, has also weighted into the discussion, with a piece worth reading in the Courier Mail today. In it she writes:
Not only am I concerned that we continue to identify very real social and psychological problems and then provide unrealistic and unattainable solutions (a tick? voluntary?), but we also go about the process the wrong way.
You can read Karen Brooks article here.