The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) has joined leading experts on body image issues from around the world to pledge its support of the global launch of the Real Women campaign, which condemns the use of ultra-thin, digitally altered women in advertisements.
A research paper released Monday, The Impact of Media Images on Body Image and Behaviours: A Summary of the Scientific Evidence,* examines the psychological effects of consumer society on individuals, particularly media influences on body dissatisfaction, materialism and dysfunctional buying behavior. Signed by 45 leading academics, doctors and clinical psychologists from the U.S.A., England, Australia, Brazil, Spain and Ireland, it details scientific evidence on how the use of airbrushing to promote “body perfect” ideals in advertising is a root cause of an array of serious problems in young women, including eating disorders, depression, extreme exercising and an increase in cosmetic surgery.
The Liberal Democrats of the U.K. launched the Real Women campaign in August – which is now growing into a worldwide endeavor – encouraging people to complain about airbrushing to the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) and the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) to force advertisers to identify airbrushed images and to ban it in ads aimed at children. Nearly 1,000 people took action. ASA and CAP responded by asking for scientific evidence to back the campaign’s assertions.
The release of today’s paper provides that documentation and NEDA supports the work of these experts, some of whom are founders and committee members of the organization.
Michael Levine, Ph.D., FAED, Professor of Psychology at Kenyon College, a NEDA founder, and member of its Clinical and Scientific Advisory Council and a contributing author of the study confirms, “There is now overwhelming research evidence pointing to the negative impact of certain aspects of mass media on the hearts, minds, health and body images of females and males alike. The practice of critical evaluation and truth-telling about such socio-cultural factors needs to be a part of efforts by everyone—parents, physicians, coaches and business leaders. We need to help people of all ages see it is possible and admirable to take a stand, speak up and choose a healthier direction for our children, ourselves and the future.”
Comments Lynn Grefe, CEO of NEDA, “The pressure for young people to aspire to meet these unrealistic expectations is creating not only confusion but dangerous behaviors that often lead to potentially life-threatening eating disorders. We are proud to support this international effort to bring about change.”
The Real Women campaign asks that:
• Children be protected from body image pressure by banning airbrushing of people in advertising aimed at a demographic younger than 16-years-old.
• Ads aimed at adults must clearly indicate the extent to which they have been airbrushed or digitally enhanced.
• Modules on body image, health, well-being and media literacy are to be taught in schools.
The text of the study* reveals:
• Body dissatisfaction is a significant risk for physical and mental health disorders. Idealized media images directly increase body dissatisfaction and negatively impact well-being.
• Numerous studies document that ultra-thin and highly muscular “body perfect” ideals have a detrimental effect on women and men.
• Negative effects occur in the majority of adolescent girls and women as documented in over 100 published scientific studies on the impact of “perfected” media images.
• Adolescents are more vulnerable than adults.
• A subscription to a fashion magazine increases body dissatisfaction and elevates the occurrence of dieting and bulimic symptoms among adolescent girls with little social support.
• Curbing the impact of idealized media images leads to improvement in body image and body-related behaviors, or at least to harm reduction.
In addition to Levine, the research paper was written by Dr. Helga Dittmar, University of Sussex; Dr. Emma Halliwell, University of the West of England; and professor Marika Tiggemann, School of Psychology, Flinders University, Australia.
Signatories in addition to NEDA include Dr. Susie Orbach, psychoanalyst and well-known author; Professor Susan J. Paxton, president of the Academy of Eating Disorders; and the directors of the Centre for Appearance Research in the U.K.
The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), headquartered in Seattle, Wash., a not-for-profit organization, supports individuals and families affected by eating disorders and advocates for prevention, treatment and research funding for eating disorders. Since the inception of its Helpline in 1999, NEDA has referred more than 50,000 people to treatment and tallies more than 40 million hits annually on its Website.
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*Full copy of study available upon request.