Why it's so important we see healthy models in advertising - as Nasty Gal ad is BANNED

10th Oct 18 | Lifestyle

Prudence Wade considers the impact of unrealistic bodies in the media.

ASA bans Nasty Gal ad

We might be well-used to adverts featuring incredibly slim women, but now the Advertising Standards Authority has ruled Nasty Gal has gone too far by using a model who looks “unhealthily underweight”.

After receiving 22 complaints that the ads were socially irresponsible, the ASA has now banned three TV ads by the online retailer. Even though Nasty Gal said the model was a UK size eight and had a healthy body mass index, the ASA argued there were specific scenes which drew attention to her slimness – including one which prominently shows her ribcage.

This isn’t the first time the governing body has stepped in to ban what they see to be “damaging” adverts, and for some, it might seem like a form of censorship, but for others it’s a welcome decision.

So why is it so important we see healthy women in advertising – what difference does it really make?

Fostering unrealistic body expectations

Nasty Gal ad
Another screengrab from the banned Nasty Gal advert (ASA/PA)

It’s true that there is an increasing number of plus size models hitting the big time, with the likes of Ashley Graham and Tess Holliday paving the way. However, there’s no denying the majority of women we see in advertising are far slimmer than the average size 16 in the UK.

In 2016, Mighty Goods published research which showed 94% of models are underweight with BMIs below 18.5. The danger with this is how it could  normalise unhealthy bodies – it subliminally suggests to women that the ‘right’ kind of body is an underweight one.

The impact on disordered eating

This new ‘normal’ of skinny women in advertising can have potentially damaging knock-on effects. Seeing so many adverts featuring almost improbably slim bodies could make people think that their own is not good enough.

It’s not too much of a leap to envisage how this could contribute to eating disorders (ED). The charity Beat estimates around 1.25 million people in the UK suffer from an ED – even though such conditions are due to a whole range of reasons, it could reasonably be presumed that many sufferers are striving to achieve the underweight bodies they see in adverts and the media in general.

Seeing a more realistic view of women in advertising will hardly solve the problem of body confidence and eating disorders, but it will surely ease some of the intense pressures that many of us, particularly young women, feel.

Overall effects on mental health

Back in 2015, digital marketing company Red Crow estimated that most Americans are exposed to around 4,000 to 10,000 ads a day. It might seem like an eyewatering amount, but think of how many adverts you see but don’t register – from outdoor billboards to scrolling through Instagram at a million miles an hour.

As such, we’re exposed to a lot of subliminal advertising on a daily basis, and this can have a huge impact on your mental health, including knock self-confidence and subtly telling us that our bodies simply aren’t good enough.

It’s not just size that’s a problem in advertising, but also diversity in all shapes and forms – think of how many people of different ethnicities or sexual orientations rarely see themselves represented. There’s no doubt this will have an impact on mental health, and only serves to reinforce the damaging notion that there is only one acceptable way to look and be.

That’s why it’s so important that advertisers step up and start showing more positive, healthy images for us to consume. Considering we see so many adverts a day, it doesn’t seem like so much to ask for them to be a bit truer to life.

© Press Association 2018