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AANA tightens rules on advertisers’ portrayal of body images

The Australian Association of National Advertisers has updated its guidelines on the portrayal of body image in advertising with a pointed reminder to marketers in the influencer and social media sectors.

In its latest update to the industry code of ethics practice note, the AANA has flagged advertising and marketing portraying unrealistic body images, shapes or features will be subject to censure by the Ad Standards Board.

AANA’s director of policy & regulatory affairs, Simone Brandon pointed out the updated rules do not prohibit advertisers from including a diversity of images, including people who have a variety of sizes and shapes

The new rule, which will be applied to complaints made to the Ad Standards Community Panel, adds body image to section 2.6 of the industry code of ethics which prohibits advertising which depicts material contrary to prevailing community standards on health and safety.

“We know from our Advertising Sentiment Index research that body image in advertising is a community concern and the AANA is committed to ensuring that advertising does not exacerbate the problem, by setting a standard that advertising must not promote an unrealistic body image,” said the AANA’s director of policy and regulatory affairs, Simone Brandon.

The note states:

Advertising that provides an unrealistic ideal body image by portraying body shapes or features that are unrealistic or unattainable through healthy practices, which is not justifiable in the context of the product or service being advertised, will be contrary to prevailing community standards relating to health and safety.

An unrealistic ideal body image may occur where the overall theme, visuals or language used in the advertisement imply that:

  • a body shape, or feature, of the kind depicted (e.g. very thin or very muscular) is required to use the product or service or to participate in an activity associated with the product or service;
  • those people who do not have a body shape, or feature, of the kind depicted cannot use the product or service, or participate in a particular activity; or
  • those people who do not have a body shape, or feature, of the kind depicted should alter their body shape, or features, before they can use the product or service, or participate in a particular activity.
  • An unrealistic ideal body image may also occur where models are depicted in a way that:
    promotes unhealthy practices
  • presents an unrealistic body image as aspirational; or
  • is reasonably likely to cause pressure to conform to a body shape that is unrealistic or unattainable through healthy practices (such as diet or physical activities)

Body size: The Code does not require the use of ‘healthy weight’ models as this term could exclude people in smaller or larger bodies from advertising, by unnecessarily limiting the portrayal of diversity in society. As such, advertisements may include a diversity of images, including people who have a variety of sizes and shapes, but advertisers should take care to avoid images of people with extreme body weights or shapes that are unrealistic or unattainable through healthy practices which are not justifiable in the context of the product or service advertised, and which are contrary to prevailing community standards relating to health and safety.

While the use of people in smaller or larger bodies is itself not necessarily problematic, advertisers must ensure that models do not adopt a pose or are not depicted in a way which produces an unrealistic sense of body image, for example through the style of the advertising, the clothing, lighting, or make-up used.

Alteration of images: The use of digitally-enhanced images is a normal part of the production process used in many aspects of the media and advertising industries, and is a vehicle for visual expression. The Code does not prevent the use of post-production, altering or digitally enhancing an image. Similarly, the Code does not require a disclosure that images have been digitally altered.

However, where technology is used to digitally alter images of people to such an extent that their body shape, or features, are no longer realistic or attainable through healthy practices, or where the changes are not justifiable in the context of the product or service advertised, the advertisement may breach the Code if it is contrary to prevailing community standards relating to health and safety.

Advertisers should refrain from altering images in a way that changes the body shape or proportions portrayed, for example by lengthening a person’s legs to the extent they are not in proportion with the rest of their body or tightening their waist disproportionately to the rest of their body, so that the resulting image portrays a body shape or features that are unrealistic or unattainable through healthy practices.

The AANA said that the Code does not prohibit advertisers from including a diversity of images, including people who have a variety of sizes and shapes. “However, advertisers should take care to not present an unrealistic body image as a shape to conform or aspire to,” Brandon added.

The updated body image guidelines follows the AANA tightening gender stereotypes earlier in the year.

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