It is stupid on my part to think of banning the media. —Shah Rukh Khan
Banning photography for any reason is never a good idea. When we ban things such as art, photography, books, movies, and other means of expression, we are closing off an avenue of expression, a means of learning, and perhaps even a path to enlightenment and understanding for other people. Banning the arts in any form, even those distantly related such as advertising, is wrong.
So, in what seems to be a trend, the Brits have fucked it up again. This time, it’s specifically the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who has banned ads on public transit that might challenge a woman’s body image. The mayor’s action responds to an ad that ran earlier this year asking whether one’s body was “bikini ready.” Many people found the ad offensive, even foolishly started a petition on change.org, and as a result made the ad more famous and seen in more places than it ever would have on its own.
The UK is already a bit of an anomaly in the advertising world in that its Advertising Standards Board has the ability to order the removal of any ad it doesn’t like for pretty much any reason. The board has been challenged frequently for banning ads in Britain that wouldn’t have been a problem elsewhere.
Body Image As A Matter Of Perspective
Body shaming is unquestionably a problem and body image, especially among teenage girls, is a critical issue that affects other decisions that women make. Body image determines what one chooses to eat, what one chooses to wear, and even who one chooses to date. As a result, things we used to say often, such as, “Is your body bikini ready?” are no longer publicly acceptable. We find those statements offensive because we presume they promote an unsafe body image.
But what about the image accompanying that ad? While I’m not inclined to re-publish the ad again here (it’s had more press than it deserves), I can tell you that the hourglass figure of the model would not be considered too skinny by a lot of people. If the same image had run with different copy, would Mr. Khan still be so upset? Would people still be offended?
Consider the picture I chose to go with this article. Do you consider the model too thin? Does her body shape offend you? If so, why? I can promise you that the model involved is quite healthy. She certainly does not consider her body too thin and her physician would likely agree. In banning a picture of her body, are they not body shaming and affecting her body image as well?
Body Image As A Matter Of Health
Both advertising and the fashion industry have for several years been challenged with the body image they present. Paris and Milan passed laws protecting models from being forced to maintain unhealthy weights. Such laws are good and necessary. No one should be asked to do things that put them in danger simply for the sake of a photograph. I have no problems with that.
However, laws banning photographs, such as this one in London, fail to actually show concern for the health of the model. There’s no requirement for a doctor’s note, such as there is in the Paris law. There are no means in which the model’s health is even considered. Rather, a judgement call is being made by an autonomous board (the members of which have yet to be selected) without any specific guidelines for what is and isn’t acceptable.
If we’re going to be concerned about body image, shouldn’t the health, both physical and emotional, of the model be considered first? If one is banning an ad because the image is considered unhealthy, is that not also telling the model that she is unhealthy as well?
I can tell you that I’ve worked with hundreds of models who are quite frustrated at people telling them they look too thin or unhealthy. How is this type of action any different than fat shaming?
Body Image As A Form Of Judgement
Vaness Friedman, a fashion editor for the New York Times, wrote an opinion piece on the matter of photographs of skinny models yesterday. In the article, she states:
Though often conflated with the movement to protect models, which resulted in legislation in France in 2015 requiring models to produce a doctor’s note attesting to their health, and digital alteration of photographs to be disclosed, banning is a separate issue. It doesn’t involve working conditions (which can and should be legislated), but subjective, and ultimately regressive, assumptions about what constitutes a positive female image.
Banning pictures of skinny women unfairly judges them. What right does someone else have to say that a skinny body is wrong any more than an overweight body is wrong based merely upon a photograph? Can you look at a set of photographs and know, based on the model’s size and shape, which one just found out she has breast cancer, or Crone’s disease, or diabetes, or a thyroid condition? Of course you can’t! One might guess, but a large portion of the time that guess would be wrong. The judgement is unfair and unreasonable.
Banning isn’t the answer
There’s no question that body image is an important issue. Everyone should be encouraged to embrace the fullness of who and what they are without any judgement. There is no right body type for every person. We all get to be unique.
In embracing that point of view, however, we must include women who are thinner. Their body image counts just as much as that of the woman who can’t keep her weight below 350 pounds.
We also have to start trusting women to make their own decisions about their body and stop trying to do it for them. While some women may look at a Gucci ad and find the models too thin, someone else may look at the same ad and be encouraged to eat better, exercise, or consult their doctor about losing weight. We must allow room for a difference of opinion regarding any photograph.
Censorship, in any form, is wrong. Banning pictures of skinny women is a huge mistake. If Britons get a chance to re-vote on the Brexit, perhaps Mr. Khan should also consider shelving his new law. Neither do the good for which they are advertised.