Legislation Targets Advertisers That Deploy ‘Weapons of Mass Perfection’

by Vins

In March 2014, Rep. Illeana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) introduced the Truth in Advertising Act of 2014, which calls on the Federal Trade Commission to regulate and reduce altered images of bodies in advertising. As Elizabeth Zwerling reports for Women’s E-News, the bill (HR 4341) has the potential to positively impact the self-perceptions of women and men everywhere. “We need to give young people the tools they need to distinguish fact from fiction,” said U.S. Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) who is cosponsoring the bill with Rep. Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL). “This bill is a first step.”

The bill also proposes comprehensive research to uncover the harmful effects of Photoshopped images on the public’s body image, and mental and physical health. According to the Congress’s webpage, the proposal has not made progress.

As Zwerling reports, the bill is strongly supported by Seth Matlins, creator of the website FeelMoreBetter.com, whose mission is to help women fight against dominant images and narratives which promote unrealistic norms of beauty. In regard to editing, Matlins said, “We’re only concerned with shape, size, proportion, color or the enhancement or removal of characteristics . . .” Matlins refers to digitally altered images as Weapons of Mass Perfection and has created a Change.org petition to gain public support.

According to Zwerling, in addition to the bill’s congressional sponsors, many women’s advocacy groups, health professionals, and disordered-eating support groups currently support it. In fact, the American Medical Association, adopted similar policies in 2011, urging advertisers to work closely with health professionals to develop guidelines for advertising in order to alleviate the negative health effects of media advertising.

Citing the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, Zwerling frames the importance of this issue by stating that sixty-nine percent of girls in one study reported that models influence their perceptions of the ideal body, and that eight-one percent of ten-year-olds are afraid of being fat. The deplorable practices of digital editing have been uncovered and the effects of media on girls’ and boys’ perceptions of themselves have been backed up by research for years.

Yet, opponents to the bill say it violates First Amendment rights and demonizes advertising. Furthermore, the bill is deemed unnecessary by the Association of National Advertisers and the American Advertising Federation because the FTC supposedly already protects against deceptive advertising. Despite the public debate, the corporate news media have failed to provide adequate coverage on this story.

This begs the question of what it will take for advertisers to make the step towards change. In 2009, Ralph Lauren was under public scrutiny when an advertisement featuring Filippia Hamilton, a size eight model, was digitally distorted in a way that made her head appear significantly larger than her waist. The public took criticisms to blogs and social media. A spokesperson apologized for the mishap and vowed to maintain brand quality and integrity in the future (note the preoccupation with the brand image and not their effect on consumers).

Media coverage of these practices is vital, as is coverage of current grassroots campaigns to strike down unattainable beauty ideals. The fact that the corporate media have failed to cover this issue speaks to the dependence of a capitalist society on maintaining hegemonic ideologies to secure consumers, on the basis of standards of beauty that elude even the society’s top models.

Source: Elizabeth Zwerling, “Bill Targets ‘Weapons of Mass Perfection’ Advertising”, August 19, 2014, http://womensenews.org/story/crime-policylegislation/140818/bill-targets-weapons-mass-perfection-advertising – .VGL2EPTF9jQ.

Student Researcher: Cortney Anderson (Pomona College)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Pomona College)