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Committee launches new inquiry into body image

02 April 2020

What affects body image? How does negative body image affect different people? Is there a role for Government in creating policies and strategies to address any problems?

Negative body image is widely perceived as solely a young women’s problem. But more recently, numerous surveys and other research have shown that this is a wider issue: 

  • Recent studies report that over a third of adults feel anxious or depressed about their body image, and nearly half (44%) want to see greater diversity in the mainstream media.
  • Young men are reported by the NHS to have higher self-esteem than young girls, despite this, one study [link] showed that 57% felt pressured by social media to look good, and 23% believed there to be a ‘perfect male body.’ 
  • The Mental Health Foundation reported in a recent study that 40% of LGBT+ adults felt shame because of their body image, compared to 18% of the heterosexual adults. 
  • Trailblazers, a national network of young disabled people found in their body image campaign that 80% of disabled people surveyed said that their body image has a direct impact on their mental well being, and almost half said that the absence of people who look like them in the mainstream media has a negative impact on how they feel about the way they look.

Chair's comments

Committee Chair, Caroline Nokes said:

“Negative body image can affect anyone. This is not just an issue for young people, although the impact on young women is known to be problematic. We are particularly keen to hear about how it interacts with other protected characteristics such as disability, ethnicity, and sexuality. We would like to hear from people about the impact it has on them, their views about the causes, and what role the Government and regulators might have in addressing the problem.”

The inquiry will consider questions about the role of media, social media and advertising, and will consider whether there is enough research and data to support the Government in creating policy surrounding body image and social media. Other issues considered will include:

  • Whether companies advertise their goods and services responsibly in relation to promoting body image
  • The role of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in promoting diversity and a positive body image in both broadcast and non-broadcast advertising 
  • To what extent proposals in the Online Harms White Paper protect people from potential harm caused by social media content in regard to body image.

The Committee would like to hear from a range of people and organisations on what causes poor body image, and the role of companies, advertising, social media and Government policy. Contributions are welcomed both from individuals and from organisations by Friday 26 June. You can find out more, and how to contribute to our inquiry [here] 

Terms of reference

The impact of poor body image

Who is particularly at risk of poor body image? (groups protected by the Equality Act)  

  • What is the impact for those with multiple protected characteristics including race, disability, sex and sexuality? 

What contributes to poor body image? 

What are the long-term effects of poor body image on people? 

What is the impact of media consumption on people’s body image, does it impact their mental health? 

What is the relationship between poor body image and mental health conditions including eating disorders? 

Media 

What is the effect of the following on people’s body image when using social media? 

  • Adverts 
  • User-generated content (posts from friends) 
  • User-generated content (posts from celebrities) 
  • Content promoting eating disorders and diet culture 
  • Content promoting cosmetic surgery/interventions 

What are the responsibilities of companies and the media in ensuring diversity in the images we see? 

Which adverts or campaigns have had a negative impact on body image?  

Which adverts or campaigns stand out in promoting a positive body image? 

Regulation 

Has Government policy had an impact on improving body image? 

  • What strategy should the Government take to encourage healthy body image for young people? 
  • Is there enough research and data to support the Government in creating policy surrounding body image and social media? 

Would proposals in the Online Harms White Paper protect people from potential harm caused by social media content in regard to body image? 

Do companies advertise their goods and services responsibly in relation to promoting positive body image? 

What is the role of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in promoting diversity and a positive body image in 

  • Non-broadcast advertising: websites, social media, emails etc 
  • Broadcast advertising: TV and radio 

How successful is the ASA at protecting the public from adverts that have a negative impact on body image?

Further information

Image: Sarah Allam

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