A new report on the impact of body image on mental and physical health from the Health and Social Care Committee has worrying findings, leading to calls for regulation on doctored images.
Images of models that have been digitally altered should carry a warning sign, according to the Health and Social Care Committee. The committee is putting pressure on the government to introduce new laws following a huge and complex report that found “a rise in body image dissatisfaction across the population”, largely blaming unregulated social media and weight stigma.
The committee wants the government to introduce a law that requires online commercial content to carry a logo that will explain how the image has been filtered or altered, including noting any changes to body proportions and skin tone.
That means any content branded as an #ad will have to have disclaimers, but the HSC also suggests the government works with the industry and with the advertising body, the ASA, to discourage all influencers from doctoring their images regardless.
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The report included testimonies from mental health charity Young Minds as well as body positivity influencer Alex Light and people who have suffered from negative body image.
The HSC states there was large “evidence about the potential harm from online content that promotes an idealised, often doctored and unrealistic, body image and the link to developing low self-esteem and related mental health conditions”.
Given this impact, the report calls for changes to procedures offline. With up to 15% of people who go for non-surgical cosmetic treatments, like fillers and botox, having diagnosable body dysmorphia, the HSC suggests the need for a ‘two-part consent process’ that includes a full medical and mental health history.
It also suggests the need for a mandatory 48-hour ‘cooling off’ period between the consent process and undergoing the procedure.
Body image and mental health
The HSC surveys showed nearly 80% of people said they strongly agreed or agreed that their body image had a negative effect on their mental health, leading to calls for serious changes to how seriously our relationship with our bodies are taken.
The committee says the government needs “to better equip future generations and their families with the skills and resources required to tackle body image issues. These skills and resources include critical thinking, particularly when it comes to appraising images and self-worth.”
It also asks for mental health practitioners who are trained to spot early signs of body image dissatisfaction to be introduced in schools and a national awareness campaign around safe anabolic steroid use to be run in gyms with a high proportion of bodybuilders.
The report also notes how negative body image can co-exist alongside calls for healthy lifestyles, urging the government to ensure their policy focuses on health rather than “schemes that focus solely on weight loss and can engender weight stigma and result in adverse health outcomes.”
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It also recommends health professionals have training on weight stigma, and an urgent review of current campaigns related to obesity and alterations to any language or media used that fail to mention being underweight is as big a risk as being overweight.
It’s a hefty report that shines a light on how bad things have become in this country, particularly for young and vulnerable people. Some measures in this report sound drastic on the surface but with the evidence pointing to a mental health crisis, the demands are justified. It’s now up to the government to take the advice.
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