We’ve known for years that consumption of media that pushes thin ideals makes people feel worse about themselves, which in turn can lead to or reinforce dangerous disordered eating behaviors. That’s not just a bunch of body image activists talking – in 2011, the American Medical Association (AMA) did it’s own extensive research on the subject. The AMA concluded that “photoshopped” ads which portray unrealistic human bodies have such a detrimental effect on body image and self esteem that it became the organization’s official opinion to strongly discourage the practice. You can read about the AMA’s 2011 findings here on the AMA’s official site, the Huffington Post, ABC News, and EatingDisorder.org.
Unfortunately, the AMA doesn’t exactly have any authority to enforce that policy on the beauty and diet industry. However, Congress does, and with the strong precedent established by the American Medical Association, that’s exactly what we’re hoping to do.
On April 3, 2014, the Eating Disorders Coalition took to Capitol Hill for it’s 25th lobby day (wow!). I’m happy to say I’ve been there for approximately half of them, having attended twice a year since 2007. In addition to supporting the FREED Act, we’re terribly excited to be advocating for a new Bill that has been introduced with support out the door from both Republican and Democrat lawmakers. In late March, Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Lois Capps (D-CA), and Ted Deutch (D-FL) introduced the Truth in Advertising Act of 2014 (read the full bill text here). The Eating Disorders Coalition also put out a press release on their blog.
This new Bill would ask the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which already regulates false advertising as a means of consumer protection, to further study the effects of computer-altered ads involving the human form. A pharmaceutical company can’t put out a new drug saying it will do something that it indeed doesn’t do – that’s a deceptive advertising practice. That’s why all those really up-beat drug commercials with smiling people in perfect suburban neighborhoods have fine print at the bottom informing you they’re actors and that results may vary. Essentially, if a diet or beauty product puts a model in their advertisement, but then photoshops the heck out of the image so much that the model doesn’t even recognize himself or herself, that’s false advertising, too. They can’t truly say that someone who used their product achieved those results, because they clearly didn’t.
What about Free Speech? Yeah, that was my first question, too. Obviously, artistic expression is a protected form of free speech. The Bill would not effect magazine covers or editorial content – only advertisements meant to sell products. The FTC already exercises that power over advertisements as a means of consumer protection, it’s just usually an authority used on literal words or statements. Given the strong empirical link between computer-altered media and negative body image, low self esteem, and disordered eating behaviors, it’s an easy argument to make that this is a matter of public health. The authors of the Bill have been very careful and clear in their wording of it, and there’s no doubt in my mind that Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen would be championing the effort is there was any risk of it infringing on free speech. Not to mention, it’s less than three pages long – you can read the whole thing faster than you can read this blog post!
As leader of the Virginia Team, my group managed to meet with seven different offices the day we were there. We had very positive meetings in every office, and an especially good meeting with Congressman Robert Hurt. Meetings usually occur with Congressional staff, but Representative Hurt met with us personally and took a special interest in the cause.
By the way… this issue isn’t going away any time soon. TIME Magazine did an amazing write-up about the efforts on April 3 (please share and RT!):
Lobbyists push Congress to curb misleading photoshop ads http://t.co/gcXBeCy9qs
— TIME.com (@TIME) April 4, 2014
Search #TruthInAds on Twitter to follow the conversation online, and use that hashtag when sharing information about the efforts!
Care about this issue? Can’t attend Lobby Day but still want to make a difference? Good news, you can! Remember, the Truth in Advertising Act of 2014 has already been determined to be zero-cost. Price of new legislation is usually one of the biggest barriers to getting new laws passed, in addition to finding ways of legislating that both parties can agree on. As previously stated, this Bill is already bipartisan!
If you live in the United States, asking your Representative in Congress to support a Bill is really easy. First, go here:
Find out who your rep is, and then from there you can locate their office contact info from their personal website. You can call or a write letter (or both!) and ask them to check out HR4341. If you have a personal connection or experience with eating disorders, let them know why this is so important to you. And of course, you can consider coming to DC in the Fall!
The next Lobby Day with the Eating Disorders Coalition is September 30-October 1. Mark your calendars now!
Finally, we bid farewell to our Policy Director, Jeanine Cogan. After 14 years she is ready to move on to other things, but the EDC wouldn’t exist without her amazing efforts and commitment to the cause. You can read her farewell statement here on the EDC blog.
Alright, here are some pictures from Lobby Day and the reception the night before. Please ask your rep to support Truth in Advertising, share this post with everyone, and please consider coming to advocate with us in the Fall!
Thanks for reading. Please contact your representatives, and maybe I’ll see you in DC in October?