By Pia Guerrero, Co-Founder/Editor
When we first launched the Adios Barbie website 12 years ago, I had to explain what the term ‘body image’ meant to friends and family when they asked what I was up to. I was leading a lot of media literacy workshops at the time where I often had to prove to skeptical teachers and students that the media affects our perceptions and self-esteem. Many didn’t believe they were impacted. But eyes and minds opened when they saw examples of body after body in magazine ads that had been digitally altered. “It’s impossible to look like that!” they’d finally exclaim. And I’d smirk, in a self-congratulatory way, thinking that my work was done.
Today, a lot of awareness has been raised around the digital and plastic manipulation of models and actresses in magazines. The likes of Kim Kardashian no longer hide the work they’ve had done and instead flaunt their new bodies on anything they can plaster their image across. Regardless, thousands of girls and women continue to hate what they look like and strive for the impossible–to look like women that don’t actually exist.
The primary message that most ads send to girls is that above all else their most valuable quality is their body and appearance. The most prominent image girls see of women and teens in the media is one that is hyper-sexualized and centers on an unrealistic ideal of beauty and size. As a result, studies show that mass media consumption is linked to obesity, eating disorders, and poor body image. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 42 percent of girls in first through third grade want to be thinner, 81 percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat, and 51 percent of 9 and 10-year-old girls feel better about themselves if they are on a diet.
The good news is that the American Medical Association (AMA) announced they’ve adopted a policy against what I’d call false advertising.
The AMA adopted a new policy to encourage advertising associations to work with public and private sector organizations concerned with child and adolescent health to develop guidelines for advertisements, especially those appearing in teen-oriented publications, that would discourage the altering of photographs in a manner that could promote unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image.
To drive the point home, Dr. McAneny of the AMA states, “We must stop exposing impressionable children and teenagers to advertisements portraying models with body types only attainable with the help of photo editing software.”
This institutional stand is definitely a cause for celebration, but don’t put on your party hat just yet. While the first step is always the most important, I hope AMA doesn’t end at only “encourag[ing] advertising associations” to stop their practices. Because it’s not just the advertisements in magazines that are the problem. It’s ads everywhere. In fact it’s other media like billboards, commercials, music videos, movies–even cartoons. I applaud the AMA for taking this first step. It’s powerful and important and will hopefully lead to great strides towards long-term change in how women and girls are portrayed everywhere.