By now, none of us should be naive to the effects of advertising and Photoshop on our population's mental and physical health. The statistics are well-documented. 70% of middle school girls don't think they're "good enough" in some way. 50% of 13-year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies, which increases to 80% by the time they are 17-years-old and lasts into adulthood. Which leads me to wonder why, with all of this awareness, is no one who actually has the power to affect change doing anything about it?
In 2011, several highly-Photoshopped billboards featuring Christy Turlington and Julia Roberts were subject of debate in England. Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament Jo Swinson pushed to have the images removed, as they provided false and unrealistic expectations of what women should and could look like. She understood the health consequences these images could have on those who saw them, and in particular on children. It was this move that sparked something in marketing executive Seth Matlins.
When Matlins read about the removal of these advertisements, he was already acutely aware of the consequences this type of advertising was having on the epidemic of self-esteem and self-loathing that has swept our nation. Wondering who in the U.S. government was looking out for his kids, as the British government was theirs, Matlins found no one was doing anything at a legislative level, and so he decided to step up and do something about it. His activism began as an article in The Huffington Post, Why Beauty Ads Should Be Legislated, wherein he pointed out that adults and children alike are being bullied into expectations that they can never realize or reach and it's causing real, life-long, health consequences. He also called for a labeling initiative, Photosho-\p-and-tell, requiring advertisers disclose when they've Photoshopped the people in their ads materially.
Following the article, Matlins assembled a group of non-government organizations to find support in Congress and the Senate. He got nowhere. But that didn't stop him. In 2013, he partnered with the Eating Disorders Coalition to lobby for the issue. In April 2014, the Truth in Advertising Act of 2014 (H.R. 4341) was introduced with bipartisan congressional support (Ros-Lehtinen/R-FL and Capps/D-CA).
The Truth in Advertising Act asks the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to develop what's called a "regulatory framework" for ads that significantly change the people in them through image-altering techniques like "Photoshop." The bill gives the FTC 18 months to bring together all the stakeholders (consumer groups, health groups, women's, girls and media activists, eating disorders groups and the advertising community) to figure out what can be done to protect consumers, in particular children, from this ad practice moving forward. The FTC would then be responsible to report back to Congress with their recommendations, remedies and regulatory framework.
Matlins perspective is that the FTC does not need to change current guidelines, they need to evolve their interpretation of them.
The FTC right now in this moment has all of the authority they need to enforce this. They don't need a bill, they need to act. Despite the harm being done to our children, they're not. Part of the problem is that the definitions of false and unfair advertising were last updated by the FTC in 1983 and have historically required a performance claim such as, "Recommended by 8 out of 10 doctors." Among the many things that have changed in the ad and consumer landscapes since 1983 is that most advertising isn't performance based anymore. It's often lifestyle and image based. Advertising uses images, aspirations and ideals to sell lifestyles that sell product. The idea of advertising being singularly performance based as defined in 1983, is absolutely out of date with evolution of the ad marketplace. The perpetuation of problem is because the FTC has yet to evolve its interpretations and the ad-industry has ignored calls for self-regulation.
Matlins also recognizes that this regulatory action would not be necessary if the advertising industry chose to self-regulate. He has called on the industry to sit down and work together to solve the problem. The response has been a resounding silence. Those with the power to make a change are demonstrating the "If I don't see it, it doesn't exist" mentality.
In the Summer of 2014 we launched the Truth in Advertising Heroes Pledge for advertisers, agencies, and talent that says 1. Disclose the use of Photoshop, so no one confuses fantasy with reality. 2. Don't run ads where kids can see them, because they don't have cognitive ability to process these false images. The pledge was launched with a petition asking Dove to be first to sign it. We figured how could they say no? They've been marketing 'Real Beauty' for 10 years. We approached them first and they said nothing. They ignored us and thousands of consumers repeatedly and consistently, failing to return phone calls, tweets, emails, etc. Which leads us to think that it's just another campaign to manipulate emotion and lacks true authenticity. I hope we're wrong.
The Truth in Advertising Act will need to be reintroduced in 2015. While the bill has a good amount of bi-partisan support, Matlins makes clear there is still much more to be done.
Every day we don't act is a day that some little kid is born who'll become affected and infected by these false and unfair ads. The dye's been cast on my understanding of beauty. My daughter's views on beauty are getting really close to being cemented and she's only just turned 9. So much of this is about that kid that hasn't been born yet or hasn't been exposed to media yet. That's what we're fighting for. Everyday we don't address the problem is a day that countless kids are affected, and countless adults have their beliefs reinforced, and countless teenage girls feel bad about themselves, become depressed or start acting out with symptoms of self hate, loathing, and low self-esteem. We have to act now. How can we not?
What can you do to help?
1. Sign the petition supporting the Truth in Advertising Act HERE.
2. Become an Ally of TIAA to get updates on the bill and how to help (Brave Girls Want).
3. Share this article directly with family, friends and professional networks. Ask them to sign the petition and help spread the word.
4. Use your social media to spread the word! Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, Tumblr, etc. are all platforms that can be used to garner support for the bill.
5. Tweet your support using the #TruthInAds hashtag.
6. Email, tweet, write or call your Congressional Representative and/or Senator.
The time for truth in advertising is now.