Unrealistic ideal body images on social media.

13 December 2018 | Reading time: 2 minutes

What type of image do you want to portray?

Unhealthy and unrealistic body images are the subject of a recent update to the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) Code of Ethics Practice Note (Practice Note) to section 2.6 of the AANA Code of Ethics (Code).

This comes after strong public concerns about the increased use of social media influencers with perceived ‘ideal’ body types by businesses and the wide reaching implications this may have on the community.

What’s changed?

Section 2.6 of the Code provides that advertising must not depict material contrary to prevailing community standards on health and safety.

While the Code remains unchanged, the Practice Note clarifies that advertisements depicting body shapes, sizes or features which are unrealistic or unattainable through healthy practices (and are not justifiable in the context of the advertised product or service) may be caught by section 2.6.

The Ad Standards Community Panel (Community Panel) is expected to rely on this guidance when assessing advertising complaints.

What this means for you.

If you engage a social media influencer to post about your brand, products or services and have a reasonable degree of control over that post (eg you prepare or pre-approve the post), the Code applies to you.

This means you should avoid:

  • Editing a photo to the point where it conveys an unrealistic body shape and size (eg shrinking an influencer’s waist so much that it is unrealistically disproportionate to the rest of the body).
  • Captioning a post in a way that implies a certain body shape or size is required to use the advertised product (eg ‘if you are a size 4, this would be perfect for you’).
  • Presenting an influencer who is extremely underweight as aspirational, if the influencer’s body size is unattainable through a healthy lifestyle (eg only attainable through unhealthy diet and exercise).

What you should do.

Before approving or posting an advertisement, think about the impression the advertisement conveys. If you think it may depict an unhealthy ideal body image, consider whether it is justifiable in the context eg depicting an extremely underweight person may be justifiable if the advertised product seeks to address the underlying health issue.

If it is not justifiable, you may be at risk of a complaint being made and the Community Panel finding you have breached the Code.

Complaints process.

Not all complaints are referred to the Community Panel. A complaint will not be referred where the advertisement has previously been considered by the Community Panel, is about an issue the Community Panel has consistently dismissed or is about an issue which falls outside Ad Standards’ authority.

An advertiser will be given an opportunity to respond if a complaint is referred to the Community Panel. While the Code is self-regulated and imposes no penalties for non-compliance, all complaints assessed and determined by the Community Panel are published publicly. This can have a significant reputational impact on your brand, even if a breach is found not to have occurred.

Get in touch with Bespoke for advice on minimising the risk of advertising complaints or assistance with responding to a complaint about your business.