Yesterday, it was reported that an Yves Saint Laurent advertisement, which first appeared in the magazine Elle, has been banned for using a model who appeared to be an unhealthy weight. The UK’s advertising watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), deemed the advert to be irresponsible, stating that it “breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.3 (Responsible advertising)” and reminding the advertisers to ensure that the images in their future ads were prepared responsibly. The model in question is laying on the floor with her chest pushed towards the camera to exaggerate her ribcage and bones, whilst her legs are splayed apart and pressed towards the floor to make them appear, if possible, even smaller. The harsh black and white contrast only serves to further highlight the angles of the model.
It’s not the first time YSL have been under fire for their advertising. Last year, a blogger named Shannon Bradley-Colleary collected almost 50,000 signatures on a petition asking the brand to “not use images of painfully thin models in your advertisements anymore“, stating that “the use of these images in your print ads is both damaging to the models themselves, who get the message they have to be uber-thin to get work, and to young girls and women who see these images and internalize the message that low-BMI is desirable“. And in 2011 an YSL perfume ad was banned for simulating drug use in its imagery.
But my problem is not with this individual advertisement, or, even, this individual brand. My problem is with the industry as a whole. This advert is only one of thousands that grace our magazines, televisions, billboards, bus stops, newspapers, websites, and cinema screens every week. This advert is only one small image in an ocean of photographs of underweight women and “heroin-chic” models. And yet, this advert is only one out of a handful of adverts that have ever had action taken against them by the ASA and similar watchdogs. For example, in December a photograph of an incredibly thin-looking underwear model was banned from Urban Outfitters website, due to the “unhealthy thigh gap” and because the “[model’s] thighs and knees were a similar width“, with the ASA stating that “using a noticeably underweight model was likely to impress upon that audience that the image was representative of the people who might wear Urban Outfitters’ clothing, and as being something to aspire to“.
But how many other photographs have Urban Outfitters put out there that feature gaunt, emaciated girls? How many other advertisements have YSL made that star women who look unhealthily thin? How many of those have been banned?
Does banning one image really make a difference in this mire filled with depictions of unhealthy body image and misrepresentation that we, as women, must wade through every single minute of every single day?
Also in the news this week was the headline that hospital admissions for eating disorders have nearly doubled, increasing from increased from 959 13 to 19-year-olds in 2010/11 to 1,815 in 2013/14. That figure is almost triple the number of sufferers in 2003/04, when 642 teenagers were admitted. And those are just the cases that were hospitalised. The Royal College of Psychiatrists said much of the increase is down to social pressure made worse by online images, with Dr Carolyn Nahman, the college’s spokesperson, stating that “young people who look at these images often develop body image dissatisfaction, quite low self-esteem, because they’re constantly comparing themselves to these perfect images. This is a risk factor for disordered eating and more serious eating disorders which can prove fatal“.
The media needs to take responsibility for the culture it is creating. Cinderella is no longer a fairytale about a dirty, abused, poor woman; it’s an hour-long film featuring an unrealistically beautiful woman with a photoshopped waist.
Fashion is no longer about what clothes look good or how to match your colours; it is centred around photographs of women who are so digitally manipulated that they no longer resemble their real-life counterparts. Musicians no longer need to worry about how good their music actually is, as long as they look good enough in their videos to land another sponsorship deal. Even basic advertisements on the television for things like food, beauty products, shampoo, and theme parks seem to star mums with miniature waists.
I know girls who have been anorexic, and I know girls who have had eating disorders. I can probably pick out at least 5 girls from my friends list on Facebook who I know for a fact have suffered, and for all of those I know of there are probably at least half a dozen more who have managed to keep it a secret. And it’s time for it to come to an end. We are shrinking women. We are telling women to occupy less space. We are teaching them that the less room they take up, the more society will value and respect them. And we are killing them.
And, as I said before: my problem is not with this one singular advertisement. If our media was as diverse as our society, I would not have an issue with one photograph of a slender woman with a bony chest. Because it would be proportional, and it would be accurate. Because there would be advertisements out there featuring fat women, thin women, and women in between. There would be women with little boobs but big hips, and women with chubby muffin tops, and women with perfect hourglass figures. I am not denying that there are women out there who naturally have a stick-thin physique. But there are also women out there who don’t. And by excluding them from mainstream imagery, the media is telling them that they and their bodies are not acceptable.