In my role as a GP before becoming an MP, I saw first-hand the negative effects that social media platforms and false advertising can have on a person’s relationship with their body. Which is why I started the #RecogniseBodyImage campaign.
In the UK there are an estimated 1.25 million people suffering with anorexia or bulimia, and over 1 million people using steroids or image enhancing drugs. It is no secret that social media puts pressure on people to have a certain - often unachievable - body shape and size.
Viewing digitally altered bodies can have harmful effects on a person’s – particularly a child’s – self-esteem and body image. As many as 1 in 3 teenagers feel shame about their body, with 94% of girls aged 11-21 believing more needs to be done to protect young people from body image pressures online.
According to recent research carried out by Dove:
- 80% of girls said they had already applied a filter or used a retouching app to change the way they look in their photos by age 13
- 80% said they compared the way they looked with others on social media
- 77% tried to change or hide at least one body part/feature before posting a photo of themselves
- Girls who distort their photos are more likely to have low body-esteem (48%) compared to those that don’t distort their photos at all (28%)
The Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation, a signatory of my Body Image Pledge (see below), and the British Medical Journal state that BDD is a mental illness characterised by a preoccupation with perceived 'defects' or 'flaws'. It is estimated that over 1 million adults in the UK have BDD.
For too long advertising and promotional images have contained digitally manipulated body proportions, falsely presenting them as an honest representation of that person. Not only does this harm people who see these images online, in stores or on the pages of magazines, but it causes distress to the person who has had their body digitally ‘fixed’.
My work on this important issue is threefold...
Body Image Pledge
The Pledge is a voluntary commitment which brands, charities and organisations can sign to show they will not digitally manipulate a person’s body proportions in any of their direct images.
National organisations such as Dove, Boots, Marks and Spencer and Boohoo Group have signed the Pledge, committing to stop digitally 'fixing' another person's body shape and size.
Body Image Bill
The Body Image Bill, introduced in Parliament on January 12th, would require advertisers and influencers to place a label on images where body proportions have been digitally manipulated. For example, where a person's waist has been made thinner, legs longer or slimmer, biceps enlarged etc.
Unfortunately, both times I have brought the Bill forward it has run out of Parliamentary time. However, I have been pleased to see recognition of the need for a label in the Women's Health Strategy and the Health Select Committee report following an inquiry into Body Image.
Asking the Government to #RecogniseBodyImage as a priority harm
In 2021 I created a petition (closed April 29th 2022) which urged the Government to #RecogniseBodyImage as a priority in the Online Harms Legislation, requiring social media companies to recognise body image in their community standards and for this content to be regulated.
Thank you to everyone who took the time to sign and support this.
For updates on my #RecogniseBodyImage campaign please see the links below