Many researchers, including [Kimberley] Bissell and [Amy] Rask, have found that the feelings an individual has about their own body image can be influenced by the images they see in the media, including images of unrealistically thin – and photoshopped – models. This can lead to negative health issues.
This is one of the reasons why we created the Facebook page Beautyisonlyphotoshopdeep, together with University of Wollongong Associate Lecturer Dr Tracey Woolrych, to try to improve the world’s body image.
Now, you may be wondering, how is law relevant to body image? The connection is this: foreign governments have passed laws that relate to body image.
The Israeli government passed the first of these laws in 2012 and the law commenced the following year. The law requires models to have a minimum body mass index (BMI) to work, and also requires disclosure on images photoshopped to make models appear thinner.
The warning must state that the image was modified and it must take up at least 7 per cent of the image. Breaching the law can result in a civil lawsuit.
The French government followed Israel’s lead, passing a similar law, which came into effect this year. In contrast to the Israeli law, breaching it attracts criminal sanctions.
The government of London, United Kingdom, banned advertisements that promote unhealthy body image on public transport. Similarly, the government of Trondheim, Norway, banned advertisements that promote unhealthy body image in public places.
Are we now at the forefront of incredible change that will spread worldwide? Will we no longer be subjected to images of unhealthily thin women which can cause poor body image? Images that not only show unhealthily thin women, but glorify having that body type?
The images that often associate being unhealthily thin with so many good things in life: great relationships, being successful at work, being happy, etc. Will our daughters not face immense pressure to attain the body type that they see nearly everywhere – a body type that often does not exist in reality (because of photoshopping)? We have considered the answers to these questions in depth and we will continue to.
For example, in 2013, Marilyn [Krawitz] had an article published in The Journal of Law and Medicine entitled ‘Beauty is only Photoshop Deep: Legislating Model’s BMIs and Photoshopping Images’ about the aforementioned laws. Cindy then organised an event about this issue for Victorian Women Lawyers in late 2015. Marilyn spoke at the event, in addition to well-known journalist Tracey Spicer.
Earlier this year, we had an article published in The University of Notre Dame Australia Law Review entitled ‘All About That Bass’ and Photoshopping a Model’s Waist: Introducing Body Image Law’. The article has been downloaded approximately 450 times since it was published in March 2017.
Importantly, in our joint article, we gave a name to this developing area of law: Body Image Law. Our article defines Body Image Law as follows: ‘[t]his area of law encompasses the bills, laws and government actions (such as establishing parliamentary inquiries and creating policies) that may help to improve the body image of the general public, and particularly of young people’.
Now, back to the earlier question – whether we are at the forefront of change that will spread worldwide? We don’t know. If we were to shake a magic eight ball, we hypothesise that it would say ‘maybe’. At the moment, it does not appear that other jurisdictions are passing legislation like Israel and France. That does not mean that they will not in the future.
Further, as [we’ve written] in our article, we do not know if the Israeli and French laws will be enforced, or whether they will positively impact upon the body image of the public in the respective countries. It is easy for people to access images of unhealthily thin people on websites and social media from other countries, even though there are Body Image Laws where they live.
It could take years to wait for a change to the body image of Israeli and French citizens to occur as a result of the Body Image Laws passed and even more time to collect and analyse this information. Also, the laws could have a small impact upon body image (and other variables might have greater impact). So, it may be difficult to obtain precise evidence that measures their impact.
In our latest article, [we’ve also written] that we believe that even if the laws discussed have a positive impact, other measures are necessary to improve the public’s body image. We recommend that there is widespread education about body image in schools and universities.
We have received considerable feedback and attention from the public and others regarding our research. For example, politician Lisa Baker mentioned Marilyn’s article in the Western Australian Parliament on 15 March 2016. She stated: “I was recently made aware of Marilyn Krawitz’s work on the issue of legislating models for body mass [indices] and photoshopping images. I will quote a few pieces from a recent research paper that she released last year… From an economic perspective, this government should realise how much money it can save if we looked at a photoshop law similar to the Israeli law. It would not be something that would be able to be implemented solely in Western Australia; it would have to be implemented by other states as well. Ideally, it would be a national law, but I am not seeing the issue being discussed nationally.’
We are pleased that Australian politicians are considering our research and hope that further do.
Also importantly, in this area, the dean of the University of Western Australia Law School, Associate Professor Natalie Skead, is leading a research project that is focusing on disordered eating among law students and legal professionals.
What will the future hold?
We will take more action on this issue – we want a world where no one suffers from poor body image.
We know that we are merely a couple of academics/lawyers, but we also know that most movements, which result in significant and positive change, start with just a tiny number of determined and dedicated people.
Dr Marilyn Bromberg is a senior lecturer at The University of Western Australia (UWA) Law School, while Cindy Halliwell is a research centre administrator at Melbourne Law School. Together, along with University of Wollongong Associate Lecturer Dr Tracey Woolrych, they created the 'Beautyisonlyphotoshopdeep' Facebook page.