Australian government announces world-first body image initiative

Over the weekend, the Australian government unveiled a new body image initiative, created in partnership with the Butterfly Foundation, an eating disorders awareness and prevention group. The initiative includes a voluntary code of conduct for magazines, designers, retailers and modeling agencies, who will be recognized as “body image friendly” if they adhere to the recommendations of the government’s National Advisory Group on Body Image. Those recommendations include:

“disclosing and avoiding the digital enhancement of images; banning ultra-thin female models or overly muscular male ones, in addition to models under the age of 16 to advertise adult clothes; employing a greater diversity of ethnicities and model body sizes; eschewing editorial and advertising content that promotes negative body image through rapid weight loss and cosmetic surgery, and, for retailers, carrying a wider variety of clothing sizes that better reflects the demands of the community.”

According to recent findings from the University of Queensland, 80% of Australian women are dissatisfied with their bodies, and 90% know other women who are unhappy with their own bodies.

Given the role of the fashion and magazine industries in shaping and supporting ideas about ideal body shapes, it’s important that any strategy designed to combat poor body image include them. Without movement from the industry, our chances of seeing a wider range of shapes in clothes and in models remain, well, slim. That’s why I’m pleased that this initiative has taken steps to involve the industry, even if it’s on a voluntary basis.

That said, the implementation of an industry-focused code of conduct is only one part of the comprehensive, multi-pronged strategy that was outlined last year when the body image advisory group was formed. At the time, Julie Parker, General Manager of the Butterfly Foundation, called for schools to take a leading role in combating the problem of poor body image among children and adolescents. She suggested guidelines for creating a body image friendly school environment, which would include “body image specific statements in anti-bullying policies to prohibit appearance related teasing, and the training of teachers in the early identification of negative body image and eating disorders.” She also recommended including community organizations and parents in the strategy.

Apparently, this new initiative is the first of its kind in the world, unique in its view of “negative body image and associated issues of low self esteem, poor self confidence and eating disorders as serious health and societal issues that need to be addressed in a comprehensive way across our society.”

I’m interested to see what comes next, and I hope that we’ll start to see movement from the fashion industry, as well as from other stakeholders like schools and community organizations, in the next few months.

There’s more information about the initiative, including the Youth Minister’s full statement, here.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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