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.

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12 Comments

  1. Surfin3rdWave
    Posted June 28, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    This is a kickass initative, and I’m really happy to see it. I hope we can have something like this here in the states some day. I totally approve of the request to ban or disclose the photoshopping of models, but I don’t think it’s fair to eschew all women who are “too thin”.
    There SHOULD be models who are “too” thin, but only to the same degree that there are models who are “too fat”, “too short”, “too pale” and “too dark”. There should be boobs, hips, thighs and bellies of all sizes.
    My only other peeve– I can’t stand it when people use the term “eating disorder” to mean anorexia or bulimia. Binge disorder is an eating disorder, and by far the most common one in Australia and the US.
    We absolutely need to rail against EDs, but that doesn’t mean ONLY fighting against anorexia. It also means helping women find the comfort and resources they need to strike a healthy balance, wherever they are on the BMI scale.

  2. RandomWhatnot
    Posted June 28, 2010 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    The problem I have with such things as “banning” models, is, well… Plenty of women are ultra-skinny through no fault of anyone or anything besides metabolism. To assume all very slender women are anorexic is problematic as hell, and banning them erases those women and says no woman looks like this.
    As far as banning muscular male models, why? Any male can achieve a muscular physique, same as any female could. You work out, you lift weights, you strength train, and lift heavy objects.
    And again, it’s removing those people from existence.
    Not good.
    It’s telling them their bodies are wrong, because they don’t look like the ones this campaign wants to promote.

  3. Comrade Kevin
    Posted June 28, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    I hope this is taken to other countries and implemented there.

  4. strangedays
    Posted June 28, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Actually, it is completely untrue that “Any male can achieve a muscular physique, same as any female could. You work out, you lift weights, you strength train, and lift heavy objects.” Plenty of people, regardless of their gender identity, are NOT able. I have a myriad of physical issues that make movement very difficult. Lifting even a one pound weight can be incredibly excruciating. No matter what I force myself to do, there is no physical way that I could actually obtain a ridiculously toned body. I’m simply not capable. I feel as though I am at fault for not being at the gym all the time, working on the body I am supposed to have.
    There are also other issues at play, here. For example, if one doesn’t have enough money for a gym membership or training equipment for their home, how are they to obtain this body?
    I understand that everyone has things to unlearn, but it’s extremely disheartening to read something like this on a feminist blog. You were talking about people being removed from existence, and I agree that banning people is not the answer. However, discounting other people based on different abilities is also removing people from existence, and it’s rather hurtful.

  5. Sex Toy James
    Posted June 28, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    Do women buy clothes advertised on healthy realistic models with body types similar to their own? Would using models representative of your target market and not photoshopping them reduce sales?
    Seriously, I’m curious about this. Often people’s buying habits don’t follow what they say that they want.

  6. strangedays
    Posted June 28, 2010 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    What gets me about this is that I recall Australia banning porn models/actresses with A cup breasts, because they looked like minors (i.e. not like grown womyn). You can say you’re body-positive all you want, but with contradictory policies like that on the books, it’s just rhetoric.

  7. 73666673
    Posted June 28, 2010 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    “There are also other issues at play, here. For example, if one doesn’t have enough money for a gym membership or training equipment for their home, how are they to obtain this body?”
    You don’t need to goto the gym or even buy equipment to get a good body. Pushups, situps, and running can get anyone into good shape and will give them a good body. It won’t be as good as someone who has access to a gym, or weights at home (which I might add are pretty cheap), but it will still be good.
    “I have a myriad of physical issues that make movement very difficult. Lifting even a one pound weight can be incredibly excruciating. No matter what I force myself to do, there is no physical way that I could actually obtain a ridiculously toned body. I’m simply not capable. I feel as though I am at fault for not being at the gym all the time, working on the body I am supposed to have.”
    I don’t understand this. You acknowledge you have physical issues not allowing you to workout, yet you still feel at fault for not going to the gym to get the body you are “supposed to have”? Unlike most people who are simply too lazy to workout, you actually have a legitimate excuse.
    I don’t like this initiative at all. I think the government should provide education on being healthy in public schools, but from that point it should be up to the individual to determine if they are healthy enough and/or if they are happy with their body.

  8. dark_morgaine
    Posted June 28, 2010 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    No, because advertising plays on “status” and convinces people that they will be better people if they have this product. They buy what people tell them too. I’m reminded of an episode of the Simpsons in which Homer invented a make-up gun. Marge tells him women won’t like being shot in the face, to which he replied, “Women will like what I tell them to like.” Pretty much sums up the fashion industry.

  9. amber-indikaze
    Posted June 29, 2010 at 1:09 am | Permalink

    “I don’t understand this. You acknowledge you have physical issues not allowing you to workout, yet you still feel at fault for not going to the gym to get the body you are “supposed to have”? Unlike most people who are simply too lazy to workout, you
    actually have a legitimate excuse.”
    Welcome to the real world, in which social conditioning results in guilty feelings in the people who least deserve them, and no amount of “but that’s illogical!” can change the facts.
    “I think the government should provide education on being healthy in public schools, but from that point it should be up to the individual to determine if they are healthy enough and/or if they are happy with their body.”
    Why is that “point” better than this one? We have basically two choices here:
    1) Government does nothing after childhood; cultural/advertising space becomes dominated by corporations who make money by getting people to feel insecure about themselves.
    2) Government sets up a voluntary standard which said corporations can follow or not–but if they don’t, the individuals will know, and can take action based on that knowledge.
    Note that in both of these options, the “ultimate decision” is left up to the individual.
    Of course, this is Australia, so I have a hard time believing people won’t take things further and legislating compliance with these new rules… which is another matter entirely.

  10. qtiger
    Posted June 29, 2010 at 5:25 am | Permalink

    As far as banning muscular male models, why? Any male can achieve a muscular physique, same as any female could. You work out, you lift weights, you strength train, and lift heavy objects.
    I am, quite frankly, disgusted that this made it past moderation.
    Male models are not simply muscular. They are muscular in a way that requires a gift of genetics and an incredible amount of maintenance, with regards to both diet and exercise. From the genetic angle, the ‘correct’/'conventionally attractive’ male appearance requires broad shoulders, long torso, slightly small rib cage, broad forearms, and a thousand other factors. The appearance that male underwear/fitness magazine models have requires a time investment that an average person simply cannot balance along with a job that has responsibilities outside of a gym. Even despite the incredible amount of exercise, etc. performed by a muscular male model on a daily basis, preparation for a photo shoot can require immense preparation beforehand, including weight loss drugs, in order to achieve the ‘chiseled’/'cut’ look.
    The idea that any man can lift weights and look like a male model is no different than the idea that any woman can diet and look like a female model. Both are ridiculous, and anyone saying or believing either has clearly bought into the whole ‘if only you do what I tell you to/buy my product, you could look like THIS!’ marketing that is so pervasive in the media.

  11. heyitsmartine
    Posted June 29, 2010 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Oh that’s right, most people who are simply too lazy to work out. I had no idea you’d spoken to all of them and knew exactly what the issue was in each and every one of their situations.
    Also, how sweet of you to legitimize strangedays’ “excuse” for being overweight, all while telling hir that you don’t understand hir struggle with not matching society’s expectation of what one’s body is supposed to look like. Since ze’s not one of those terrible lazy fatties, everything should be just dandy for hir, right?
    Do you think the average person walking down the street says, “Oh, that person looks like they have a good excuse.” No, of course not. Just like you did in your post, they assume that the person is too lazy to work out. Even having a so-called “legitimate excuse” doesn’t exempt you from the vitriol of folks who subscribe to toxic attitudes like the one you’ve stated. Folks in that camp don’t usually give the benefit of the doubt.
    Whoops, your privilege is showing.

  12. Lucy Gillam
    Posted June 29, 2010 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    I can only speak for myself: while I am certainly drawn to models whose shape is a bit more traditionally pleasing than my own, I am MUCH less likely to buy from a site that uses thin women to model plus-sized clothes. This is partly political and partly aesthetic. Clothes that are cut for and attractive on larger body types, particularly bodies with larger breasts and wider hips, often look a bit silly on very thin women. This isn’t always the case, but there are at least a few sites that make me shake my head.

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