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Press Release

Belgium (Antwerp), July 2002

Z.O.R.R.A. files over a hundred complaints at the JEP 

against the unnecessary use
of the slim and super slim body in advertising


Z.O.R.R.A., the media reporting station for gender role patterns in advertising, in co-operation with the Center of Women's Studies Antwerp, has filed a complaint with the JEP (Jury for Ethical Practice in advertising) in regards to advertisements. In 95% of all advertisements one or more slim or superslim female bodies are unnecessarily displayed, compared to only 5% of all  advertisements displaying an unnecessarily slim male body.

Reproductions of the reprehensible advertisements, as well as the full text of the filed complaint, can be found on this site. Follow the hyperlinks: pictures, text.

The initiative to file a complaint with the JEP was taken during the round table conference on the aesthetic ideal, organized by minister Mieke Vogels on May 16th 2002. At this conference every industry involved with image creation (advertising, television, fashion)  agreed that the current thinness ideal is an unattainable ideal that must be dealt with, as it is big source of discomfort.

During the conference an effort was made to establish a moral code. ZORRA, who had already been thinking about representations along the lines of "diversity", has elaborated on this way of thinking in co-operation with the Center for Women's Studies (University  of Antwerp) and drafted a moral conduct code "diversity guideline" (see line of reasoning below). In this diversity guideline a plea is being made to represent the human body in all its diversity, instead of consistently sticking to the slim and super slim body.

Furthermore, ZORRA finds it advisable that advertisements for slimming products should only be aimed at overweight people (having a BMI*over 25). In essence, this means that a ban should be imposed on displaying people with a BMI under 25 (size 44) in advertisements for slimming products. People with a BMI between 20 and 25 do not need to loose weight as they are in the perfectly healthy weight range. After all, advertisements for products that reduce high blood pressure aren't aimed at people with a healthy blood pressure!

With reference to the round table reference organized by Mieke Vogels, last May, the gender role patterns watchdog ZORRA summoned its members to convey a message to the advertising world. This message was delivered through the signing of a petition against the unnecessary use of slim and extremely slim bodies, and by sending in as many ads and television commercials as possible that represent these needlessly super slim bodies. The latter objective was to file a goal-oriented complaint at the JEP (Jury for Ethical Practice in advertising). To date, ZORRA has received no less than 113 advertisements displaying one or more slim or super slim bodies. Most of these advertisements have been published or shown on television since June 2002.

According to ZORRA and the Centre for Women’s Studies, the repeated and almost exclusive presentation of slim or super slim bodies in advertising is not an ethical practice. On the contrary, the repeated and almost exclusive use of slim (or extremely slim) bodies (women's size 36-38) in advertising, media and other industries (like the fashion industry), creates in many people (women and men, young and old) frustrations about their own bodies. In many cases, they begin to experience their own healthy bodies (women's size 42-44) as an abnormal.

The results of this experience are common knowledge: from small daily dissatisfactions about one's own body, over to more general frustrations and extreme feelings of inferiority. Moreover, the bodies of other people that do not fit the frequently presented slim or extremely thin body, begin to be considered as abnormal, as socially and economically inferior, and as less apt at social success. Which results in discrimination based on body shape.

This perception of inferiority urges a great number of healthy people to go on diets. If not coached properly, diets can not only be health threatening, but are, by no means justified in a medical way. On the contrary: unnecessary dieting often leads to more frustrations, because the present slenderness ideal cannot be reached by most people.

ZORRA therefore supports introducing the diversity guideline as an ethical principle. The diversity guidelines that Media Watchdog ZORRA together with the Centre of Women's Studies and the 132 signatories to the petition ‘against the unnecessary use of the slim and the superslim body in advertising’ conceives that the solution is to put an end to the negative consequences of the unattainable slenderness ideal once and for all. This slenderness ideal mainly affects girls and women, but if no action is taken, the increasingly represented male beauty ideal will affect the psychological and physical well-being of boys and men as well.

The 'guide to diversity' does not imply that women of size 36-38 should not be displayed ever again. It does however, imply that all sizes should be featured in a balanced way, and without stereotyping (e.g. in the sense of "chubby or fat is bad, slender is good"). Only when people of all sizes and weights, male or female, are represented equally in the media and in others sectors of society, only then will no one bear the risk of experiencing themselves or others as inferior or deviant. This will lead to well-being for all. In this respect ZORRA's diversity guideline fits in perfectly with minister Mieke Vogels’ recent media campaign "Ik mag gezien worden" (www.maggezienworden.be).

In short, in order to have an ethically responsible representation of men and women they need to be depicted in all their diversity: this is the only way to protect a prospective customer against the hazardous consequences of the beauty ideal. It goes without saying that a place has been put aside for a body which calls itself Jury for Ethical Practice in advertising.

"In our complaints to the JEP we tried to make our statements as clear as possible" states ZORRA Project Manager Corine Van Hellemont. "Our complaints do not concern the causes of anorexia nervosa, for which the media are often unjustly blamed. Our complaints concern the frustrations created in people with a healthy body weight, when they are repeatedly confronted with images of slim or extremely slim bodies. Furthermore we do not state that the advertising sector is the only one that promotes and perpetuates the ideal of slimness in its representations nor that it is solely responsible for its effects. We do state that every advertising agency, like any other person or company involved in the creation of images, has to take responsibility and should represent the human body in an ethically responsible way."

"And it doesn't end with the 113 complaints that have already been handed to the JEP"
Van Hellemont adds. "At least twice as many complaints are ready to be handed out to the JEP". Every day ZORRA receives advertisements that the audience believes to be needlessly depicting the slim or super slim body. "As long as we keep receiving these ads we will not fail to file complaints with the JEP. And if ever it seems necessary to conduct the petition on paper instead of conducting it electronically, we will."

 

 
ZORRA - Center for Women's Studies - University of Antwerp - Gebouw J
Universiteitsplein 1, 2610 Wilrijk (Belgium)
Tel. ++32-(0)3-820.28.50 - Tel. ++32-(0)3-820.28.50 (direct) -  Fax. ++32(0)3-820.28.86
E-mail: zorra@ua.ac.be    Website: http://www.zorra.be