Recently we have seen a backlash in the media against the reality TV programme Love Island for its portrayal of modern beauty ideals which are said to increase body image pressures amongst young women and children.
Moreover, the biggest complaint came about the inclusion of adverts for cosmetic surgery clinics within the scheduled programming breaks which were felt to target the vulnerable, and there was much concern about the exposure to such advertising by children and teens who seem hooked on the series as well.
The Chief Executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens was quoted after appearing on the Andrew Marr Show where he talked about the need for the NHS to treat both physical and mental health issues with the same level of care. Responding to Andrew Marr, he said,
"It is not just the NHS. If you look at the increasing pressures on young women around eating disorder services, we have to look at the whole environment children are being exposed to. Some of that is social media, but even if you take a show like Love Island, look at the adverts that are being shown alongside it. You have got explicit ads aiming at young women around breast cosmetic surgery. That is all playing into a set of pressures around body image that are showing up as a burden on other services. The time has come to think long and hard about whether we should be exposing young people to those kind of pressures. Social media and advertising has got to look very carefully at the kind of impact it is having."
Love Island is being shown six nights a week, with a highlights show at the weekend, on ITV2. Adverts for the cosmetic surgery chain MYA have been shown during the on-demand catch-up streams, with others shown within broadcast programming. MYA said in a statement that they "only want to connect with adults" and had not aired adverts on broadcast TV, only on catch-up to "specifically target 18-34 women". Social media has been littered with news reports on the many cosmetic enhancements said to have been sought and performed on the twenty-something cast. Other advertising condemned for its showing within the breaks of Love Island programming included adverts for appetite suppressants and other weight loss solutions.
Responding to the news, the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) said in a statement from former BAAPS President and Consulting Room Adviser Rajiv Grover,
"The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons has previously spoken out to condemn the proliferation of reality shows which glamourise cosmetic surgery procedures. Such programmes, which are frequently aimed at young people, showcase stars who, more often than not, project and normalise unrealistic standards of beauty - even undergoing multiple procedures following public criticism about their own looks, which is further sensationalised in the media to reveal their surgically-obtained assets.
We are seeing the damaging effects of this cultural phenomenon on an increasingly vulnerable population, whereby the decision to seek out treatment is trivialised whilst individuals face intense psychological pressure to conform. By advertising cosmetic surgery alongside this type of programming - and in some instances, even using the stars of the show - unscrupulous clinics are targeting young people in a way that commodifies surgery as a quick fix and endangers patients. It is worth noting that many of these clinics have a history of targeting young people using influencers to promote surgery, for which they have received public criticism - but which has not halted this aggressive and unethical marketing tactic.
The BAAPS called on the Government and the CAP to ban cosmetic surgery advertising in 2012 citing studies demonstrating that young people are suffering from negative body image issues. We recognise that in a more image-conscious society than ever, the pressure to conform to unrealistic standards of beauty is even greater. In the absence of a complete ban, the BAAPS also proposed measures necessary to ensure that patients are protected from unethical practices, and urge the Government to implement legislation that will help protect the young and vulnerable from the unhealthy body image ideals which have become so prevalent in society."
Debate on body ideals, body dysmorphia, advertising, social media, teens and vulnerable individuals is definitely a growing arena. With concerns heightened, one wonders if cosmetic surgery advertising and celebrity endorsement could one day go the way of tobacco advertising.