The Lib Dem womens’ policy paper has now been published so the ‘airbrushing’ debate can now move away from what is being said in the media and onto what the policy paper actually says.
The paper has a total of 40 policy proposals, many of which are already policy. The two that have garnered media attention are:
21. Protect children from body image pressure by preventing the use of altered and enhanced images in advertising aimed at under 16s, through changes to Advertising Standards Authority rules. We would work with industry regulators and professionals to find ways to ensure that children have access to more realistic portrayals of women (and men) in advertising
22. Help women make informed choices by requiring adverts to clearly indicate the extent to which digital retouching technology has been used to create overly perfected and unrealistic images of women
The first thing that should be noted is that nowhere do the words “airbrushing”, “Photoshop” or “ban” appear. The clauses are much less prescriptive than last week’s hype might have lead us to believe.
I still have two significant problems with these clauses however. Firstly, the paper provides no evidence whatsoever to convince us that this would be an effective remedy. Not even a footnote (there are footnotes and anecdotes for other proposals).
Secondly, it fails to explain why advertising is being singled out here when the magazines that such adverts are to appear in are not. There does not currently exist a regulatory body to control what can appear on the front page of magazines. All the time they continue to pump out idealised images of women (and they do that because it sells) then why get worried about what appears on page 92?
When you break it down it appears like a fairly meaningless sop. Having read the paper I don’t think it gets to the heart of the problem at all. As such, I fear that this is selling short the very women and girls that the paper is seeking to protect.
For completeness, I should point out here that the paper does have a number of other proposals when it comes to body image:
23. Encourage the British Fashion Council and design schools to ensure students are taught and judged on their ability to cut to a range of sizes and body types
24. The fashion industry should implement all the recommendations in the Model Health Inquiry, including introducing model health certificates for London Fashion Week
25. Require cosmetic surgery advertising and literature to give surgery success rates by collecting and publishing Patient Reported Outcome Measures. This would assess whether the surgery had the desired effects
26. Ensure age-appropriate modules on body image, health and wellbeing, and media literacy are taught in schools
23 and 24 are surely unobjectionable as they are simply urging best practice and not even regulatory. For non-libertarians, 25 seems a pretty common sense measure, aimed at providing people with useful information. 26 is all well and good, but I have to say I question the wisdom of adding to the already long list of things we make teachers cover in schools; I thought we were demanding a bonfire of the curriculum as recently as March this year? Either way, I am sceptical how a lesson one afternoon in school is going to achieve much.
In short, I can’t help but feel this is just scratching the surface of what is a much more complex issue.
Over at Liberal Conspiracy, Unity has just written this:
[The main problem the Green Party faces is] it’s open and democratic approach to policy-making in which any member can put forward a policy, call for vote and get the policy accepted into the party’s manifesto if it prove popular with members too readily militates against evidence-based approaches to policy making, particularly in a party that typically attracts considerably more than its fair share of proponents of pseudoscience.
He’s writing about the Green’s anti-science policies but before we get to smug about their often loony ideas we should pause for thought about how the Lib Dems are often subject to the same forces. I don’t agree with Unity and Martin Robbins that the problem is democratic policy making processes; Labour has torn up its democratic structures but its policies are if anything less evidence-based than the Lib Dems’. But people need to be wary of voting at party conference in favour of “nice things” and demand a more rigorous approach. It is notable that the party’s Federal Policy Committee has failed to demand this itself in this instance. Perhaps this is a good example of how the policy paper model, imposed during the merger period by the SDP wing, doesn’t particularly work very well. Certainly the rules about policy papers having to have specific word limits works against a more evidence-based approach.
When it comes to #25, it’s far more important to educate people of the dangers of not asking consultants questions and picking surgeons out of magazines.
I think there’s actually fairly good case for having doctors that withhold success rates being struck off, but will those success rates be for the hospital, the surgeon or the world-wide averages for the operation?
Just publishing success rate figures will not make women (or men) much safer if they’re going into elective surgery without really understanding what it is they’re getting into.
Good consultants should always make you fully aware of the possible complications and their likelihood. Any surgeon that tells you that there’s nothing to worry about is lying to you and you should run away pronto.
The problem is women’s magazines have a conflict of interest between being honest to their readers about cosmetic surgery and the advertisers in the back.
Isn’t this sort of consumer protection advice what the BBC is supposed to be doing with our licence fee though?
As an issue to raise, it’s an important one. I’m not sure there’s really a lot for politicians to do though.
Quite apart from whether any party’s platform is actually “evidence based” is the more neglected need to have principle as a basis for policy as well as consistency in policy.