The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) recently announced an open call for evidence to support their work in developing regulation targeting advertising which gives rise to potential harms relating to body image concerns.

The current position

In summary, complaints relating to body image in ads (for example about adverts featuring overly thin models or modified images or for cosmetic surgery) have to date been considered under rules on social responsibility by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA), which states that “marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society”[1]. In addition, CAP's guidance on its rule against gender stereotyping tells advertisers not to suggest that a person's happiness depends on conforming to an idealised gender-stereotypical body shape:

Ads may feature glamorous, attractive, successful, aspirational or healthy people but they should take care to avoid suggesting that an individual’s happiness or emotional wellbeing should depend on conforming to an idealised gender-stereotypical body shape or physical features.”[2]

In addition, both the CAP and BCAP Codes include additional rules designed to protect children and young people from potential harms related to body image. These include rules on placement and scheduling restrictions to mitigate the potential harmful impact of such advertising on children and young people. 

What’s happened to date? 

Following a public consultation last year, CAP and BCAP have now introduced new age-based targeting rules for cosmetic interventions advertising. The new targeting restrictions will come into effect on 25 May 2022 and essentially require that:

  • Ads for cosmetic interventions must not appear in non-broadcast media directed at under-18s;
  • Ads for cosmetic interventions must not appear in other non-broadcast media where under-18s make up over 25% of the audience; and
  • Broadcast ads for cosmetic interventions must not appear during or adjacent to programmes commissioned for, principally directed at or likely to appeal particularly to under-18s.

To assist advertisers in understanding how to comply with the new restrictions, the Advertising Guidance on Cosmetic Interventions has been revised to reflect the new rules and clarify the types of treatments and procedures that are likely to fall within the scope of “cosmetic interventions” to which the new restrictions would apply.

CAP and BCAP acknowledge that children and young people are particularly vulnerable to body image pressures and that negative body image perceptions impact on young people’s self-esteem, wellbeing, mental health and behaviours. Such body image perceptions and pressures to alter appearance are influenced by several social and cultural factors – but also by exposure to advertising, particularly those that focus on body image ‘improvements’, such as cosmetic intervention procedures.

CAP and BCAP therefore consider that the new targeting restrictions will appropriately limit children and young people’s exposure to cosmetic interventions advertising, and play a part in mitigating the potential wider body image related harms experienced by those age groups.

Call for evidence 

Building on these recent updates and in light of the complexities of this area of regulation, CAP and BCAP are now seeking evidence to improve their understanding of the following areas:

  1. Types and themes of ad content that give rise to body image concerns: for example, the impact of advertising on body image perceptions based on, for example, facial features, hair and skin, visible differences (a scar, mark or condition either on an individual’s face or body that makes them appear different).
  2. Impact of advertising on self-perception of body image experienced by different audience groups: for example, the different body image perceptions based on factors such as gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, sexuality, age, disabilities, health conditions and visible differences.
  3. Impact of social media advertising, including influencer marketing, on body image concerns, in light of increased online media use
  4. Potential impact of advertising content for specific product sectors: for example, cosmetic interventions, weight control and reduction, beauty and cosmetics.
  5. Positive impact of advertising on consumers’ body image perceptions

The call for evidence closes on Thursday 13 January 2022.

Written by Olivia Ward 

[1] CAP Code rule 1.3:

[2] CAP guidance: