Advertisers refute ‘beauty industry perpetuates low self-esteem’ claim

Major beauty brands such as Boots, L’Oréal and Procter & Gamble have rejected claims that the ad industry perpetuates low self-esteem by creating an unattainable image of women in the media.

Julia Roberts in banned beauty ad

In the same week that the Advertising Standards Authority banned a L’Oréal print campaign for featuring an airbrushed image of actress Rachel Weisz, senior marketers from the companies appeared before the All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image in Westminster.

Asked by Conservative MP Caroline Nokes if the success of the beauty industry was based on perpetuating a lack of confidence in order to sell more products, L’Oréal group director of communications Louise Terry defended the cosmetics firm’s advertising as “aspirational” and “sincere”.

She said: “It’s fair to say that images are airbrushed but never to make people thinner. We try to be sincere and try to get the line right between aspirational and going too far. We spend a lot of time on what is appropriate and we have a good industry watchdog [the ASA] that names and shames us when we get it wrong.”

Terry continued: “People are discerning. If they use a product and it doesn’t work, they probably will not use it again. But we get consumers buying our products again and again.”

The ASA’s latest ruling against a L’Oréal campaign follows bans for the brand’s ads starring model Christy Turlington and actress Julia Roberts last year.

Elizabeth Fagan, marketing director for Boots, which promotes its No.7 range by trumpeting the unenhanced stars of the ads, added: “We want all our brand communications to be engaging, inspirational and make people feel good. We don’t want it to be unattainable but want women to think ‘on a good day I could look like that’.

“Women don’t want to see unattractive or everyday people – they want to be aspirational.”

All-party group chair Jo Swinson MP, who set up the anti-airbrushing Campaign for Body Confidence with equalities minister and fellow Lib Dem MP Lynne Featherstone, criticised the advertising industry for failing to be proactive and just reacting to complaints rather than looking at the practices employed across the beauty industry.

Swinson claims that issues of diversity in the ad industry can’t be investigated if the ASA only looks at ads on a case-by-case basis.

Her separate complaint led to the ASA banning the print campaign featuring Weisz. 

Rosi Prescott, CEO, of Central YMCA which is acting as Secretariat of the inquiry says: “All sectors need to take action to tackle the growing anxiety young people have with their body image.  Advertisers stand accused of body bigotry in the images they use, and from our research we know the public feel that they are still too reliant on using ultra-thin or highly muscular body types in advertising and marketing.  We hope that this inquiry will provide an opportunity for constructive engagement with advertisers to find out how we can work together to promote body confidence.” 

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