I recently introduced the Truth in Advertising Act (TIAA), along with my Congressional colleagues Lois Capps and Ted Deutch, a bill that could help reduce the negative impact of digitally altered or "photoshopped" images in advertising that are promoting unrealistic body image expectations. Too often, these expectations lead to tragic emotional, mental, and physical health problems, such as eating disorders. According to a 2011 study, at least 30 million Americans suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some point in their lives.
Increasing amounts of academic evidence demonstrate a link between images of very thin models in advertising and body image issues, weight concerns, and eating habits. Exposure to these images, combined with other factors such as genetic predisposition, feelings of inadequacy, societal pressures and competition, depression, or anxiety, can make an eating disorder even more likely.
If enacted, the TIAA would have the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) work with experts from the business, physical and mental health, and consumer advocacy communities to find a strategy to reduce the impact of advertising that promotes unrealistic body image expectations and report back to Congress on how to best stop the destructive impact of this practice. Input on the strategy and recommendations is required from a broad spectrum of stakeholders, to ensure that artistic expression and the freedom of media outlets will not be restricted.
While my colleagues and I in Congress would prefer that the advertising industry self-regulate similar to the alcoholic beverage industry, more and more images in advertising are being digitally altered that promote unrealistic body types. The TIAA does not impose new regulations but simply asks the FTC, the government agency tasked with protecting consumers from advertisements that affect their health or pocketbooks, to work with stakeholders and make recommendations to Congress on how the impact of digitally altered images could be reduced.
I am hopeful that the TIAA can be a significant step in reducing the influence of photoshopped ads, encouraging the advertising industry to self-regulate, and helping to empower men and women with the truth so that they can have healthy, realistic expectations of their bodies.