Tag Archives: body image

ASA Will Introduce Guidelines for 2018 on Gender Stereotyping in Advertising

The Advertising Standards Authority has reviewed its approach to ads that feature stereotypical gender roles, following the publication of an investigation into gender stereotyping in advertising; the Depictions, Perceptions and Harm report. The report claims that gender stereotyping in advertising causes harm towards individuals, the economy and society.

In 2015, the infamous “Beach Body Ready” advert sparked concerns for the sexualisation and objectification of women in advertising, creating a conversation with ASA about how women are portrayed as desirable based on their bodies:


ASA conducted a review following the complaints, but now the regulators are receiving complaints about ads that feature sexist stereotypes or mock people who don’t follow traditional roles. The new standards are only guidelines and are not intended to ban all forms of gender stereotypes, e.g. there will not be a ban on ads showing a woman cleaning or a man doing DIY tasks. However, subject to context and content considerations, the evidence suggests the following types of depictions are likely to be problematic:

  • An ad which depicts family members creating a mess while a woman has sole responsibility for cleaning it up
  • An ad that suggests a specific activity is inappropriate for boys because it is stereotypically associated with girls, or vice-versa
  • An ad that features a man trying and failing to undertake simple parental or household tasks

“CAP will report publically on its progress before the end of 2017 and commits, as always, to delivering training and advice on the new standards in good time before they come into force in 2018.”
So, the ‘guidelines’ suggest that agencies, brands and companies should consider whether the stereotypes shown in their campaigns would “reinforce assumptions that adversely limit how people see themselves and how others see them”. Here is a list of what should be avoided:

  • Roles: Occupations or positions usually associated with a specific gender.
  • Characteristics: Attributes or behaviours associated with a specific gender.
  • Mocking people for not conforming to stereotype: Making fun of someone for behaving or looking in a non-stereotypical way.
  • Sexualisation: Portraying individuals in a highly sexualised manner.
  • Objectification: Depicting someone in a way that focuses on their body or body parts.
  • Body Image: Depicting an unhealthy body image.

Ads suggesting specific activities were suitable only for boys or girls are problematic and something ASA advises against. This is a topic I investigated at university for my gender project and for my dissertation exploring masculinity in modern advertising. It’s quite incredible (and worrying) to to dissect the vast range of gendered stereotypes advertising still depicts. There is an enormous list of adverts that have been criticised for depicting masculinity and femininity stereotypically, and here are just a few examples:

Aptamil depicting gendered roles for boys and girls

KFC suggesting anxiety/mental health isn’t manly (the ad has been taken down – sorry for the poor quality!)


GAP portraying only boys as academics

Whilst a lot of people will claim that these guidelines are “over-sensitive” and “PC”,  the mocking of women and men and the reinforcement of stereotyped views of gender roles are issues that have gained considerable public interest, with the facts to support the claims:

The move follows a major research project from JWT (New York) and The Geena Davies Institute in the Media which analysed 2,000 ads and found that women in advertising are “humourless, mute and in the kitchen’. According to the research, women are 48% more likely to be shown in the kitchen.

JWT’s recent Women’s Index surveyed 9,000 women and found that 85% of them felt advertising and film needed to “catch up with the real world”. Additionally, since concerns were raised about gender portrayal in advertising, brands have taken a conscious decision to change the way men and women are depicted. Unilever recently teamed up with Mars, Facebook, and WPP to form the Unstereotype Alliance – a group dedicated to purging gender bias from ads – followed by an ‘Unstereotype’ pledge. Following this, they created Dove and Lynx ads which aimed to smash traditional gender roles, and consequently saw a 24% increase in consumer ratings.
Lynx ‘Find Your Magic’ is actually one of my favourite male brand ads:

In a time where we need feminism, diverse masculinity and gender diversity more than ever, I think this is a wonderful idea. The fact that they are guidelines rather than rules also helps show people that based off research, this sets a standard that we should all (not just creatives) adhere to when it comes to gender. Sort of like a moral code.
It’s hard to believe that 40+ years after the Sex Discrimination Act we are still seeing gender discrimination on our screens.
Often, I wonder if people are becoming desensitized to feminism because a large majority of people actually believe that women have equal rights just because we won the right to vote or can become a CEO. When it reality, we are far from gender equality – salaries aren’t the same, women and discriminated against and girls are still sexualised.

So if you think this is “over-sensitive”, you need to EDUCATE YO’SELF!

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The only time I will ever use the term ‘real woman’

It’s Monday morning, and as I lean towards wanting my second coffee of the morning, I come across an article about Wonder Woman as a United Nations ambassador, and start to question whether I had enough sleep last night. I didn’t read this incorrectly, the United Nations have actually elected a fictional superhero as the honorary ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls.

My face hurts from glowering at my screen, along with the 2000+ petitioners against electing a cartoon rather than a real-life woman. Not only am I baffled that people thought a character from a comic could represent all women globally, I am also stunned that women are supporting (with the hashtag #WithWonderWoman – is this a joke?) a character who is so clearly the creation of a heteronormative, misogynistic view of the female body. I’m not going to write about Wonder Woman’s (aka Princess Diana of Thermyscira) body shape and the unrealistic expectations for women and girls, because I find the whole ‘real women’ body shaming thing very disturbing and unhealthy for society. Yes it’s rare, but there are women out there with natural size 6 waists, E-cup bras and bubble-butt, just like Wonder Woman. But that’s not the point here…

The choice to anoint Wonder Woman occurred on her 75th birthday at the launch of a social media campaign to promote women’s empowerment and gender equality. As fabulous, sexy and empowered as Wonder Woman looks, she was created by two men – Harry George Peter and William Moulton Marston – who have clearly overly-sexualised Wonder Woman, giving her a sultry pin-up look. Marston claimed to be a women’s rights advocate who was inspired by the leaders of the suffragist movement.


UN official Maher Nasser says:

The focus [of the UN] was on her feminist background, being the first female superhero in a world of male superheroes and that basically she always fought for fairness, justice and peace.

Greg Rucka worked on Wonder Woman for DC Comics throughout the 2000s, and whilst he recently confirmed that Wonder Woman is queer (which is fantastic!), it is impossible to ignore her sexualised body and costume. Fans claim that Wonder Woman is from a feminist utopia, but she looks like a sex doll to me. There’s nothing wrong with showing off your body – I am all about showing-off what your mama gave you – but we cannot claim that this fictional character wasn’t created for the male gaze. She clearly was. Coincidentally, DC Comics is developing a new Wonder Woman comic that will be coming to a cinema screen near you in 2017………

Wonder Woman

The most disturbing part about this bizarre idea from the UN is that they somehow were unable to find a REAL woman to become ambassador. Of course, protests ensued inside the Ecosoc chamber where the official ceremony took place. An anonymous protester said:

For something that is this important, you need a woman or a man who can speak, somebody who can travel, somebody who can champion these rights, somebody who is able to have an opinion, somebody that can be interviewed, somebody that can stand up in front of 192 member states and say this is what we would like you to do.

The ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls should be a real-life, living and breathing woman who is culturally encompassing (Wonder Woman is white, of course…) and able to raise concerns for women, globally. Perhaps that is exactly the reason why a fictional woman has been honored. Whilst to some women this might seem like a fun campaign in the right direction for young girls, to me it sounds like yet another technique to shut women up and not allow them to have any opinions. Wonder Woman isn’t real, so she can’t talk, she can’t question and she can’t uncover the truth.

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