New “Body Image Bill” Demands Unrealistic Images Come Clean On Social Media

Several studies have shown the negative impact social media has on our kids, but is this the answer?

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A proposed bill in the UK might be a first good step researchers and parents have been looking for to improve our kids’ mental health. As more studies dig into social media and its impact on the younger generations, it’s becoming clear that social media platforms can harm our mental health. Now, a new proposed bill in the UK is pushing to make changes that might be the starting point to improving teens’ mental health in the US, too.

According to BBC, a proposed body image bill, introduced by Dr. Luke Evans, calls for commercial images that have been digitally altered to have a label that discloses the image has been changed. The bill would mean the inclusion of a label that discloses altered photos or videos from publishers, broadcasters, and advertisers.

On Twitter, Dr. Evans explained the bill writing, “If an image has been edited for commercial purposes, or if somebody with considerable influence has edited an image they are being paid to post, I believe that the image should carry a disclaimer.”

Dr. Evans wants to push against the “unrealistic depictions” of body types. He explains on his website, saying the impact of these altered images has “wide-ranging effects on physical and mental health.”

The bill Dr. Evans proposed aims to hit people with significant influence and images used for commercial purposes. “Edited commercial images do not represent reality and are helping to perpetuate a warped sense of how we appear, with real consequences for people suffering with body confidence issues,” he explained.

Dr. Evans is not alone in his concern over how altered images impact people’s mental health. A study released by Instagram found the mental health of teens, in particular, was harmed through scrolling the photo-sharing app.

“We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” one slide from a 2019 Facebook internal message board said. “Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression,” said another slide. “This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”

Another study done by London’s City University in August 2021 found that 90 percent of surveyed women edit their photos before posting to social media. “These images are around us day and night now, and can cause us to compare ourselves to other people,” psychologist Dr. Nia Williams said on the impact of social media and our mental health.

“If we see ourselves not looking as perfect as an image online, then it can have a negative impact on young people’s self-confidence and self-image,” she added.

And we’ve known about the connection between altered photos and mental health for a while. For example, a 2016 study pointed out that exposure to altered images on Instagram “directly led to lower body image” among the teen girls who participated in the study. But it went a step further, finding that teens believed the edited images were realistic.

If the bill passes, the UK won’t be the first to require labels on digitally altered images. There are similar laws in France and Norway, and unfortunately, the impact has been mixed. Some experts say the labeling is “performative” and doesn’t do enough to address the root of the problem regarding self-esteem and the mental health of our teens.

According to The Washington Post, experts say a better answer might lie with parents and schools. “Parents and schools can prioritize teaching young people social media literacy,” the publication reports. “Conversations about why unrealistic images are posted go beyond a basic disclaimer label,” adding that these conversations need to discuss the many ways social media can distort reality.

While it doesn’t sound like labeling altered images are the complete answer to helping improve the mental health of our teens, it could be a start. And that’s better than ignoring it altogether.

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