London mayor takes on body-shaming with ban on 'unhealthy' ads on tube

London's mayor says the subway is no place for advertisements that 'demean people, particularly women, and make them ashamed of their bodies.'

Russell Boyce/Reuters/File
People walk along the platform at Stratford underground Tube station as they make their way to work early in London on a January morning. London's Mayor Sadiq Khan announced a ban on Friday of advertising on the tube that promotes an 'unrealistic or unhealthy body shape.'

Advertising that promotes an unhealthy body image will be banned from London's subway system starting next month.

London's new mayor, Sadiq Khan, instituted the prohibition of ads that pressure people to conform to "unrealistic or unhealthy body shape" about a month into his mayorship, joining a growing movement that calls for an end to ad campaigns that promote body-shaming.

"As the father of two teenage girls, I am extremely concerned about this kind of advertising which can demean people, particularly women, and make them ashamed of their bodies," Mayor Khan said in a statement. "It is high time it came to an end."

Londoners spoke out against body-shaming ads on the subway last year when an ad for a weight loss supplement featured a model in a bikini with the headline, "Are you beach body ready?" Some 71,056 people signed a petition calling for the removal of the ad, and 378 people complained about it to Britain's Advertising Standards Authority, making it one of the most complained about ads in 2015.

The Advertising Standards Authority declined to ban the ad, finding that it was "not irresponsible" and "unlikely to cause serious or widespread offense."

Khan's statements mark a shift to lower tolerance of suggestive advertising, which he's backing up with the request for Transport of London to establish a steering group of advertising partners and stakeholders that reflect London's diversity "to monitor TFL's approach to advertising and to keep its policy under regular review."

Last spring, the French National Assembly similarly took aim at the glamorization of unhealthy body sizes when it passed a law that makes it illegal to employ models with a dangerously low body mass index (BMI). The new law also requires altered images to be labeled as "touched up."

Israel also banned underweight models in 2013 but perhaps the most effective work to recalibrate notions of beauty in Israel has occurred at the grass-roots level, as Sara Miller Llana reported for The Christian Science Monitor at the time. Barkan's "Simply You – Monitoring Body Image Perception" organization started a "Real, Unreal" campaign, which includes a "real" stamp for companies that follow Israel's ban on underweight models. They want it to become a global standard, like a stamp for organic produce.

Companies including Dove, which launched a 'Real Beauty' campaign more than 10 years ago, and American Eagle, which doesn’t retouch photos of swimsuit models, are enthusiastically joining the conversation on body positivity.

Mayor Khan hopes the new ban will send a clear message to the advertising industry: "Nobody should feel pressurized, while they travel on the Tube or bus, into unrealistic expectations surrounding their bodies," he said.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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