Reaction continued Thursday after former Victoria’s Secret model Erin Heatherton revealed that the lingerie company repeatedly told her to lose weight, which triggered feelings of depression.
“I was really depressed because I was working so hard and I felt like my body was resisting me,” Heatherton told TIME magazine.
“I got to a point where one night I got home from a workout and I remember staring at my food and thinking ‘Maybe I should just not eat.'”
Heatherton’s statements were a stark reminder of how dangerously powerful advertisements can be for models and their audiences.
“It creates this comparison or norm women feel like they need to achieve,” University of Toronto professor Catherine Sabiston told Humber News, “and by perpetuating that in the media it then provides people with this unrealistic standard.”
Sabiston, who specializes in exercise and health psychology, says the biggest challenge is that there are no formal guidelines in Canada. The idea that the media perpetuates negative body image that can be linked to mental health challenges and substance abuse is “well-established,” she said.
In December, France passed a bill that requires models to meet the Body Mass Index standards. They also must be evaluated by a medical professional, and under the law, photos must not be digitally altered to distort a model’s body. Any company or person found breaching the bill is liable to a fine of more than £50,000 and could be given a prison sentence of up to six month.
According to Media Smart‘s Director of Education Matthew Johnson, the harmful effects of glorifying thin bodies can affect children as early as three-years-old, and as they get older, the messages can become internalized.
“Half of nine to 12 year old girls said they wanted to be thinner or had either been on a diet,” Johnson told Humber News.
Canadian advertisers are generally overseen by Advertising Standards Canada, a national not-for-profit self-regulatory council.
“Their code of conduct is very valuable but it’s sort of a bit of a blunt instrument,” said Johnson “So often things like sexualization … [and] underweight models often aren’t really addressed by it,” said Johnson.
Johnson also said that social media has acted as a platform to ‘exert consumer pressure’. “We are seeing an increasing sensitivity to these issues … more and more consumers are calling advertisers out…In the end most of the power does belong to consumers in Canada.”