The Fashion Devil’s challenge to the correct perception of body image.

Special provisions for body images to be used in ad campaigns.

The Italian Marketing Self-Regulation System.

Italy has had an efficient industry specific - self-regulatory system in place since 1966. It is administered by the Institute for Advertising Self-Regulation (IAP), a private organization, which features as its members all major players active in the sector, i.e.: advertisers (through their associations), professionals performing services in-house, agencies, technicians, providers, practitioners (generally through their associations), all of the media (press, TV, radio, directly as well as through their associations), the association of Internet providers.

The local SRO system may be activated: (a) ex officio by the Review Board or the IAP's Secretariat, (b) by a consumer (individually as well as through a consumer protection association) by way of a petition submitted to the Review Board, which, after a preliminary investigation, may ask for amendments to be made to an advertising or issue a desist order (in cases of patent violations of the SR Code) or decide to approach the Jury and to proceed with a formal proceeding, or (c) by a complaint directly filed with the Jury (the IAP's dispute resolution body), where stakeholders feel that their interests have suffered prejudice by a campaign of a subject bound (through personal membership, adherence to an association member of the IAP, or by acceptance of the standard clause) to comply with the SR Codes provisions.

Updates od the local Advertising Self-Regulation Code.

In order to maintain this SRO Code up to date, its provisions are periodically adjourned to keep pace with the continuously evolving techniques and practices of the marketing industry. Currently the 65th edition of the Code is in force.

The most recent update of the SRO Code.

Earlier this month, the local SRO has added (as Article 12-bis) the following provision to the Code: Marketing communication involving products that may potentially endanger health, safety or the environment, especially when such dangers are not immediately recognisable, should indicate such dangers clearly. In any case marketing communication should not contain descriptions or representations that may lead consumers to be less cautious than usual or less watchful and responsible towards their own health and safety, including body images inspired by aesthetic models clearly associated with eating disorders that are harmful to health (an English version of the Code of Marketing Communication Self-Regulation is available on the IAPs website at the URL:

The background of this adjournment.

Behind this recent integration of the Codes provisions is the intent to address the increasing concern about some of the questionable practices frequently used in the promotional campaigns of the fashion industry. Specific reference is to the use of overly skinny (not say, sometimes almost anorexic) models during fashion shows or in the maisons commercial communication.

The reaction to the fashion industrys practices.

Initially, the problem was addressed by Regulatory watchdogs on a case-by-case basis, i.e. through interventions (such as cease and desist injunctions) issued in relation to specific campaigns. In recent years, in the UK the ASA had to tell several top fashion brands that their ads showed models appearing to be (clearly and excessively) underweight, in an unhealthy way. The advertising campaign of one brand collected 22 complaints from the public about the images used in the campaign and was halted because considered as irresponsible.

The French Regulatory Authority (Autorité de Régulation Professionnelle de la Publicité) took also issue with campaigns featuring overly skinny models, forcing fashion brands to withdraw their commercial communication presenting such models. In other countries, both watchdogs as well as regulatory authorities acknowledged the issue and came to intervene against campaigns with models conveying an unrealistic and unhealthy body image.

The Fashion Industrys attempt to control the problem through self-regulation.

Watchdogs repeated interventions as well as uproar in the public opinion convinced the Fashion Industry that in its own interest something had to be done about their practice of using this kind of models on the runway and in their advertising campaigns.

Two multi-national companies owning several of the fashion top brands signed a memorandum of understanding with new standards for the selection of models to be used on the catwalk or during photo shooting of ad campaigns. These new standards provided that:

-  no models with size less than 38 (48 for males) should be selected,

- fashion houses should make psychologic and therapeutic assistance available to models during their working hours,

- models aged less than 16 should not be involved in campaigns to represent adults,

- models aged between 16 and 18 may not perform their services between 10:00 pm and 6:00 am,

- fashion houses must make sure that agencies do not prevent models from performing their educational duties.

In Italy, a similar task was undertaken by the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana CNMI (i.e. The National Chamber for Italian Fashion), an (initially not-for-profit) private association, gathering all local fashion houses as well as furriers, milliners, and craftsmen making fashion accessories and meant to "represent the highest values of Italian fashion, and to protect, co-ordinate and strengthen the image of Italian fashion in Italy and abroad, as well as the technical, artistic and economic interests of its Associates".

The CNMI agreed on a joint memorandum with the Department for Youth Policies and Sports, the Italian Fashion Self-Regulation Manifesto Against Anorexia. On the premise that the signing parties were fully aware of their responsibility to creatively and constructively promote positive aesthetic models as a practical instrument for preventing eating disorders, they agreed as key principles - on:

- safeguarding the health of models who pose and parade on runways by requesting them to provide a medical certificate of assessment based on scientific and diagnostic criteria (including BMI) relevant to eating disorders and by not allowing models to pose or parade if their medical certificates indicate a full-blown eating disorder,

- restraining from employing models under 16 to parade as there is a risk they would send the wrong messages to girls of their age in the delicate pre-adolescent age bracket,

 - encouraging all members as well as the fashion companies presenting their collections to include sizes 46 and 48 across the production for end consumers, on the assumption that attempts to elaborate a more prosperous aesthetic model are not only important in cultural and moral terms but are also productive from a commercial viewpoint.

Letting the Devil regulating himself? How effective could that be?

A quick glimpse at the annual fashion shows in recent years reveals that the efforts of addressing the problem only through self-regulatory systems did not result particularly effective. The runways were still crowded with extremely young models, not always sporting a healthy and what we would consider as a normal body image.

Hence, to no ones surprise, lawmakers stepped in to offer more stringent provisions for models intending to perform on the catwalk or in fashion advertising campaigns.

In 2012, Israel paved the way with a law to prevent anorexia and introducing a ban for excessively skinny models to appear in advertising campaigns.

In May 2017 France also adopted a law (i.e. the loi mannequin models law) focusing on anorexia risks and obliging all models to offer a medical certification (to be renewed every two years) attesting their general health status (to be determined with respect to their BMI Body Mass Index). In addition, all photoshopped pictures used in advertising must be accompanied by a specific alert making patent that such practice had been used.

In Italy, a legislative proposal is awaiting (since December 2016) to be examined by the House. The bill would:

- prevent the use on the runway or in advertising campaigns of models with a BMI inferior to the limit indicated by the WHO as revealing a status of malnutrition,

- require photoshopped pictures to make patent such practice,

- oblige all models to provide a medical certification and a psychological evaluation attesting the absence of eating disorders (of mental origin) as well as a BMI not inferior to 18,5,

- sanction infringers with a fine of Euro 75.000 and with arrest up to six months (media promoting images of excessive thinness implying health risks would be exposed to a fine of euro 100.000 and imprisonment up to one year).

However, such truly strict approach has not encountered the favor of the local lawmakers as up till now not much has happened with respect to the bill.

To conclude.

The Fashion Industrys habit of pushing a campaign to the edge, be it through the presentation of inappropriate body images or be it through offensive sexist presentations, is a risky practice. Especially, in times where the public appears to be highly sensitive about gender stereotypes and discrimination, an excessively edgy campaign could easily miss completely its promotional intent and slap back right into the advertisers face (leaving aside my personal difficulty, which hinders me to understand how  a scantily clad woman on a poster is going to increase the sales of yoghurt).