The move is the latest effort by the authorities in Europe and elsewhere to address concerns about unrealistic or unhealthy body images in advertising, and the effect that impossibly thin models can have on the self-esteem and health of consumers.
LONDON — The young, thin model wore a bright yellow bikini and stared seductively at passers-by.
“Are you beach body ready?” asked the ad for Protein World, a maker of dietary supplements. The ad was defaced in subway stations across London when it appeared in April 2015, and it drew strong protests.
On Monday, London’s new mayor, Sadiq Khan, announced a ban on such ads — which critics call “fat-shaming” — from London’s public-transportation system starting in July, saying the messages encourage unhealthy body images for young women.
“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,” Khan said. “Nobody should feel pressurized, while they travel on the Tube or bus, into unrealistic expectations surrounding their bodies.”
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The move is the latest effort by the authorities in Europe and elsewhere to address concerns about unrealistic or unhealthy body images in advertising, and the effect that impossibly thin models can have on the self-esteem and health of consumers. France, Israel, Italy and Spain have enacted policies aimed at preventing models with stick-thin bodies from working in the industry.
The mayor, who said he wanted to send a “clear message” to the advertising industry, said the new guidelines would apply to any form of transit run by Transport for London that could create body-confidence issues.
An estimated 12,000 ads appear annually in London’s transportation network, and Khan was following through on a campaign pledge in imposing restrictions on them.
Transport for London said in a statement that it would not allow ads that “could reasonably be seen as likely to cause pressure to conform to an unrealistic or unhealthy body shape, or as likely to create body-confidence issues, particularly among young people.”
Graeme Craig, the agency’s commercial-development director, said the new rules were necessary because passengers were a captive audience.
Unlike ads that appear in other forums, like television, online and print, he said, passengers on public transportation “cannot simply switch off or turn a page if an advertisement offends or upsets them — and we have a duty to ensure the copy we carry reflects that unique environment.”
The announcement of the ban inspired mixed reactions, with some saying that Khan, a member of the Labour Party, had performed a public service by fighting the regular portrayal of unrealistic body types.
“A great start for London’s ‘feminist Mayor’” Women’s Equality Party wrote on Twitter.
But some critics suggested that Khan, a Muslim, was using the ad ban to clamp down on racy images of women because they were counter to the norms of conservative Islam.
Ian Twinn, a spokesman for the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, which represents about 450 British companies, said he had no problem with the regulation as long as it focused solely on not promoting unhealthy body images.
“Parents don’t want their children to see ads of models who are unhealthily thin children, and send out a message that this is what you should look like,” he said. “Equally, we don’t want people who are comfortably chubby threatening to ban perfectly reasonable ads. We are not meant to go around with excessive fat on our waists. If fat is the new normal, we don’t want that to be the reason to censor people who are not fat. That seems barmy.”
Twinn said the model in the Protein World ad had a toned and athletic body, a perspective that was echoed by the Advertising Standards Authority.
After receiving 378 complaints last year about the ad, the advertising board ruled that it was not offensive or irresponsible. It did, however, ban the ad because of concerns about its health and weight-loss claims.