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Our response to the banning of cosmetic procedure adverts targeting young people

We’re delighted that cosmetic surgery clinics are to be banned from targeting adverts for procedures at under-18s.

New rules mean that from May 2022, adverts for cosmetic surgeries that are aimed at under-18s or that have a particular appeal to that age group – won’t be allowed on all media. This includes social media sites like TikTok and Instagram, newspapers, magazines and billboards, as well as social influencer marketing.

Last year we responded to a consultation on this issue by the Committee for Advertising Practice (CAP), which is the organisation responsible for the codes that all UK advertisers must follow.

In our submission we supported a call for a ban on such adverts. Our campaigner, Hannah, who has localised scleroderma, shared her experiences with CAP. She told them:

“Being a teenager, I was feeling self-conscious anyway about how I looked and then I developed these marks that were very noticeable. It had a huge impact on my life. I stopped looking in the mirror, I covered up my body and it was a really devastating time.

Campaigner Hannah, who is a white woman with long wavy hair that is brown, wearing glasses and a grey jumper

Changing Faces campaigner Hannah

“As soon as my skin condition began, I started slathering scar removal creams and oils on myself every single day. I spent hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds on endless treatments, none of which made the slightest difference to the appearance of my scars.

“Everywhere I looked clear-skinned models told me the same thing. I never saw a public figure that looked like me and I felt totally alone. I spent hours researching various scar removal surgeries and extreme treatments and started saving for them.

“In the early days of social media, there were constantly adverts for different cosmetic procedures and I felt like everywhere I looked, someone was saying I was ugly and needed to be fixed.

“Young people, whether they have a visible difference or not, must be protected from advertising that promotes cosmetic interventions. How can young people be expected to craft a healthy body image when the world is telling them that they can be fixed? Online spaces are tricky to make safe for young people, but it is possible to minimise the impact that unrealistic body image has on their developing minds by limiting advertising.”

We explained how we aim to support people with their treatment decisions; encouraging them to get the correct information from the appropriate healthcare professionals and to consider the impact of any treatment options on their lives.

We firmly believe that under-18’s should not be targeted with marketing communications promoting cosmetic interventions, and welcome the new advertising rules. Advertisements promoting a stereotypical perception of beauty and offering to ‘fix’ perceived ‘imperfections’ can be damaging to a child or young person, particularly those with a visible difference.

Changing Faces CEO Heather Blake

Heather Blake, Changing Faces, CEO said: “We firmly believe that under-18’s should not be targeted with marketing communications promoting cosmetic interventions, and welcome the new advertising rules. Advertisements promoting a stereotypical perception of beauty and offering to ‘fix’ perceived ‘imperfections’ can be damaging to a child or young person, particularly those with a visible difference.

“Our call to other advertisers and brands is to join our Pledge To Be Seen movement, and help us to promote more positive representations of visible difference across popular culture.”

Our volunteer campaigners are currently in the process of responding to a further consultation that is looking more broadly at the impact of advertising on body image. They’ll be sharing their personal experiences alongside our latest research which found that people with a visible difference report long-term impacts from not seeing people who look like them represented in society and across popular culture.

A third have low levels of confidence (34%), and three in ten have struggled with body image (31%) and low self-esteem (29%). A quarter (24%) say it has affected their mental health.

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