Dr. Sandra Wartski’s thoughtful essay in this issue spotlights one of the compelling hazards women and men of all ages face in the fast lane of the Internet and electronic and print media—seeing unrealistic images that project a false impression of “perfection.”
The author writes, “These socially constructed ideas of beauty are negatively impacting body image, eating, and a myriad of other areas in people already vulnerable to or struggling to recover from an ED.” One solution, she notes, would be to add warning messages on such ads and promotions, pointing out that these images have been distorted. Just as we warn consumers about harmful products, we need to think about how to warn about the dangers of accepting false images as goals.
Each day through our email, newspapers, magazines, and television, we are bombarded with ads promoting miracle products for dieting and body sculpting, along with articles reminding us, with unrealistic images, that we aren’t perfect–but that we can quickly cure this with a miraculous product or new diet formulation. By the time the consumer reads these ads online or on other media, he or she has already compiled a lifetime of experiences with weight phobia.
As Dr. Wartski notes, an important step in the right direction came with passage of the Anna Westin Act of 2015. On December 13, 2016, in one of his last official acts, then-President Barack Obama signed the Anna Westin Act into law as part of the 21st Century CURES Act. This legislation mandates insurance coverage for advanced eating disorders treatment and eating disorder education for healthcare professionals. The act is named for named for Anna Westin, an anorexia nervosa patient who struggled with body image and AN, and ultimately took her life at age 21 years. Her family, and particularly her mother, psychologist Kitty Westin, determined to be open and honest about Anna’s life and death in a time when it was far more common to remain silent about the ramifications of AN, particularly when it involved suicide of a family member. Westin later co-founded the Eating Disorders Coalition.
The Anna Westin Act clarifies existing mental health parity law to improve health insurance coverage for eating disorders and residential treatment, early identification of eating disorders training for health professionals such as primary care physicians, and enhanced information and resources to help early identification of eating disorders by the public.
Importantly, the Anna Westin Act also provides training and research into common advertising practices like altering images through Photoshop .In coming months, the Federal Trade Commission must submit to Congress a report offering a strategy and recommendations to reduce the use in advertising of images that have been altered to change the physical characteristics of the individuals depicted. In addition, singers Lady GAGA, Sam Smith, and Kelly Clarkson, model Tyra Banks, and actress Alyssa Milano are among a growing number of celebrities who have stepped forward to fight back against negative comments about bodies or appearance.