As It Happens

Norwegian city bans 'Photoshopped' billboard models, citing body image concerns

Trondheim, Norway, is banning all ads placed on public property that might contribute to a negative body image among residents.
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Trondheim, Norway, is taking a stand against manipulated body images in advertising on its city streets.

The country's third-largest city is banning all ads placed on city-owned property that might contribute to a negative body image among residents.  

Since it's a completely unrealistic pressure if [the images] are manipulated ... it creates a pressure that no one can live up to. At least if we are able to get rid of some of it, we want to do that.- Trondheim City Councillor Ottar Michelsen

City councillor Ottar Michelsen supports the measure. He's with the Socialist Left Party, and he described to As it Happens host Carol Off the types of images the city has deemed problematic.

Ottar Michelsen (Twitter/Ottar Michelsen)

"Long legs, the bodies are much thinner than is normal, seemingly. Some ribs are taken away. The problem as we see it is that they create a body image that is not realistic," he explains. "So they create some sort of 'ideal,' in particular for youngsters, a 'Photoshopped' image; the ideal they look up to, and would like to have for themselves, and it creates a pressure. Since it's a completely unrealistic pressure if they are manipulated — and that's the whole issue here, that we want to get rid of these manipulated pictures — it creates a pressure that no one can live up to ... at least if we are able to get rid of some of it, we want to do that."

"Maybe more important than the actual ban of these pictures ... they have been able to create a debate: what body image is OK on commercials." - Ottar Michelsen

But, says Michelsen, there are other reasons for implementing the ban that may have a greater impact than the restrictions themselves.

"Maybe more important than the actual ban of these pictures — first, they have been able to create a debate: what body image is OK on commercials. And the second thing is, here we're talking about contracts in the city of Trondheim that will last until 2030. And we do not really know how the trends in advertisement will change in this period. So with these restrictions that we now put on, we have the opportunity to put on the brakes, if manipulation of pictures escalates even further in this period."

As Michelsen states, the restrictions apply only to images that have been digitally manipulated, not to images of real people. He admits, however, that live models featured in ads often undergo extreme dieting and cosmetic surgery to conform to popular standards of beauty.

"I think that is a problem, for sure. But again, we have to start somewhere. We cannot ban pictures of people actually existing. And still, I think that is a much lesser problem than this Photoshopping of images. And hopefully also the companies behind these advertisements are getting a little bit more conscious of what they want to put on these boards. And I'm happy to see that at least some of the representatives for the local businesses were positive to these restrictions. They want to show how the clothes look like on real people."

"When we see that youngsters — teenagers — are willing to do plastic surgery to look more like these images, I think it's time to put on the brakes." - Ottar Michelsen

But, as Off points out, idealized standards of beauty have existed for ages, and artists have long strived to offer up representations of the ideal body for public consumption. Think Michelangelo's "David", for instance. 

"Of course it's been like this all through history," says Michelsen. "But the pressure now on youth on how the body image should be, I think that is much bigger now than it used to be. And it's all over. It's not a kind of fractional society. It affects [all of] society. When we see that youngsters — teenagers — are willing to do plastic surgery to look more like these images, I think it's time to put on the brakes." 

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