Social media conveys a false reality. Although Snapchat and Instagram filters were supposed to be just a fun feature, now it is rare to find photos that have not been doctored with the help of filters and apps. That phenomenon sets unrealistic beauty standards that can damage people’s perspective on their bodies. The Norwegian Parliament has decided to fight the issue by implementing a new law which requires influencers to disclose when images were edited.
A study conducted by a healthcare institution, the Florida House Experience, uncovered that unrealistic beauty standards concern both women and men. The survey found that 87% of women and 65% of men compared their bodies to images they see on social and traditional media. Moreover, half of the women surveyed and 37% of men compared their bodies unfavourably. Social media platforms have a particularly bad impact on young people. The UK’s Royal Society for Public Health conducted a survey amongst 1,500 teens and young adults about their social media habits. The study uncovered that Instagram and other social networks are associated with high levels of anxiety, depression and can foster a negative body image. The ongoing pressure to reach the unrealistic ideals can result in low self-esteem and self-doubt. In Norway, the concept of ‘kroppspress’, which literally translates to “body pressure”, has increasingly impacted mental health and self-confidence of social media users. In its statement, the Norwegian Ministry of Children and Family expressed hopes that the new law will make a useful contribution to fighting the negative impact of social media on young people.
The new rules passed last month in the Norwegian Parliament in a 72–15 vote. As an amendment to the 2009 Marketing Act, the law needs to be approved by the king of Norway before it is enacted. The legislation declares that any photo where “a body's shape, size or skin has been changed by retouching or other manipulation” must be marked as edited with a label designed by the Ministry. It concerns not only influencers but anyone who shares promotional posts on social media. Violating the law might result in escalating fines and in extreme cases it might lead to facing imprisonment.
Although the new legislation will not stop Norwegian youth from seeing unrealistic beauty standards on social media, it is a big regulatory step in tackling the issue of low self-esteem and mental health problems amongst Instagram users. In 2017, Getty Images announced that it would ban photos of retouched models. Meanwhile, in the same year, France brought in legislation requiring magazines to state when an image has been retouched. It shows that the issue of unrealistic beauty standards is being tackled by an increasing number of countries. Only time will tell if the UK will follow suit.
I'm a final year Law student at Newcastle University and I'm an aspiring commercial solicitor with an intent to complete the LLM LPC in the upcoming year. I volunteer at Newcastle Civil and Family Courts where I provide legal and emotional support for our clients.