The United Kingdom’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ordered Urban Outfitters to remove a picture of a model as showing an impermissible “inner thigh gap” that encourages what is viewed as an “unhealthy” diet for girls. It is the latest example, in my opinion, of a wholesale regulation of speech — both political and commercial — in England.
The company insists that the model shown in black polka-dot bikini briefs is not underweight. You can be your own judge. However, it should not matter. I have long opposed these regulations of speech and images by the government despite my sympathy with those who object to ultra skinny models.
The agency forces companies to show images that it deems healthy and positive. The ASA released a statement: “We understood that Urban Outfitters’ target market was young people and considered that using a noticeably underweight model was likely to impress upon that audience that the image was representative of the people who might wear Urban Outfitters’ clothing, and as being something to aspire to. We therefore concluded that the ad was irresponsible.”
I understand the view of clinical psychologists and others who oppose the ubiquitous images of skinny models as creating social pressure on young girls to remain underweight and adding to depression over weight as well as eating disorders. However, the proper response is through market pressures and education, not government regulation of speech.
I have repeatedly written on the alarming erosion of free speech in the United Kingdom, particularly as a result of hate speech and anti-discriminatory regulations (here and here and here). This includes a move to criminalize “unsavory” speech as well as anonymous speech by the government. England appears on a slippery slope of speech regulation where more and more speech is deemed problematic or unhealthy. Free speech requires a bright line rule of protection that has been lost in the United Kingdom.