London’s new mayor, Sadiq Khan, has signaled early in his term that he will continue the state regulation of speech and images that have ravaged free speech in England. He announced an end to the appearance of what he calls “body shaming” advertisements in London’s public transport, advertisements featuring skinny bodies viewed as unrealistic for most women. While some publications have suggested the that move reflects Khan’s Muslim background (he is the first Muslim mayor of London), in my view it reflects a long and disturbing trend in Europe (and particularly England) to regulate and criminalize speech. What some people may view as unrealistic or even demeaning for women, others view as artistic expression in advertising. While this may be the only way I could end up a Benetton model, I have long opposed such rules, which puts the government in the position of policing images to determine what is not demeaning for women.
Khan said that he will no longer tolerate images that make women feel bad about their bodies: “As the father of two teenage girls, I am extremely concerned about this kind of advertising which can demean people, particularly women, and make them ashamed of their bodies. It is high time it came to an end.” Of course, one possible response is to sit down with your daughters and discuss the issue rather than force other people to show images that you feel are more acceptable. I prefer to leave the choice of images to these companies and their customers than a politician dictating what is acceptable to his sensibilities.
Khan notably does not say how he will carry out the ban or how he will define the standard. Will this be a body fat ratio or some Potter Stewart “I know it when I see it” standard.
Like Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “Big Gulp” regulation, the tendency of some politicians is to see their role as dictating better habits or images. At least the Big Gulp standard (which I opposed) had some objective science based standard based on sugar content. Khan’s ban is based on the highly subjective view of what is sufficiently attainable as a body to be acceptable for advertisements.
What do you think?