The Advertising Standards Authority has banned ads for breast enhancement surgery during Love Island – but feminist campaigners are questioning why it took so long.
Remember the heady days of summer 2018? When the sun shone for what felt like 18 blazing hours a day, and everyone – briefly, magically – thought that football actually might be coming home?
This summer was also the year that ITV2’s Love Island became a truly international phenomenon, sparking think pieces in The New York Times and Time magazine and format rights deals with broadcasters in the US, Denmark, Finland and Norway. Quite unexpectedly, the defiantly tacky reality dating show served as the spark for several big, important cultural conversations, prompting national discussions about everything from gaslighting to how racism plays out in dating.
But while those subjects were highlighted by the behaviour of Love Island’s contestants, another issue was raised by the format of the show itself.
Thousands of viewers, and several big charities, expressed concern that ITV was airing commercials for cosmetic surgery companies during Love Island ad breaks on its online streaming service, ITV Hub. When viewed alongside the narrow beauty ideals portrayed on the show, many saw these ads as being designed to undermine and capitalise on female viewers’ shaky body image.
Now, the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has banned ads for breast enhancement surgery that were shown on ITV Hub during Love Island this summer, saying they were “irresponsible and harmful”.
Commercials for MYA Cosmetic Surgery showed a group of young women posing, laughing and dancing on the beach, by a pool and on a boat, while a voiceover said: “These girls had breast enlargements with MYA and all feel amazing.”
The ASA ruled that the ad had the effect of “trivialising” the decision to undergo surgery, and “implied that the women were only able to enjoy the aspirational lifestyle shown, and to be happy with their bodies, because they had undergone that surgery.”
The decision to ban the ads has been welcomed by the Mental Health Foundation, which was one of the organisations to complain to the ASA.
However, grassroots feminist campaign group Level Up – which spearheaded calls for plastic surgery ads to be banned during Love Island – has criticised the ASA for only moving to ban the ads several months after the show ended.
“The ASA need to move faster if they are serious about protecting women and girls,” Carys Afoko, Level Up’s executive director, tells stylist.co.uk.
“Millions of people watched Love Island this summer, myself included and were genuinely shocked at ITV’s decision to air adverts for surgery and diet supplements given the narrow standard of beauty promoted by the show.
“There is a mental health crisis among young people and media and marketing is making it worse by promoting a narrow standard of beauty.”
Afoko says that thousands of people emailed ITV executives as a direct result of Level Up’s campaign earlier this summer. In late July, facing mounting pressure from Level Up, charities, NHS England and viewers on social media, ITV’s chief executive Carolyn McCall committed to review advertising on Love Island ahead of next year’s series.
“Within two weeks we achieved something that will make it easier for women and girls to feel good about their bodies,” Afoko observes. “The ASA is pretty late to the party.”
Images: Getty Images / MYA