In Neutral Gear: Fighting #fakebodies (Metro, 18th Oct 2018)

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A new campaign wants labelling on every retouched photo to declare itself. We meet the women at the core of the body neutrality movement

ONCE bodily self-loathing has got its claws in, it’s tricky to shake off. But for those who object to societal ideals of beauty and industries that profit from our self-doubt, this week offered a glimmer of hope: yesterday, the Advertising Standards Authority banned a breast enlargement advertisement by company MYA, which ran in the break of Love Island, for the ‘irresponsible’ messages it implied about aspiration and fulfilment.

Fat Girl: The Body Acceptance Collective (fatiseveryonesissue.com) is taking things a step further. A campaign group and online platform run by 25-year-old Clemmie Prendergast, its aim is to help young people make peace with their bodies, in part via her #fakebodies campaign, which is urging the government to clearly label Photoshopped images as such or risk a fine.

Late last year the same move was enshrined in law in France, where all manipulated images now have to carry a ‘photographie retouchée’ notice on them.

‘The #fakebodies campaign grew out of an interest in the intersection of mental health, technology and new media,’ says Prendergast, who admits to having spent a decade struggling with depression, anxiety and ‘every kind of eating disorder’.

‘Increasingly, research shows the negative impact of social media platforms on self-esteem for Generation Z and young millennials.

‘One of the reasons for this is the largely visual nature of the internet, which pressures users to present perfect images. The campaign was inspired both by the new laws in France and Israel [which passed legislation in 2013], and an article by American neuroscientist Molly Crockett, who explores the notion of “moral outrage” and the danger of online virality.’

Prendergast believes social media encourages us to become our own marketing machines, constantly trying to perfect our self-image. ‘We are turning ourselves into brands,’ she says, ‘and placing so much emphasis on the way we look. We need instead to be focusing on what our minds can do.’

Prendergast’s argument is a key part of the new body neutrality movement, which focuses on compassionately accepting ourselves as we are. It acknowledges none of us is perfect but that fact shouldn’t affect how much we value ourselves.

‘For me, and as someone who’s battled countless eating disorders, body neutrality does feel like a healthy middle ground,’ says Charli Howard, a British model and activist who made headlines when she publicly blasted her former agency for calling her too fat (she was a UK size six). ‘Body neutrality is about accepting who you are rather than trying to prove who you are, and it’s about how you feel rather than how you look… I think everyone could benefit from that.’

The movement also has a crossover with mindfulness, the practice that encourages us to live in the present moment. ‘We have the power to release thoughts that no longer serve us,’ says Uxshely Chotai, founder of The Food Psychology Clinic (thefoodpsychologyclinic.co.uk).

‘Those negative thoughts about our body are not doing us any good. Being mindful involves acknowledging that those thoughts are there but not focusing on them or obsessing over them.’

Is it likely the government will get behind body neutrality and back an anti-retouching initiative? Prendergast is optimistic.

‘I believe if there is strong evidence-based insight, the government would consider implementing the law,’ she says. ‘If it does not, the conversations around this are still positive.

‘The attempt to get this law passed is not perfect but it is a good starting point in solving one of society’s big challenges.’