Digitally Altered Advertisements

Update on MA H.3892

The Joint Committee on Revenue has officially granted MA H.3892, An Act relative to mental health promotion through realistic advertising images, a “study order”. This means that the bill will not be going any further through the legislative process this session. However, this is not the end of H.3892! Representative Kay Khan will be picking this bill up again the following year in the next legislative session. Thank you to all of the advocates who came out to educate lawmakers on this bill last fall and for your dedication throughout this process.

An Act relative to mental health promotion through realistic advertising images  

In the social media age, it is standard practice for photographers and digital media production specialists to correct perceived “flaws” in the appearance of models. Using software tools like Photoshop, models’ skin tones are lightened, wrinkles and blemishes are removed to make them look younger, and their body size and shape are altered to reflect prevailing norms. Exposure to these unrealistic and unattainable beauty norms has profound negative effects on public health: It is a key risk factor for eating disorders. Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that will affect 30 million people in the United States in their lifetimes, across all genders, racial and ethnic groups, and socioeconomic statuses. The issue has concerned the American Medical Association since at least 2011, when they released a position statement encouraging guidelines be developed for advertising to “discourage the altering of photographs in a manner that could promote unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image.” Yet very little has changed since then.

Here in Massachusetts, a group of advocates is trying to change that. An Act relative to mental health promotion through realistic advertising images, H.3892, was introduced by Rep. Kay Khan (D-Newton) in 2019. This bill would incentivize businesses in Massachusetts to use realistic images in their advertisements by offering a tax credit to those who pledge to not digitally alter models’ skin tone, skin texture including wrinkles, body size, or body shape in advertisements.

Want to get involved with this effort?

  • Read the press release for this bill from the Representative Kay Khan’s (lead sponsor) office
  • Read our policy brief, H.3892 talking points, and fact sheet – then share them with a friend or colleague!
  • Sign up for the STRIPED email list for campaign updates and eating disorders prevention news and resources by emailing striped@hsph.harvard.edu!

More readings and resources: