More needs to be done to prevent body image dissatisfaction, including putting logos on some filtered images and new training standards for people carrying out certain cosmetic procedures, MPs have said.
MPs on the House of Commons health and social care committee said the impact of body image on mental and physical health is “far-reaching” and that the government is “not doing enough to understand the extent of the risks” associated with body image dissatisfaction.
A new committee report is calling on the government to introduce a law so that “commercial images” showing bodies that have been manipulated in any way – including changing body proportions or skin tone – are required by law to carry a logo to let viewers know that they has been digitally altered.
MPs also called on ministers to discourage influencers from altering their images.
Meanwhile, the committee also called for measures to reduce the “conveyor belt” approach to non-surgical cosmetic procedures – such as Botox injections or chemical peels – by promoting a licensing regime for providers.
This should also include minimum training standards for people providing these services and a “cooling off” period between consent and provision of the procedure, MPs said.
In the meantime, dermal fillers should be made as prescription drugs, along the lines of Botox, the group added.
They also called on the government to do more to understand “the increase in body image dissatisfaction in the population, including the impact of social media”.
Chair of the committee, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “The Government must act quickly to end the situation where anyone can carry out non-surgical cosmetic procedures, regardless of training or qualifications.
“We have heard of some distressing experiences – a conveyor belt approach with procedures carried out without question, procedures gone wrong, use of dirty premises.
“It was clear throughout our investigation that some groups are particularly vulnerable to exploitation in this growing market that has gone largely unregulated.
“We need a timetable now for a licensing regime with patient safety at the center to reduce these risks.
“We hope that ministers will listen to our recommendations and set about creating the safety standards that everyone seeking treatment has a right to expect.”
The report also calls for more to be done to tackle obesity and to prevent children from developing body image problems early in life.
MPs called on the government to limit multi-buy deals for food and drinks with a lot of fat, salt or sugar.
In the meantime, the government should consider the growing use of anabolic steroids for cosmetic purposes, the group said. MPs proposed a safety campaign for those at risk.
Hunt told Sky News: “There are a lot of backstreet cowboys where you can turn up and have non-surgical cosmetic procedures done to change your face, the shape of your nose.
“We say it shouldn’t be something you can just look up and get done on the spot, there should be a grace period.
“And in particular, there should be an obligation on the part of whoever performs this procedure to look at your whole history, including your mental health history, and talk about it with you, because it may be that this has nothing to do with your appearance.” it has to do with psychological problems.
“What you need to do is look at the root cause of these problems, not change your face.”
He added: “In some ways, access is too easy for people who feel depressed or anxious about their body image. They can go and have these procedures done in an instant, without proper assessment, and then they find out that it hasn’t actually solved the root problem.”
He continued: “We now believe that around 60% of 17 to 19-year-olds may have a possible eating disorder, so this is a very dramatic increase over the last couple of decades.
“And social media seems to be one of the reasons – we’re asking for some research to be done so we can understand it properly.
“But, at the very least, when commercial companies photoshop images to make people look thinner than they would be in real life, we think it should be labeled – we think people looking at these images should know that this is not a real human.
“And that’s part of the way we can help people use social media with more awareness, (to know) some of the tricks of the trade if you will, and therefore stop this constant focus on our bodies, which is so damaging to so many young people, especially young women.
“I think the social media landscape needs an overhaul in areas like this, especially when it affects young people.”
Victoria Brownlie, chief executive of the British Beauty Council, urged the government to take the committee’s recommendations forward, adding: “We want a beauty industry that stands as a beacon of body positivity with world-leading standards of care.
“Regulation of non-surgical cosmetic procedures cannot come soon enough, and while the government has committed to addressing this, current party politics mean such policy changes are in limbo. Timelines are unclear.”
Tom Quinn, director of external affairs at eating disorders charity Beat, said: “We welcome the Health and Social Care Committee’s proposal to ensure that digitally altered images are clearly labelled.
“While viewing irresponsible advertising or images on social media would not be the sole cause of an eating disorder developing, the pressure to conform to a certain body shape or size can have an incredibly damaging effect on self-esteem and well-being, particularly in younger people.”
A Government spokesman said: “We know the devastating impact body image issues can have on a person’s mental and physical health and we continue to take steps to support those affected.
“As part of our ongoing efforts, we will introduce a national licensing scheme to prevent exploitation, improve safety and ensure that individuals make informed and safe choices about non-surgical cosmetic procedures.
“This will build on the existing support we have put in place, from expanding mental health services – including for those with body dysmorphic disorder – by an extra £2.3bn a year by 2024, to changing the law which prevents under-18s from access to Botox and filler treatments for cosmetic purposes.”