Adverts for breast enhancement surgery that screened during the reality show Love Island have been banned for being irresponsible and harmful.
The ads for MYA Cosmetic Surgery, that appeared on TV and on ITV Player between May and July, showed young women posing, dancing and laughing around a swimming pool, on the beach and on a boat while a voice-over said: “These girls had breast enlargements with MYA and all feel amazing.”
Some 17 complainants, including the Mental Health Foundation, said the ad exploited young women’s insecurities about their bodies, trivialised breast enhancement surgery and portrayed it as aspirational.
MYA said they believed the ad focused on the positive aspects of women’s lifestyles and did not explore the negative attitudes towards their body image prior to surgery.
They said the ads did not trivialise the decision to undergo surgery or imply that the only reason the women in the ad were able to enjoy themselves was because of breast enlargement.
Upholding the complaints, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said the ad’s statement that “these girls had breast enlargements with MYA” appeared to be the unifying characteristic of the group, and a crucial factor that had enabled them to enjoy wearing revealing clothing, dancing and taking photos of themselves.
The ASA noted that the voice-over began by referring to time taken to consider surgery and that no surgical procedure was without risks, but said these statements were inconsistent with the tone and content of the ad and did little to alter the overall impression it created.
The ASA said: “We considered that the ad went beyond presenting the lifestyle of women who had breast enlargement in a positive light 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.
“We also considered that the focus on the aspirational lifestyle and the tone of the ad, in combination with the statement ‘join them and thousands more’ – which suggested that it was common to undergo breast enlargement and acted as an explicit call to action – had the effect of trivialising the decision to undergo that surgery.
“For those reasons, we concluded that the ad was irresponsible and harmful.”
Mental Health Foundation director Isabella Goldie said the decision marked a “watershed moment” for cosmetic surgery advertising.
She said: “We believe that concern around body image is one of the root causes of mental ill health in young people. Our research shows that almost half of young people aged 18 to 24 have felt so stressed by body image and appearance that they have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.
“Implying that people can only enjoy body confidence and an aspirational lifestyle by undergoing cosmetic surgery is dangerous and unacceptable. All of us, including commercial organisations, have a role to play in strengthening our young people’s resilience.”
MYA said in a statement that the timing of the complaints coincided with “a lot of debate around the advertising of a range of products and services in the adult content show Love Island”.
The statement said MYA would engage with the ASA and “reflect to ensure that we do get the right balance as it is not our intention to cause any upset or distress.
“We are also attempting to engage with one of the key mental health organisations involved in the complaint to seek their input and thoughts around our next campaign. We hope that they will meet with us soon.”
NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said: “The ASA are right to take action to clamp down on these manipulative and potentially harmful adverts, responding to concerns that we and others have raised.
“Stoking anxiety about body image as a way of selling cosmetic surgery is an additional pressure on young people’s mental health and wellbeing that they – and the NHS – can well do without.”