Recently, discussions have formed around Norway’s new law for social media influencers and what it could mean for wider society. This new law requires influencers to label retouched photos on social media in order to address society’s ever-growing issue of body-image negativity, but how effective is this new law, and will it even serve any positive change?
Across Norway, groups working with youths effected by mental health issues have called for stricter measures and firmer laws on image editing for years, with legal proposals stating that approximately 70,000 children and young people in the country (which has a population of just under 5.4 million) have mental disorders that require treatment. Body image is shown to be an issue in the extremities with anorexia being the third most common cause of death among young girls.
Norway’s New Image Editing Bill
So last month, Norway’s parliament passed a law aimed at advertisers that mandates that edited or filtered photos must be labeled as retouched. The law states, “The advertiser and the person designing the advertisement must further ensure that the advertisement where a body's shape, size or skin has been changed by retouching or other manipulation, shall be marked.”
The law includes celebrities and influencers who are paid or benefit in some way from posting the image on social media.
Edited or filtered photos on social media must be labeled as retouched.
The bill has yet to go into effect (the King of Norway will decide when it will), but it’s already raising concerns about the purpose it serves and whether it will be useless or, alternatively, do more harm than good.
The intention of the bill is driven by a will to do good, but good intent doesn’t always lead to effective or positive outcomes. Politicians wish to minimize triggers for children, and when told that this is a contributing issue, it’s understandable that they would back laws against it. But how many politicians understand the deep depths of social media in the same way the youth or regular people do?
The Potential Consequences of the Bill
Reid Ivar Bjorland Dahl, State Secretary with the Ministry of Children and Families, has stated that the goal of the new law is “to have children and young people grow up without the pressure to change their bodies.” And while this is all well and good to the average eye, experts on such topics have argued that labels may increase attention to the image, as people search to pick out exactly which part of the image has been edited, maybe even leading them to consider those own parts of themselves, and whether they need altering too.
In more extreme potentials for this law, others have considered whether enforcing labels may lead the influencers themselves to undergo to more drastic measures to achieve the look they desire in editing their photos, like plastic surgery or extreme dieting.
Labels may increase attention to the image, as people try to figure out what was edited.
Madeleine Pedersen, 26, is a Norwegian Instagram influencer who supports the new law. She thinks the law will make influencers less willing to edit their photos.
"They will be too embarrassed to admit it, so they will edit less, as they should," Pedersen said. "You are beautiful, don't throw that away for some extra likes. That's not real life."
Fellow Norwegian influencer Eirin Kristiansen, 26, also supports the law as a "step in the right direction" but one that’s "not very well thought out.”
"To me, it seems more like a shortcut to fix a problem that won't really do any improvement," Kristiansen said. "Mental health issues are caused by so much more than an edited photo, and another badge on advertiser's photos won't change how young girls and boys truly feel, in my opinion."
So while the intent is good, lawmakers have not actually addressed either the possible issues that may arise from such alterations or the root causes of body image pressure.
Protecting Children from Technology in the “New Normal”
Alongside this, I think there’s a bigger issue at hand being ignored, and it spawns from a failure to address the realities of the modern-day technology, and what we teach our children about it.
My generation are already glued to their screens and live half their lives on the internet, so I can’t even begin to imagine what the next one will be like. The generation raised on iPad screens right now will be playing with holograms in the future that I’ll have no idea how to use. But while they’re still stuck to their screens in the masses, it’s important that adults accept that this technology exists and teach young people the dangers and falsehoods that lie within them – including body images.
Social media comparison is an issue for everyone, not just the youngest of society, and we can remind ourselves over and over that these images are not always as they seem, yet it’s still so easy for these issues to arise and bother us. We need a better plan to prepare the youth for what they will see online, since so much of it’s optical illusion and one that they’ll constantly compare themselves to.
We often forget how imperfect reality is and lack appreciation for what’s raw and real.
It’s imperative we teach young people the powers of self-acceptance and the value of being unique. Today we live in a world where everyone wants to fit a certain standard, and this standard is usually out of reach and impossible for any regular person to naturally attain. Back in April, Khloe Kardashian opened up about the constant comparison to her sisters she experienced and feeling the need to edit her images as a result – image editing isn’t the root of the problem, it’s the result of one.
Many big industries profit from the insecurities of women (cosmetic surgeons, makeup and beauty lines, etc.), so it’s important we remind ourselves that there are people who feed off our self-deprecation and that we should work together to not fall into the traps. Women shouldn’t feel the need to be “perfect” as perfection is subjective to each person and can’t exist in a world so varied and constantly altering. So much of what we see on the internet is an illusion, and sometimes we become so sucked into it, we forget how imperfect reality is and lack appreciation for what’s raw and real within it.
Simply putting labels on things that may cause distress will not tackle the bigger issues. Some may even view such actions as an easy cop-out, as it makes it look as though an effort has been made to combat the problem when actually little has been done in addressing the deeper matters at hand.
Technology and modern media will continue to harm and confuse us in the years to come. It’s inevitable. What’s most important is protecting young, developing minds from it. The intention of Norway’s new law is good, but the words are ultimately insufficient – we can work harder to tackle this issue, but the digging must be deeper.
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