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Why Beauty Ads Should Be Legislated

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My wife and I almost beat-up a six-year-old girl yesterday.

She was a playground bully; pushing, cutting, baiting, and hating all over our kids' happy. And we get all mama bear when our kids' happiness is at stake.

And it is. Not by a six year-old playground tyrant; we scared her off, but by our popular, media, and beauty cultures, who may be the biggest bullies of all. And these three are a lot bigger, tougher and more popular than that six-year-old girl. But just as surely, they're opening a can of whoop-ass all over our little kids and, in fact, women and girls of all ages.

Popular culture influences and shapes how we feel, what we think, talk and wonder about. It can wield this power for good and ill, passively or actively. Hollywood can raise and even change our consciousness -- or just mess with it. And these days, like a playground bully, it's messing with it.

See, there's an epidemic crisis of confidence affecting girls and women, and an inextricable link between the epidemic and our cultural products, norms and images. The numbers are horrifying:

Walk down a crowded middle/high school hallway and over 70% of the girls you'll see don't think they're "good enough" in some way.

Remember being 13? Well, 50% of 13-year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies. By the time they're 17, 800,000 out of 1 million of them will be unhappy.

80% of adult women feel insecure about their looks after seeing images of women as depicted in the media. 80% feel worse about themselves after being "entertained"!

I've spent a career at the intersection of Hollywood and Madison Avenue. This intersection paid for our house. Actually, it's paid for pretty much everything in our lives. Thus we're lovers not haters so to be clear we're talking about Hollywood broadly and metaphorically, and really mean the purveyors of the stuff that popular culture is made of from Madison Avenue, 6th Avenue, and Main Street too.

It's perverse that something that really just wants to make us feel good for at least a moment can make us feel bad for a lifetime. But it can, because intentionally or not, many of us internalize what's going up on billboards, online, and on screens big and small, making these images a part of our identity, aspirations, references, and expectations.

We wind up confusing the ideal and the real, and these days the so-called ideal is masquerading as the real, like one great big Bernie Madoff Ponzie Scheme. Like Bernie, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

So what do we do?

As parents and the founders of Off Our Chests, we think we all need to hold each other more accountable. Accountable to what's put out there, how literally we take it; and accountable for the mainstreaming of images and expectations; standards of perfection and norms that are too often inaccessible if not impossible -- because they're not real.

So today we are beginning our campaign to create The Self-Esteem Act, a bill requiring "truth in advertising" labels be attached to advertising and editorials with models photoshopped or airbrushed to a meaningful degree.

The Self-Esteem Act isn't about judging, it's about clarifying. If as marketers you choose to keep doing what you've done, that's between you, the talent in your ads, and your consumers. Now you just need be upfront about it and declare it. If you're not comfortable declaring it, don't do it. It's that simple.

Our point is that conscious and commerce can and should co-exist. We think that consumers will appreciate the truth over an unachievable ideal that the advertising, fashion and film industries sometimes set.

We know we're not the first to talk about this, but nothing's changed. It's been a conversation domestically, in Europe, and three weeks ago, a British MP pulled L'Oréal ads deeming the images of Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington so overly photoshopped they created an "unrealistic" expectation of what women should look like, citing the campaign as an example of the "[media's] role in contributing to a negative body image."

So to all involved, we say, keep doing what you're doing if you must -- just tell us you've done it. Maybe then we will realize that the women in those ads and spreads are about as real as Avatar, and thus, we'll see it as escapism and not as realism to which we don't measure up.

Support the Self-Esteem Act. We'll all feel better, even if some of us look a little more real.

To support the Self-Esteem Act, or learn more about Off Our Chests, please visit OffOurChests.com.