by Georgia Luckhurst and Montgomery Jones

You might be wondering what Truth In  Ads is exactly.  Well, it’s a petition and a campaign to pass the Truth In Ads act, HR4341, that would get the Federal Trade Commission in the USA to review and regulate the way that human bodies are altered in advertising, in order to prevent the publication of false or unrealistic images that directly impact people’s self-esteem, happiness, and mental and physical health.

When I first heard about the Truth In Ads campaign, I was both intrigued and overjoyed.  Overjoyed for many reasons: because we at SPARK passionately care about the issue of excessive Photoshop on human bodies. Overjoyed because we know it’s hurting people, and we want it to stop.  Overjoyed because this is an issue that affects all of us in different ways, in very personal ways, as people whose confidence has been harmed, as people with younger siblings, as friends of those with suffering self-esteem, and as parents – as the creator of the Truth In Ads petition, the phenomenal Seth Matlins, proves – and it’s now being publicly discussed. I was also intrigued.  The issue has become such an accepted part of our technologically savvy generation (which is pretty damn sad, really – how used we are to this) that I just didn’t, and still don’t, have any idea how legislators are going to respond to petitions and campaigns like these.

The fantastic Montgomery Jones recently participated in a live chat about the thoughts behind Truth In Ads, and interviewed Seth Matlins all about the campaign.

What or who inspired you to create the #truthinads act?

There are 2 parts to this answers to this. First, my kids – and my daughter specifically. They’re 7 (Otis) and 8 (EllaRose) now, and when she was little, I began to see – or at least look at – the world through the eyes of a little girl…and I did not like what I saw. There were/are so many things that could get in the way of her being her happiest and truest self (and this is true for Otis too, but harder still for girls and women)…that I had to do something.

The second part is that in the summer of 2011, I read an article about a Member of the British Parliament who had taken down Lancome billboards in London, one with Julia Roberts on it, the other with Christie Turlington. She took them down because she considered the ads damaging because they created such a false and unrealistic expectation of what women could and should look like. As I read this, I wondered who in our country was doing something similar and from a legislative level. When I couldn’t find anyone…with no idea what I was doing…my wife and I stepped in to try to do something to protect our children from the damaging effects of these deceptive ads and expectations.

What does the act entail?  Is it to stop Photoshop on multiple levels or just in advertisements?

The Truth in Advertising Act is only focused on advertising, and only on ads that “materially change” the people in them through post-production techniques like “photoshop.” By material change, we mean specifically changes to shape, size, proportion, color, and the enhancement and/or removal of individual features. We are not concerned with making a blue-sky bluer or cleaning up a fly-away hair.

And because the bill does not consider editorial, artistic or individual expression, it in no way encroaches on first amendment rights. This isn’t a first amendment issue, it’s a public health issue.

Your petition already has over 15,000 signatures and counting. Is there a target number you hope to reach?

Our only intent with the petition is to show the FTC, Congress, and the ad community, that people are supportive of the Act and the FTC’s actions. We want to demonstrate that the time for change is past and now. So, the more the merrier, and the more the more powerful.

I know that in the U.K. in 2011, a couple of ads were banned by the Advertising Standards Authority for being misleading and in France, 50 politicians signed a bill requesting that there be a health warning on advertisements of models that have been retouched.  Do you hope that the U.S. follows exactly in their footsteps or takes it even further? 

What the specific remedies are, we leave to the FTC process. Whether it’s disclosure labeling, media restrictions, ratings, we trust the FTC will do right by the consumers they are here to protect.

“53% of 13 year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies; by the time they are 17, 78% will be.”  In addition to regulating Photoshop in advertisements, what else can be done to stop companies from preying on our insecurities?

That’s a hard one. Nothing sells like “fear” and “hope,” and since advertising’s job is to sell, I don’t suspect we’ll see much decrease in the role fear and hope play [in ads]. I think we as consumers have to take actions big and small to affect the changes we want to see. We have to vote with our wallets – both in terms of what we do and do not buy. We have to use our voices, to organize the like-minded and let companies know what we want and expect from them and what they can expect from us in turn. Few and far between are the big businesses like CVS who stopped selling tobacco products because of the ethical and moral (and health) imperative. We need more of those.

SPARK loves this act! What other organizations have publically supported the truth in ads act?

Thank you for loving it. We’ve have over 700 organizations, activists and allies who have signed up and on. Obviously, the Eating Disorders Coalition has been our partner in getting it to here, but others besides SPARK include The Representation Project, WAM, WIMN, New Moon Girls, Jean Kilbourne, Rachel Simmons (who I think is the OG of this movement), Shaping Youth, Adios Barbie, Pigtail Pals, and so many others.

Have you felt any pushbacks from the advertisement industry itself? 

Besides some comments on the Bill from the ANA, which made it clear they hadn’t read the Bill, we’ve not so much as felt pushback – as an absence of engagement. We’ve actively tried to start conversations with the ad-indsutry’s lobby groups, but so far, they seem uninterested in engaging at all. This said, there are absolutely individuals who are in the advertising business who stand with us and are supportive of this change.

Who will (or who do you hope will) be most impacted by the truth in ads act?

To paraphrase the old lifeboat saying “children and women first.” While this issue affects all of us, across gender and demographics, our cultural objectification and sexualization of women and girls is thousands of years old, so the effects are disproportionately skewed.

How can ordinary people show their support? In 5 years time, what do you hope to see from the #truthinads act?

People can support it be signing, tweeting, posting, writing blogs and op-eds, emailing or calling their congressional and senate representatives…and letting their world know that enough is enough and we need to protect children and each other form the harm done by these deceptive ads.

In 5 years…real, concrete, measurable change – mas measured by the health and happiness of those were trying to help…which is to say, all of us.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about this act? 

I think we’ve covered it…but the act is, as above, all about positively impacting health and happiness. We are not trying to legislate ideals, ideas or freedoms. We’re trying to protect people from the health issues that have come with deceptive ads and false expectations. It’s common sense really…who is opposed to truth in advertising?