I’m going to be so bold as to hazard a guess about what you have open on your phone, tablet or laptop right now as you read this post. My guess is that you either have a Facebook tab open or the app is running somewhere in the background. If I’m wrong the chances are that is because you have either been on it today or you are planning to go on a bit later. So what’s my point? Well I’m simply trying to highlight the fact that Facebook has become a major part of most of our lives.
This week saw Facebook at the centre of a huge controversy when they chose to ban an ad by the Australian feminist group known as Cherchez la Femme. Why? Because the advert, featuring plus-sized model Tess Holliday was deemed to be “undesirable” and supposedly violated Facebook’s health and safety policy in regards to ads.
Fast-forward past the heated battle that ensued and Facebook reinstated the advert and suggested that the censorship was done mistakenly. So I decided to take a look at Facebook’s policy and see exactly what they are stopping us from seeing. Some of it is just laughable. “Ads may not depict a state of health or body weight as being perfect or extremely undesirable”. And it doesn’t stop there, Facebook go on to explain what sort of language is acceptable too: “ads may not call attention to perceived imperfections through the use of language”.
All of this has caused a hell of a controversy in the industry and it feels as if everybody has had their say say on it over the past few days. Do I find the debate interesting? Well I suppose there is something here about freedom of speech and freedom of expression that could be addressed but that isn’t what this blog aims to do. We are more concerned with the implications. Simply put: will this encourage more people to adopt a healthy lifestyle?
Fat shaming is something that has been thrust to the fore in the advent of social media, but it isn’t without its critics. What we are talking about here is whether the end justifies the means. Does it matter what motivates somebody to get fit, so long as they do?
Looking at this case specifically, Facebook clearly draws a line between an individual’s page and advertisements. Men and women are free to post plus-sized images on their private pages if they see fit. But the idea of an ad is to promote and when you think of it like that you can see where Facebook are coming from. Do we want society to promote the image of being overweight as being acceptable?
If an ad on Facebook was promoting a healthy eating plan and matched that with an image of somebody who was seriously underweight then it would be rightly criticised for being inappropriate. Every time we criticise the choice of image that an ad uses on Facebook, we aren’t criticising the individual in it. But people who are of an unhealthy size and shape, whether underweight or overweight, need to have the right support so that if they decide that they want to make a change, they know that the help is out there!
This ad didn’t say that all women should aspire to look like Tess Holliday. And to that extent my personal opinion is that it probably wasn’t in violation of Facebook’s policy rules. But we all have to act responsibly if we have an online platform that can influence the opinions of thousands of very real individuals.