A new ban on sexist and racist advertising in public spaces will go into effect this month after Stockholm’s city council voted to approve the measure in June.
In Sweden, the advertising industry is self-regulating, which has proved to be a hurdle for managing the content of ads. With the new ban, the city council will be able to remove any ads in public spaces that violate the guidelines. “The city has a responsibility towards its citizens,” the council said in a press statement, “to ensure that advertising they are exposed to is not offensive or upsetting in any way.” The governing document for the advertising industry states that ads should not depict people as “mere sex objects” or other “degrading” ways.
Stockholm is following the lead of Paris, which banned sexist and homophobic content from billboards. Sadiq Kahn, the mayor of London, has attempted a similar ban on ads in the Transport for London (TfL) network. Although Sweden is one of the highest ranking countries in terms of gender equality metrics, it ranked lowest in the Nordic region in terms of eliminating sexist and racist content in ads, such as messages about beach bodies and lingerie and ads with an emphasis on body-shaming for profit.
The prevalence of ads that include images of thin, photoshopped bodies has been proved to cause a higher level of body and weight related anxiety than people viewing ads that don’t feature such images. An objectification theory has been tested on women in terms of the effect that media has on self-objectification—after viewing such ads, it was determined that self-objectification can be triggered in women and can take the form of idealizing thin bodies and hypersexualization. Advertising is also part of a larger media landscape in which sexist messages enforce masculinity as dominant—and portray womanhood and femininity as weak and lesser-than.
“Advertising helps to define what is acceptable or unacceptable in a society when it comes to gender roles,” Jacqui Hunt, the director of Equality Now’s office in Europe, told The Independent, “and this in turn influences society’s perception of, and response to, the treatment of women and girls. It’s important to recognize the drip-drip-drip effect on society of negative stereotypical images of both men and women across the media and elsewhere.”
“Nobody should feel pressured into unrealistic expectations surrounding their bodies,” said Mayor Khan in response to an ad about being beach body ready that featured a thin, white female model. “I want to send a clear message to the advertising industry about this.” Stockholm’s ban on degrading advertisements demonstrates the same commitment—and could have a reverberating impact for generations to come.