Tània Verge Mestre, the Catalan Minister for Equality and Feminisms, and Meritxell Benedí Altés, the President of the Catalan Institute for Women, today unveiled the Action Plan to Combat Aesthetic Pressure 2023-2026. This is an internationally groundbreaking plan which features some sixty actions in fashion, food, consumer affairs, media and broadcasting, sport, the workplace, education and health. Raising awareness and reporting are also two key strategies in the Plan which seeks to make society more sensitive to the impact aesthetic pressure has on self-esteem and health, especially for women, and point out practices which encourage it. To this end the Office for Equal Treatment and Non-Discrimination (OITND) will support people who report discrimination based on physical appearance or clothing in order to ensure they receive care, information, access to services and redress.
“Discomfort and dissatisfaction with your own body has a cause: it’s called aesthetic pressure and is a structural problem inherent to patriarchy,” commented Minister Verge. “We say enough is enough: there are no imperfect or non-standard bodies and we have various kinds of bodies. We want women to stop waging war on their bodies. Hence combating aesthetic pressure is part of the feminist transformation this Government is driving.”
“Aesthetic pressure turns women into objects of consumerism, a lure and a business, perpetuates gender stereotypes, adversely affects self-esteem and can lead to health problems, especially for women, children and teenagers,” added Meritxell Benedí Altés, the President of the Catalan Institute for Women. “This Plan is a coordinated, cross-cutting response to this kind of symbolic violence against women.”
The Plan is the outcome of joint efforts with organisations and activists involved in the struggle against aesthetic pressure and also the Catalan Government’s ministries. The press conference was attended by leading experts Marta Pontnou Farré, Martina Aixuan Quiles, Mariola Dinarès, and Carme Riu Pascual from the Dones No Estàndards association, Raquel Marques from Drac Màgic and Sara Bujalance Arguijo from the Association Against Anorexia and Bulimia (Associació contra l’Anorèxia i la Bulímia - ACAB).
The Plan is to be approved shortly by the Catalan Government and the actions envisaged will be rolled out from now until 2026 backed by an initial €12.5 million budget.
Driving best practice in the fashion industry
The Plan sets out a number of measures for driving best practice and enhancing consumer rights in the fashion industry. A country-wide agreement with the main fashion brands will be pushed forward to promote body neutrality, i.e. accepting your own body as it is and not making positive or negative aesthetic judgements, while also ensuring the availability of appropriate sizes for all bodies in all brick-and-mortar shops. The Plan additionally includes a requirement in the Consumer Code for large multinational clothing retailers in Catalonia to offer a wider range of sizes coupled with the obligation to furnish information on the equivalence of their sizing system with body sizes.
The Plan also features measures to be taken with the major fashion industry events in Catalonia. They include an awareness-raising action on body neutrality and disability to be run as part of 080 Barcelona Fashion and working with the Organising Committee of Barcelona Bridal Fashion Week as one of the industry’s preeminent events to promote body diversity and not endorse impossible canons of beauty on its catwalks.
Fostering body diversity in broadcasting and advertising
The canons of beauty advocated by the broadcasting industry, advertising and social media often depict a weight, age and physique which fail to reflect the variety of bodies and the diversity of physical appearance. To counter this, the Plan envisages coming to an agreement with the media, advertisers and other stakeholders involved in advertising to put in place egalitarian advertising guidelines and identify the use of images or parts of the body which have been altered or retouched. A code of best practice will also be drawn up to promote bodily diversity with a view to doing away with stereotypical portrayals.
The Plan additionally provides for incorporating body diversity in programmes shown by the Catalan Broadcasting Corporation and other public and private operators. Digital content produced by young creators against aesthetic pressure is to be fostered along with inclusion in the CCMA’s SX3 channel schedule of body diversity role models and awareness-raising content on aesthetic pressure and its impact on children and teenagers.
The Plan furthermore features measures to raise awareness in society and change a mindset which views aesthetic pressure as normal through identifying it as a symbolic form of male violence and making progress towards eradicating it. The Government is to launch official communication campaigns and actions while some specific ones will also be run to explain the terms “food intake”, “diet”, “diet culture” and “healthy eating” with a view to preventing eating disorders (ED). The Government is additionally to adopt a decision to embed body diversity in official advertising campaigns.
Better care for eating disorders
Aesthetic pressure impacts self-esteem and can lead to physical and mental health problems. An example of this are eating disorders (EDs) and obsession with weight control which can turn into illnesses such as anorexia or bulimia or the pursuit of an ideal body through dieting without professional advice and supervision or life-threatening surgery. Although EDs are always multi-causal, aesthetic pressure is a major contributor to body dissatisfaction which can trigger these disorders. Accordingly the Plan provides for the rollout of an Emergency Plan to improve accessibility and care for eating disorders which integrates actions in primary healthcare and mental health services along with updating the Guide for families of people with an ED. Consultancies will additionally be set up for teenagers and young people via the adolescents.cat website on food and body image.
Research in this area is also to be supported and surveys will be conducted especially targeting children and teenagers to learn about the impact of aesthetic pressure on mental health and life satisfaction in these age groups.
Preventing physical appearance-based discrimination in the workplace and sport
There is also aesthetic pressure in the workplace, particularly in occupations involving face-to-face interaction with the public. As people shift away from the canons of beauty set by patriarchy, they are more likely to be excluded from the jobs market. Furthermore, there are highly feminised professions in which the employer puts strong aesthetic pressure on workers by enforcing sexualised uniforms or work clothes, which are neither comfortable nor practical in relation to the job, with the purpose of highlighting women workers’ bodies and attracting more consumers. This undermines the physical and moral integrity of female workers, exposes them to harassment and perpetuates gender roles. The Plan therefore includes drafting recommendations for regulating uniforms which steer clear of aesthetic pressure and respect the diversity of bodies addressed to the business community and the Labour Relations Council. It further provides for running a pilot test to promote personnel selection processes with blind CVs to prevent discrimination based on physical appearance and its interaction with other areas of discrimination such as gender, ageism, racism and ableism.
This kind of discrimination is also to be found in sports where there are still outfits which sexualise women while endorsing the ideal of a specific body which in no case is directly related to the skills required to do sport. As part of the Action Plan to Combat Aesthetic Pressure, recommendations will be made to sports organisations and other industry stakeholders to raise awareness of the causes of aesthetic pressure and a study of federation regulations and standards which affect body image, such as clothing and image, is to be undertaken by the Union of Sports Federations of Catalonia (UFEC).
Training professionals to avert aesthetic pressure
Working in partnership with leading professionals from a range of fields is crucial in preventing aesthetic pressure and promoting body neutrality. The Plan therefore emphasises training for teachers, leisure education professionals, staff at public sports centres, student family associations (AFA), healthcare professionals, especially geared towards combating fatphobia, and dermopharmacy practitioners in relation to dermatological products and skin conditions in racialised skin. Staff in Women’s Care and Information Services (SIAD), LGBTI+ Integrated Care Services (SAIs) and the Catalan Consumer Agency will also be trained.
The Action Plan to Combat Aesthetic Pressure further envisages rolling out a raft of measures in education such as including content on aesthetic pressure and body neutrality in the school curriculum, in the study programmes of university degrees and vocational training related to intervention with children, teenagers and young people, and in the National Institute of Physical Education of Catalonia (INEF) curriculum. The physical education curriculum in compulsory education is also to be revised to include body diversity and body neutrality.