Strong not skinny? ASA ban Nasty Gal advert over underweight model

October 2018

22 complaints were received by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) from viewers who described adverts by online fashion retailer Nasty Gal as “socially irresponsible”. The adverts which aired earlier this year, featured a female model posing in the retailer’s summer collection.

The specific parts of the adverts in question were a scene in which the model was posing on a sun lounger with outstretched arms (arguably emphasising her slimness and length) as well as a scene in which the focus was on the model’s chest where her ribcage visible and appeared prominent. Nasty Gal responded to the ruling stating that the model featured in the adverts was a UK size 8 with a body mass index of 18.8 which is classed within the healthy range in accordance with the NHS guidelines for a healthy adult woman. The retailer also argued that consumers were likely to have subjective views regarding the model’s appearance with some perceiving her to be too slender but others considering her to be a healthy weight.

The ASA stated in its ruling that "while the female model in the ads generally appeared to be in proportion, there were specific scenes which, because of her poses, drew attention to her slimness”. The ASA concluded that Nasty Gal has breached the UK’s Code of Broadcast Advertising on rule 1.2 which states that an “advertisement must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to the audience and to society”. The ASA ruling stated that the model appeared “unhealthily underweight in those scenes and concluded that the ads were therefore irresponsible”.

There has been a rise in efforts within the fashion industry to move away from the use of underweight models both in campaigns and on the catwalk. Interestingly part of the focus appears to be on the impression or arguably the deception made by positioning and make-up.

In 2016, fashion house Gucci was famously stopped by the ASA from running an advert that consumers described featured a “gaunt” looking female model who was no doubt contoured to emphasise her cheekbones. In 2017, Conde Nast Traveller was banned from using an advert which featured a slender model whose “stance” was said to accentuate her height and thin limbs. This year retailer Motel Rocks also had an advert banned due to the appearance of the model’s collarbones – again parts of the body that were no doubt subject to highlighting and contouring. It seems the ASA is not only fighting a battle against the use of underweight models, but it is also focusing on ensuring retailers don’t present models in such a way to give the impression that they are underweight.

This update was prepared by HGF IP Solicitor Liz Cooper. If you would like further advice on this or any other matter please contact Liz or your usual HGF representative, alternatively visit our Contact Page to get in touch with your nearest HGF office.