Debating airbrushing and body image on International Women's Day

On International Women’s Day we should be celebrating women of the past and considering what next? With iDebate’s public debate ‘Should the airbrushing of women’s bodies in the media be banned?’ we took the latter course with a debate about fashion, the media, and the industries that encourage women, particularly young women, to believe they should strive to be prefect.

iDebate’s debate on the 8th March in took place at, and in collaboration with The House of St Barnabas, a charitable private members club. Working to eliminate homelessness and social exclusion within UK the House of St Barnabas run a 12-week programme offering support, training, mentoring and work experience in social business.

It was a three vs three debate with each debater given five minutes to put across their argument and the option to ask questions of the speakers from the other team through a point of information. The participants in the debate were drawn from four of iDebate’s clubs; City and Islington College, Queens Park Community School, Tech City College, and Westminster Kingsway College.

House of St Barnabas where our debate was to take place

So how did the debate go?

In a debate it is always the proposition that is arguing for change, in this case proposing that there should be a ban on airbrushing in the media – particularly magazines and TV rather than Social Media. They argued that photoshopping has become normal and creates an impossible standard that young women would never be able to reach. Yet it is a standard to which they feel they are held; men think “my wife [should] look like this”. It also creates pressure to cover up imperfections and worry that “when I step outside, people will see my spots”. Women therefore are not comfortable in their own bodies.

But the harm is not just psychological. Unrealistic expectations lead to a desire to get thinner and thinner through dieting, or simply not eating at all. Thus, women may be too thin yet not realise they are thinner than they should be. And should they not be able to obtain that body they perceive to be the normal the next step could be surgery and other unhealthy alternatives.

Opposition has what in many debate is potentially the easier task; they are justifying the status quo, or telling the audience and judges that proposition’s ideas to ban airbrushing are harmful, or unworkable, or both. Thus, opposition set about arguing that airbrushing can bring confidence to some young women. It can be liberating to look brilliant without having to achieve a very thin body weight but simply through the use of a bit of artistic license. And we need to remember that it can indeed be art. There is an issue of freedom of speech and expression. The women involved, and the photographers, have every right to create pictures that look however they wish them to look

There are better alternatives to a ban. It would be simpler to label when an image has been photoshopped. This would not harm creativity while preventing any perceptions of perfection being natural. At the same time what is needed is education. Education to create a shift in culture to encourage and enable women to love their own bodies and to place value and respect on all types of bodies.

The debate ended with a discussion and questions involving the audience. And having explored all that we were barely scratching the surface of this potentially very broad ranging debate, but at least it was possible to carry on the discussion while quaffing a glass of wine in the neighbouring room. Perhaps not something you, dear reader can do, but if you want to know more about the topic we suggest you head to the Debatabase debate: ‘Should the airbrushing of women’s bodies in the media be banned?’

Discussion at the end of the debate