Written evidence submitted by Professor Jessica Ringrose, University of Kent and
Dr Kaitlyn Regehr, University College London (MISS0026)



Executive Summary


In 2018, Professor Jessica Ringrose and Dr. Kaitlyn Regehr were commissioned by the Mayor of London to carry out a study, exploring how women experience gender in London’s out-of-home advertising.  ‘The Women We See’ research collected the stories of 16 women (aged 21-65) and 22 teen girls (14-16) from a range of backgrounds to explore how they experience advertising content. Young people created ‘craft back collages’ which responded to advertising and generated their own messages for change through collaging arts practices which are part of the evidence we present below. A quantitative survey also captured the views of 2,012 women and men on gender and diversity in advertising (see appendix for methodology).


Our report - ‘The Women We See: women, girls experiences of gender and diversity in advertising’ showed London advertising lacked diversity and created harmful, inaccurate and unhealthy stereotypes for women and men. Participants expressed an overall sense of failure of advertising to represent diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, body shape, ability and age. Sexism and gender inequality including inaccurate sexualisation of women and girls’ bodies and photoshopping and idealizing of bodies was felt to create unhealthy images that could be harmful. This research focuses on the impact of out-of-home advertising and provides recommendations for advertisers on how to tackle this issue, but the recommendations are also relevant across all forms of advertising and we include evidence about targeted advertising on social media which was particularly problematic for teens in our study.


The recommendations are that advertisers and those in the creative industries tackle invisibility and exclusion of some groups, as well as inequitable gender and race stereotypes, by considering the intersecting issues of body size, age, ability, culture, religion, ethnicity, gender and sexuality shaping identities, and experiences. The findings are from the London region but are applicable beyond the metropolis.


Summary of Key Findings:


•    The most problematic advertising platforms were ranked in order of concern: online 35%, TV 13%, newspapers 8%, public spaces (i.e. billboards 8%), and public transport 7%.


•    Almost half (47%) think adverts on social media are more problematic than adverts in public places 21%.


•    Less than a third (27% Londoners) felt that adverts are relevant to them.


Less than a quarter (22% of women and 23% of men) felt London adverts are culturally diverse.


•    Only 26% of women felt London’s adverts were relevant to them.


•    Only 18% of survey participants could ever recall having seen an advertisement with a disabled person.


•    Just over a third - 35% of LGBT Londoners felt represented in London advertising.


Key Body Image Findings:


In relation to body image, the survey found that the portrayal of idealized people (slim, white, heterosexual, able-bodied) in adverts means consumers feel there is a lack of representation of diverse body shapes and sizes


•    44% of Respondents felt that people of their own body shape are not represented in London adverts.


•    For both women (50%) and men (48%) of people who are worried about body image feel unrepresented in advertising.


•    Over half of respondents (52%) think that plus-size people are not represented enough in advertising.


•    40% think that when plus-size models are in adverts they are not representative of plus size clothes buyers.


What is the impact of these findings on multiple protected characteristics?


Racial Diversity


The lack of racial or religious diversity in advertising was felt keenly across the research study. 71% of Black Londoners said Black people are not well represented in London’s advertising; and 61% of British Asian/Asian Londoners felt there was an under-representation Asian communities. 36% of women said adverts had too many white people. Participants in the qualitative research noted similarly that advertisements they saw promoted ideals of white beauty as normal. Participants were concerned that hair and beauty products promoted ideals of white Western beauty, such as the issue of pressures around body hair waxing, particularly for dark skin, which came up repeatedly



Naomi talked about the erasure of other cultural norms:


in African cultures, a lot of African women tend to still keep a lot of their body hair, and some of them even have it on their chest or their chin… but advertisements don’t represent that. (Naomi, 36, Black British)


The teen girls also talked about extreme pressures to have Caucasia-style hair and to remove dark body hair.


I remember in primary school I really wanted to be like a blonde girl with straight hair


That's true. I wanted to have lighter skin… when I got older I realised how messed up that was and actually I like my skin. But I feel like I saw no representation of Indian Women or anything. South Asian women, I felt like I was an outsider. (Janene, 14, Mixed Race & Daria, 14, West Indian).


Below is collaging art produced by the schoolgirls which draws dark hair on the models’ bodies and asks questions about why they cannot see natural black beauty represented.





Figure 1 and 2 – School Craft-back Art Projects


Mobility/(Dis)ability Diversity


Just 18% of survey participants could ever recall having seen an advertisement featuring a disabled person and 65% of women and 51% of men said they did not see enough images of disabled people. During the period of this study, we did not find any advertisements that reflected experiences of being disabled in London. Advertisements assume a healthy and able-bodied individual in ways that was understood as highly exclusionary by our differently abled participants.


Laura who uses a scooter was very concerned by that advertising was:


still fixated on thinness and able-bodied [people]. (Laura, 29, White Irish, Wheelchair User)


Age Diversity


Age was also a significant factor in feeling ignored in advertising, especially for women: The group that felt the best represented were men aged 18-34, with two thirds (69%) saying they felt ‘very well’ or ‘fairly well’ represented. Whilst those that were feeling least represented were women over the age of 55, with 55% of women over 55 saying that they felt ‘fairly badly’ or ‘very badly’ represented.



Most people agree that older people are not represented enough in London adverts (54%). Less than 1 in 4 recall seeing London adverts with people that have wrinkles (26%).  Less than one in four participants recall seeing London adverts with people that have wrinkles. Older participants report feeling ‘invisible’ and ‘irrelevant’. As Linda explains:


Do we judge men by their faces? When men get grey that’s debonair, that’s sexy, look at [famous silver haired celebrity], he’s grey now but he’s still sexy. You know, but if his wife decided to go grey?  It’s very sad isn’t it…when you get to a certain age you become invisible. (Linda, 65, White British)


Gender and Sexual Orientation Diversity


Individuals from the gay and lesbian community felt unrepresented and excluded. The lack of representation of gender and sexual diversity or gender neutrality was noted by several participants.


Julie said she would love to see more representations of the LGBT community in advertisements in London: 


I'd say that 99% [of adverts] are of people that are heterosexual. It’s really, really rare to see two girls having an Indian takeaway or you know, just day to day things... it is always straight couples ...it would be really nice to see two girls just having a sandwich (Julie, 47, White British, Lesbian)


Body Size Diversity


Women in this study feel more concerned over the lack of diversity in relation to their body size and shape in adverts than men, with over half (51%) of the women surveyed feeling that their body shape is not represented in London adverts.  Slim people were seen as the most over-represented of all adverts (43%) and over half (52%) felt that plus size people are not represented enough and 44% said they didn’t feel their body type was represented.


Many advertisements are aimed at beauty products, clothes, gyms and health products with messages that pressurise women and girls around their bodies. This constant pressure was spoken about at length by most participants aged 14-65. The survey asked respondents to rate a range of advertisements to see if they found them diverse, sexist, empowering, sexualised, inspiring, unrealistic/fake, healthy, unhealthy or empowering. 1 in 3 respondents and 40% of women reported comparing themselves to images of people in the adverts.

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Figure 3 – Sample Advertisement from TFL, 2017


The above advertisement was the least popular of all eight surveyed, with only 28% of respondents liking it. Women this advertisement unrealistic (29%); unhealthy (27%); problematic (20%); sexualised (13%). In contrast, slightly more men found this image healthy (24%). This demonstrates how images of extremely thin women are understood as unhealthy and unrealistic by many women, whereas more men are likely to think this size is normal and healthy. Indeed, women are significantly more likely to say they see too many slim people in London adverts (50%) vs only 36% of men.


When looking at this advert, Saffron, a 21-year-old dance student, noted her anger at this type of imagery in the context of her experience in the dance industry and felt these types of advertisements were dangerous for young women.


It’s saying that everyone should be small, like that’s the ideal body...And I don’t think that’s right, I don’t think that’s positive, and that’s what causes people to be so self-obsessed and negative and lose their self-esteem” [my friends] are like taking pills instead of food, so they like swap it for like a meal.  And then they weigh themselves and they get operations and stuff, like, and it’s, really horrible (Saffron, 21, Iranian-White British)




Sexualisation of women’ was the top answer given as to why respondents found advertisements unhealthy, inaccurate and unacceptable. The most unacceptable adverts in London are women in revealing clothing (36%), followed by men in revealing clothes (34%), which is higher than respondents’ dislike of fast food advertisements (28%). Participants felt women were misrepresented as a result of being sexualised and 50% of survey respondents think that the way women are represented hasn’t improved