Mayor Sadiq Khan has banned body-shaming ads from London’s transit system

The ad that started it all.
The ad that started it all.
Image: Seja75/Twitter
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In one of the first high-profile moves of his administration, London mayor Sadiq Khan announced on Monday (June 13) that body-shaming ads will no longer be allowed to appear on the city’s buses and underground trains.

The move comes a little over a year after a Protein World ad campaign stirred up controversy in the UK, spurring Khan (then a mayoral candidate) to vow to ban advertisements with the potential to make people uncomfortable about their bodies. A protest calling for Protein World to remove the ads garnered more than 70,000 signatures, and the ads were temporarily banned before eventually being cleared by the Advertising Standards Authority.

“As the father of two teenage girls, I am extremely concerned about this kind of advertising which can demean people, particularly women, and make them ashamed of their bodies,” Khan said in a press release. “It is high time it came to an end.”

To accomplish his goal, Khan has tasked Transportation for London, the agency that controls ad space in London’s public transportation system, and its advertising partners, Exterion Media and JCDecaux, to set up a steering committee to review ads that could potentially negatively affect people’s images of their bodies. Advertisements will still go through the process established by the Advertising Standards Authority (the same body that ultimately signed off on the Protein World ads) but the mayor’s revised policy “sets out more guidance for the industry,” according to the press release. It will begin in July.

Stripping public transportation of body-shaming ads is a broad mission, and some have raised concerns that the policy goes too far in the name of protecting consumers. But the commercial development director of Transportation for London, Graeme Craig, says advertising on public transportation is different than ads that appear elsewhere.

“Advertising on our network is unlike TV, online and print media,” Craig says. “Our customers cannot simply switch off or turn a page if an advertisement offends or upsets them and we have a duty to ensure the copy we carry reflects that unique environment.”

As part of the effort, Transportation for London will begin publishing an annual report of all of its campaigns.