Children are said to be the most precious gift to any parent. That everything they say or do, good or bad – especially at a young age, makes every parent go ‘awwwwww’. Now what if your child were to ask you if you thought they were ugly? What do you say then?
Seth Matlins is such a parent. He was faced with this dilemma while putting his daughter to bed; she asked him if he thought she was ugly? Matlins describes the situation:”My heart shattered into a thousand pieces, and I don’t even know what to say.”
It was this type of thinking that had inspired Matlins, a former CMO for Live Nation, to quit what he calls was a “pretty successful, pretty lucrative career” back in 2010. As Matlins had worked in the marketing field, he understood the industry, but confesses that he was not as aware as he is now, of how much advertising could affect people. When his daughter and oldest child turned three years old, one could say his view of the world had changed – and what he saw was not making him very happy.
Matlins explains where the idea behind the Feel More Better blog that he and his wife started came from: “At the risk of sounding like a total daddy cliche, I was pretty wrapped around her finger. I began to look at the world and see the world through the eyes of this little girl, and I began to see all the things that could get in the way of her being the happiest version of herself.”
With the Feel More Better blog, the aim is to ”disrupt” the self-help talk aimed at young women and girls. “We believed if we could talk about how f###ed up we were, we could be a little less f###ed up,” said Matlins.
It was only when Matlins read about Jo Swinson, a member of British Parliament who was able to successfully take down two beauty billboards; one by Lancome and the other one by Maybelline, for it’s overuse of Photoshop, was it then that he thought that similar actions can be taken in the United States.
“We were going to put that story up on our site, but before I could put it up I thought, ‘Who the hell is doing that here?’ Who is looking out for my kids, for all kids, here in the United States from the legislature?’ and I didn’t find anybody,” said Matlins.
After three years, Matlins has teamed up with the Eating Disorders Coalition for a bipartisan bill titled the “Truth in Advertising Act.” The bill proposes that the Federal Trade Commission simply exercise powers which it already has, such as; regulating advertisements and applying them on a broader scale. At the moment Matlins isn’t certain if it means that it’s disclosure labelling, media restrictions (like those exercised in the U.K.), or a ratings system.
Unfortunately the bill does not change the Photoshop practices in editorial work. “Editorial [work] – individual and artistic expressions – has First Amendment protections that are broader and more sacrosanct than commercial speech,” said Matlins.
Many have signed Matlins Change.org petition, due to Photoshop becoming so pervasive in advertising and resulting in a public health crisis. Despite it sounding a bit exaggerated, there are figures to back up Matlins claims. From Matlins results and figures, he draws that teenagers who suffer from a poor body image are likely to engage in a variety of harmful behaviours, such as bullying, risky sexual practices, eating disorders and cutting. According to his other findings, the average American woman has 13 self-hating thoughts per day.
As the problem escalated, in 2011 the American Medical Association developed a Photoshop policy, making it a point to inform the media industry that the excessive use of Photoshop was doing real harm to children and young adults.
By now the industry should have reduced its use of Photoshop, but according to Matlins they refuse to self-regulate. When he had asked the advertising industry’s leading figures and associations to come forth and speak about it, his efforts deemed futile, with responses from them being “We have more pressing issues to address.” After receiving those responses, it is now time for the government, via the FTC, to intervene.
Despite once making a good living of selling the same ideals and images that he now disregards, Matlins now admits that his house was built on advertising, his children were able to go to school based on the money that he made in the business, but all has changed now.
“Am I aware of the fact that ads can make us and do make us feel less than? I am certainly aware of that. The Evian ads I worked on made me feel less than! I mean those guys were ripped! And yet it was not until I had my children that I really understood it and that I really felt that I had to do something to make their world a better place,” said Matlins.
Moving back on to the question that had moved him and made him re-evaluate everything that he did; his response on what he replied to his daughters questions was this: “You search for what you hope the right words will be, and I tell her that of course she’s the most beautiful thing in the world to me, along with her brother, and then I say to her, ‘What if you were ugly? Why would it matter? Why would that be a bad thing?’ It’s just another attribute of who we are.”
“As a parent, you understand unconditional love, and unconditional love will make you do crazy things. I left behind a pretty successful career to do this, and sometimes I look at the big check I didn’t cash every two weeks and I think, ‘That was dumb!’ But if I can help my kids and other kids grow up happier, I’ll feel good,” said Matlins.