The Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA)’s updated Code of Ethics – to the portrayal of body image in advertising.

As a team, clients, carers and a range of professionals, we felt very inspired by Senator Deborah O’Neill’s commitment to the Eating Disorder sector, we took particular notice of the updated AANA code of Ethics.

We must use our combined voice to create awareness around the code of ethics and drive a nationwide action to uphold and embed these Ethics.

ADDRESS BY: Senator Deborah O’Neill Shadow Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Shadow Assistant Minister for Innovation.


I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land. I pay my respects to their Elders, past and present, and the Elders from other communities who may be on the call today. I really appreciate the opportunity to talk to you all today as you come together for an International Women’s Day breakfast, in particular as Labor’s Assistant Minister for Mental Health.

Thanks, Belinda, for inviting me to speak to you and I apologise that I cannot be with you in person. I want to acknowledge the very important – and life-saving – work all of you are doing.
I am continually inspired by your efforts – and your colleagues around the country who are working every day to help Australians living with an eating disorder.


This Friday, 8 March, is International Women’s Day with the theme #BalanceforBetter.

The theme is asking us to build a gender balanced world. This is not only a time to reflect on what we have achieved but it’s also a time to reflect on what work we have remaining to achieve a gender balanced world.

And, for all of us here today, we know that a huge part of this is centred on body image and eating disorders. Eating disorders know no boundaries – they can occur in men and women, and in all age groups. But young people, particularly young women, are those at the highest risk.

According to research by Orygen, identifying as a female is the most commonly identified risk factor for the development of an eating disorder. Around 15 per cent of Australian women will experience an eating disorder during their lifetime. And this is likely an underrepresentation – there is significant under reporting with only 1 in 4 Australians experiencing an eating disorder known to the health system.

We still have no national dataset.

In addition, body image is consistently listed as a major concern for young women. Each year, Mission Australia conducts a survey of young people to figure out what their concerns are. Yet again, the 2018 Annual Youth Survey followed a similar patter with 41.5 per cent of young women surveyed were concerned about body image compared to 15.4 per cent of young men. Even as I say this, we know that the body image issues of young men are on the rise – and it is of increasing concern to us all.

Worrying about body image has implications beyond low self-esteem and self-acceptance. It can have long-term consequences such as anxiety and depression. Body dissatisfaction is also a known risk factor for the development of an eating disorder – and arguably the primary modifiable risk factor.

Women face a barrage of ‘perfection’ – perfect hair, teeth, skin and bodies with curves in all the ‘right’ places – across so many social mediums. Australia needs a national strategy to prevent eating disorders. The absence of a national strategy to tackle this all-important issue in a coordinated way is concerning.

I repeat: we need to do better not only at treating eating disorders – but at preventing them and understanding them, with body image a central component of this.

Last year, Bill Shorten wrote to the Prime Minister urging that we work together to make this a mission of Parliament to develop and implement a National Plan for Eating Disorders. Australia needs a comprehensive strategy that includes funding for prevention and research.

Our work on addressing eating disorders cannot end at a new Medicare item – which we of course welcome. But, Australia needs a comprehensive strategy that includes funding for prevention and research. Part of this is changing embedded cultural attitudes in society – that are all too often gendered – that contribute to body dissatisfaction and eating disorders.

The way society places value on how one looks is contributing to consistent body image concerns. We know that more needs to be done to change attitudes about what we value in society. The role of social media needs to be assessed in how it contributes to this, as does our collective capacity to influence and challenge its power. Promoting healthy and diversified body types is a necessary prevention strategy against eating disorders.

And from Opposition, we have done some work on this.

Last year, I called on fashion, media, and advertising bodies to revisit the Voluntary Industry Code of Conduct on Body Image that was established by the Federal Labor Government in 2009.

When in Government, Labor noticed a gap in existing guidelines and introduced this Code of Conduct as a result of the National Advisory Group on Body Image that sought to increase the use of realistic images and improve the diversity of those portrayed.

But, the Code has been all but abandoned.

The advertising industry heard my call last year for action.

The Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) launched an updated Code of Ethics, written to assist advertisers in their understanding of how the Code of Ethics applies to the portrayal of body image in advertising.

The note prohibits advertising that depicts unrealistic bodies. Advertising that provides an unrealistic body image by portraying body shapes or features that are unattainable through healthy practices, which is not justifiable in the context of the product or service being advertised, may no longer be permissible. Practically, it means tightening a model’s waist disproportionately to the rest of their body may breach the Code of Ethics.

Importantly, the Code is technology neutral, which means this will apply to all ads, including on social media – a medium which advertisers are increasingly using thanks to the rise of influencers. And, if an ad is found in breach it must be removed and never used again.

This is an all-important step in addressing the root causes of body dissatisfaction and eating disorders.


All of us know that eating disorders are a serious mental illness, which can also cause severe physical health consequences.

Eating disorders have devastating effects on loved ones who turn into full-time carers, having to leave their employment at times to take on this caring role. We all know here that we must not forget that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric illnesses.

And part of this story is gendered – making this a timely discussion for International Women’s Day. I thank you again for all your fantastic work in tackling this challenge.

Together, let’s do what we can to create a gender balanced world by not valuing women for they look, speak, dress, emote, parent, and the list goes on.

Download Press release PDF: Media release IWD 2019 Sen O’NEIL