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Body shaming isn’t an issue that affects people in one country alone. For example, for years Japanese women (and more recently, men) have been bombarded with ads in trains that push “perfection.”

Body hair? Bad. Stained teeth? Bad. Excess fat, flat chests, no muscles? Bad, bad, bad. It seems there’s always something wrong with our bodies. Companies have been quick to take advantage of such insecurities in their advertising, though a report by Business Insider in 2019 cited a study that found more than 40% of young women were annoyed and offended by such ads.

With more people staying home due to the pandemic, women have less opportunity to see the train ads and, instead, are finding the same messages on ads attached to videos they’re watching on YouTube. They almost always come in manga form: A speedy voice-over exhorts women, for example, to remove all their body hair unless it’s growing from the top of their head. That’s followed with a subtle threat: Unless you take action, your love life will dry up and you’ll be alone forever.

“I saw this hair removal ad where a guy in a manga says, ‘Oh no, my girlfriend is so hairy, I’m completely turned off and now I want to dump her,’” says Twitter user @tkpon _s2. “My response is like, ‘Huh? Listen dude, women are totally turned off by men who can’t love every strand of hair on their girlfriends’ bodies.’”

PopIn, an IT company that places online ads for news agencies, says that in late May the Asahi Shimbun’s website stopped accepting advertising that used body shaming as a premise.

“In the middle of the anxiety-inducing pandemic, consumers are looking for trustworthy information,” PopIn President Akiko Nishidate explains. “News websites need to inspire trust, and that includes their advertising.”

The decision was surprisingly a controversial one and, as a result, PopIn’s revenue dropped by 50%. However, Nishidate says that by August sales had recovered to 80% of what the company had previously been making.

The same pandemic that saw less people riding the trains also resulted in a trend of major corporations taking their ads off YouTube to cut costs, according to the website J-Cast News in a piece last June. It cited athlete-turned-entrepreneur Keisuke Honda as saying that prices for ad spots on YouTube had plummeted by 40%, thus opening the field to shady ads that peddle dubious products claiming to work miracles for flawed bodies.

While attempts have been made to put an end to this kind of advertising, they haven’t been immediately successful. Akita University student Aoi Murata gathered 30,000 signatures for a Change.org petition, telling J-Cast News that “someone must take action or this will never change,” and video marketing site VideoBrain exhorted companies to come up with manga stories that don’t make viewers feel bad about their bodies. More recently, Takuya, writing for the empowerment site AM, came up with a step-by-step tutorial on how to make a socially acceptable, feel-good ad about body hair removal.

Twitter user @chicken_number suggests, however, simply getting rid of these ads using YouTube’s own systems. Just press the information mark (an “i” with a circle around it) and then click the “stop seeing this ad” option. It’ll be your first step toward being a better you.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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