A group of doctors and academics have submitted a report to the U.K.'s Advertising Standards Authority, saying retouched images make women and girls as young as five hate themselves. They want disclaimers on ads, but will that make a difference?
Britain's Liberal Democrats have been pushing for airbrushed ads to carry notice saying they've been altered, and for retouching to be banned entirely in ads aimed at children under 16. As a result of the campaign the A.S.A. has received more than 1,000 complaints about Photoshopped ads in the past three months, but it has refused to tackle the issue because none of the complaints provided scientific evidence that the ads are harmful, according to The Daily Mail.
Now 44 doctors, psychologists, and academics from Britain, the United States, and Australia have submitted a report to the A.S.A. based on more than 100 academic studies worldwide that says:
Media images that depict ultra-thin, digitally altered women models are linked to body dissatisfaction and unhealthy eating in girls and women.
And argues that the advertisements promote:
Unhealthy dieting regimes and problematic eating behaviours (starving, bingeing, and purging), clinical eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia), cosmetic surgery and extreme exercising.
The paper points out that altered images can be harmful to boys as well, saying pictures that exaggerate a model's muscle development encourage, "unhealthy muscle-enhancing behaviors" like taking steroids, and can cause men to suffer from low self-esteem, reports The Telegraph.
Member of Parliament Jo Swinson, who has been leading the campaign, said:
Airbrushing means that women and young girls are being bombarded with images of people with perfect skin, perfect hair and perfect figures which are impossible to live up to.
Making it clear that retouched images represent an unrealistic ideal is a good start, but the campaign only hints at the larger assault on women's self-esteem. According to The Sun, the report mentions the disturbing fact that:
Girls aged 5½ to 7½ reported less body esteem and greater desire for a thinner body after exposure to images or thin dolls.
Barbie may be part of the problem, but the Liberal Democrats aren't taking on Mattel. The party has acknowledged that thinness isn't the only factor giving girls body image issues by calling for cosmetic surgery ads to include success rates. However, the report submitted to the A.S.A. challenged the idea among advertisers that "thin and sexy sells," by citing research that says ads featuring models who are a U.K. size 14 are as effective at selling products as those featuring extremely thin models as long as they are equally attractive. Would every image featuring an actress with a nose job require a disclaimer letting girls know that her perfectly-proportioned face is "impossible to live up to" without the help of a good plastic surgeon?
While there seems to be scientific proof that retouched images are harming women and the Liberal Democrats mean well, it seems unlikely that a disclaimer will make many people stop hating their bodies. Even if retouching were banned altogether, images can still be distorted with lighting and camera techniques. The hope is that that advertisers will start using more natural models, but sadly, the industry would probably just pressure models to be even thinner if their thighs can't be whittled in Photoshop. Larger models may not be the answer either, since a recent study found that overweight women feel worse about themselves after looking a photos of models, whether the models were skinny or not. At any size, models still represent a beauty ideal that most women can't achieve without turning to extreme diets or cosmetic surgery. The idea that there's a certain beauty ideal women should keep striving (and spending more) to attain may be rooted in advertisements, but it's now too ingrained in our culture to be undone by disclaimer in the fine print.
Call For Ban On Airbrushing Ads That Leave Girls Loathing Their Own Bodies [The Daily Mail]
Airbrushed Images Harming Girls And Boys, Experts Say [The Telegraph]
Faked Model Photo Danger For Girls Aged 5 [The Sun]