Photoshop Legislation Won't Fix The Real Problem

Next month, the British government will meet with advertisers, fashion editors and health experts to discuss airbrushing and photoshop. But won't it take more than legislation to correct how we currently look at women's bodies?

Because although extensive Photoshop is detrimental — magazine editors and advertisers are, essentially, lying to us, the public — the real problem is that what we consider "attractive" has also become, for the most part, unattainable.

Consider the old infographic Wired did, comparing Playboy Playmates then and now. In 1956, Miss November was 5'3" and 128 lbs.* Svelte, yes, but not a stick figure. Over the years, the BMI (yes, a questionable way to measure) has dropped for the Playmates. The women have gotten thinner and thinner. (Miss March 2008 was 5'4" and 108 lbs; Miss February 2010 was 5' 7" 102 lbs.)

Photoshop Legislation Won't Fix The Real Problem


Or consider female beauty icons — often the standard for a culture. Betty Grable was considered a sexy pin-up in 1943, but compare her shape to Twiggy in the '60s. Or Kate Moss in the '90s. Cindy Crawford's physique in the '80s was slender but strong — yet she is almost meaty compared to the Victoria's Secret models now. (Chanel Iman, below, who walked in quite a few shows during fashion week in New York, is markedly slight in the new Victoria's Secret commercials.) Even male mannequins are getting thinner.

Photoshop Legislation Won't Fix The Real Problem


London-based fashion photographer Mark Nolan tells CBS News that he thinks the government should stay away from policing images:

"I think they should back right off. The media is driven by the consumer," Nolan said. "Magazines should be an icon for looking your best. (Readers) know what they get are the most glamorous, the best looking girls. It's always been that way."

Of course, these days, "best" means lightened skin, whittled waists, repositioned belly buttons and straight-up unreal images. Regulating Photoshop will help. Just like some commercials and ads are forced to add a "dramatization" disclaimer, the public has a right to know if a model's body is actually a digital illustration. But we also have to train ourselves not to believe that thinner is better. Most of us are able to see beauty in all different shapes and sizes. Legislation would be great, but it needs to go hand in hand with demanding diversity, offering feedback and being cognizant of the brands we support.

*Yes, we're going to use real numbers here, because they illustrate the point of this post. This is not an invitation for readers to post their own height and weight in the comments; this isn't the place for that.

U.K.: Curb Airbrushed Images, Keep Bodies Real [CBS News]