Digitally altered model photos and the proposed “Self Esteem Act”

by Walter Olson on November 28, 2011

A Los Angeles couple have been gaining publicity for their proposal to require publications to disclose with warning labels when pictures of models have been Photoshopped, the better to help the bodily self-esteem of readers who may feel inadequate when contemplating the skinny/curvaceous images or airbrushed complexions. [CBS New York] “After complaints from Liberal Democrat MP Joe Swinson, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority banned two digitally enhanced ads starring prominent celebrities for ‘exaggeration and being misleading.’” [Diana Denza, Betty Confidential; earlier on parallel developments in France as well as Britain]

Incidentally, I’ve now compiled a long-overdue tag for posts on photography.

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Advice Goddess Blog
11.29.11 at 1:42 am

{ 11 comments }

1 Speed 11.28.11 at 6:24 am

“Professional model. Photoshop applied. Don’t try this at home.”

Coming up … disclaimers for Road Runner cartoons.

2 marco73 11.28.11 at 11:33 am

Really, is there any photograph printed in any publication that isn’t doctored?
With the right amount of photoshop, my photo could look like the tall, muscled, tanned Adonis that I should be, not the pale, pudgy, balding guy I am. Where’s my Self Esteem Act?

3 mojo 11.28.11 at 12:41 pm

Wait, let me get this straight – advertising may be misleading?

Oh, the HORROR!

4 Seth 11.28.11 at 11:48 pm

First, thanks for thinking enough of The Self-Esteem Act to talk about it here…

Second, I think your tags are pretty funny.

Third, I think it’s important to have a moment’s empathy. While Marco73 and Mojo may be among the media literate, and presumably since they’re reading overlawyered they are, despite what many should in their opinion know, the data shows that 80% of women feel worse about themselves after seeing a beauty ad than they did before. 80%.

41% of girls in grades 1-3 are dieting. 91% of college-aged girls will diet. 78% of 17 year-old girls don’t think they’re pretty enough. Why?

What we have is a culturally induced epidemic crisis of self-esteem amongst girls and women (and increasingly boys and men). If – perhaps – we spent a moment considering the problem and its causes and effects, we might come up with a solution you all consider better than The Self-Esteem Act. We’re all ears.

Dismiss the Truth-in-Advertising premise and efficacy all you want, but we can’t afford to dismiss the problem any longer.

5 Melvin H. 11.29.11 at 6:48 am

I can see a yearbook title page in the future, using Seth’s logic:

“LOCAL HIGH SCHOOL YEARBOOK
2015-2016 SCHOOL YEAR
Volume XXXIV

“REQUIRED LEGAL DISCLAIMER:
Under Seth’s Law, we are required to tell you the reader
that the pictures in the senior, junior, sophomore, and freshmen
sections of this yearbook may be Photoshopped or otherwise
digitally altered. This may or may not also be true for all other

photos in this book, including those of the administrators, teachers,
and staff of Local High School.”

6 Melvin H. 11.29.11 at 7:00 am

What also may be needed is an honest discussion about the medical community’s influence in this–whether, for example, definitions of “overweight” and “obese” are causing doctors to do such things as prescribe diets, drugs, lifestyle changes– even to the point of bringing in Child Protective Services, that would not have been done until very recently, due to changes in what is considered “healthy” and “normal”. Items such as: what is a normal blood pressure, normal cholesterol level, normal weight levels, normal hemoglobin A1C levels, etc.; and are those new levels and standards REALLY “normal” or “healthy” to begin with?

7 marco73 11.29.11 at 8:26 am

Thanks for the kind words Seth. Let me step back and take somewhat of a broader view of the body image problem. That is an issue that is fairly recent, and pretty much confined to Western cultures.
As an example, if you ever experience Latin culture, you’ll find out that women who are curvier and heavier than Western women are the body types preferred by men and glamorized in Latin media.
Why? Because historically any Latin woman who could maintain an hourglass figure with the disease and lack of nutrition typical in most Latin nations was a woman of position and privilege. Advances in health practices and nutrition in Western cultures has leveled the playing field, so some other differentiation has had to occur. Latin culture is catching up; it won’t be too long and there’ll be body image issues in Latin cultures as well.
So Western advertisers have decided that shinny stick women are the ideal. And if I buy Budweiser bikini clad women will throw themselves at me.
Thank God we live in a nation at an age where we can concern ourselves with body image issues, and not with burying infants who die of preventable diseases and children with stunted growth because of starvation.

8 Seth 11.29.11 at 7:57 pm

Marco, your point about cultural variances is really important. For better or worse, however, my kids are growing up in this one. The poetic hyperbole of your reference to what this nation doesn’t concern itself with aside (as of course we concern ourselves with what you suggest we don’t)…you seem to think we’re being small-minded in our focus, as you’re so casually dismissive of “body image” issues. That’s fine, but please know that’s neither our intention nor the implications and conclusions of the reams of data on the matter. 7mm women under the age of 25 – in the US – suffer from Eating Disorders. Eating Disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. This isn’t to suggest that all eating disorders are a consequence of culturally suggested ideals. They’re not. But culturally suggested ideals (to your point about Latin shapes and sizes) do influence how people feel. How people feel influences how they live. And sometimes how they don’t.

Thanks for keeping the conversation going.

9 Seth 11.29.11 at 7:59 pm

Melvin…it’d be funny (I mean it kind of is) if new data didn’t show that 50%+ of girls under 18 photoshop their Facebook profile pictures.

Again, The Self Esteem Act doesn’t say photoshopping is bad. It says transparency and truth-in-advertising are good.

And you’re absolutely right about the medical community’s role in all of this.

10 Marty 11.30.11 at 9:04 am

Us fat people need role models to aspire to.

11 Bill Poser 12.01.11 at 1:20 am

I don’t see how this will solve the problem. Don’t unretouched photos of models with outstanding bodies have the same effect? If there’s a problem, it is the ability of advertisers to persuade people that they ought to look like the models. Retouching only makes that a wee bit easier.

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