The Photoshop advertising war is on, with politicians in the UK and France calling for legislation to regulate digital nipping, tucking, and smoothing of images in ads and elsewhere. However, the US is, for the moment, relying on the courts.
The reasoning behind the moves to police fantasy Photoshopping is to protect impressionable youth.
"When teenagers and women look at these pictures in magazines, they end up feeling unhappy with themselves," Liberal Democratic Party MP Jo Swinson (Member of Parliament). Swinson has convinced her party to adopt her proposal to institute a labeling system for digitally altered ads and to ban them altogether in ads targeted toward children under 16.
French parliamentarian ValÃ©rie Boyer is fighting for truth in advertising in France as well. "These photos can lead people to believe in realities that very often, do not exist," she has said. Boyer states that "many young people, particularly girls, do not know the difference between the virtual and reality, and can develop complexes from a very young age. In some cases this leads to anorexia or bulimia and very serious health problems."
As a member of president Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party, Boyer may be familiar with her leader's own encounter with digital unreality, his poignees d'amour (love handles) were infamously reduced in a bare-chested image of his canoeing adventure on a US lake in 2007.
Boyer's proposed law would have teeth. Retouched photos for "editorial purposes" would be required to include warning labels, and scofflaws could be fined â¬37,500 ($55,000 USD).
Swinson's proposal doesn't yet have an enforcement suggestion, but it does have a rating system: images would be rated on a scale of one to four, with one being simple enhancements such as lighting adjustments, and four being major digital surgery such as bulking up a weak chested actor to Rambo-level buffness or a flat chested actress to porn star level attributes. Swinson and Boyer, however, may be tilting at digitally enhanced windmills. Photo retouching has a long and storied history, with an artist's airbrush long predating Photoshop's Healing Brush.
For example here are a few recent well-known retouchings:
Â· Jessica Alba's post-pregnancy waistline in an ad for Campari.
Â· Keira Knightley's enhanced breasts for the US, but not the UK, film poster for the film: King Arthur.
Â· An aging Twiggy facially scrubbed in an Olay ad.
And, of course, there are dozens of other celebrities who have been presented, in Boyer's words, "in realities that very often, do not exist."
The practice is so widespread that it's a newsworthy event when a celebrity is not enhanced, as evidenced by US Republican media consultant Andrea Tantaros's tirade when Time had the audacity to put an unaltered Sarah Palin on its cover.
To be sure, some celeberities aren't altogether happy about being turned into something other than themselves. Keira Knightley, for example, told People, "OK, I'm on the cover of a magazine but somebody else does the hair, and the makeup, and airbrushes the fuck out of me, it's not me, it's something other people have created."
Of course, this issue has become more widely publicized by two recent ads being pulled from the UK market. The Lancome ad featuring an over-photoshoped Julia Roberts and a Maybelline ad featuring Chrisy Turlington. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) branded that these ads were misleading.
Perhaps the worst offender is a Ralph Lauren ad, featuring a model with hips narrower than her head, resulting in a cartoonish appearance. This altered photo has become the latest focus of the already ongoing criticism of digitally altered fashion spreads, even though it ran only in Japan. Opponents see such images as harming women by promoting a standard of beauty so false that it can be achieved solely by manipulating a photograph of an already slender model. This image is an extreme example of what happens to many ads, a practice that has become so dubious that governments such as the UK and France are taking action.
Unlike the UK and France the US appears content to allow extreme photoshoping in advertising, absent a lawsuit from a model (which occurred only a few weeks ago).
However, the newspaper The Register advises Swinson and Boyer to: Get over it. âWe live in a digitally enhanced world. Vocalists' song stylings are pitch-corrected, music videos are color-saturated, first-down lines are added to broadcasts of American football, and so on. Although guaranteeing the accuracy of images used for editorial purposes is a laudable goal, children in the UK and France are inured to digital enhancements and are quite able to distinguish reality from fantasy without a rating system.
And if they can't, they have bigger problems than your proposed legislation could cure.â
We believe that legislation will be passed in parts of Europe relating to alteration of photos in advertising. We also believe that similar legislation could very well be passed in the US. We will of course keep an eye on this issue and advise our clients appropriately.