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Hoping to improve self-esteem problems experienced by girls and women that feel pressure to live up to images of digitally altered counterparts, some British and French politicians are pushing for laws that force advertisers to disclose when retouching is used on models.
"When teenagers and women look at these pictures in magazines, they end up feeling unhappy with themselves," said British Parliament member Jo Swinson of the Liberal Democratic Party.
Swinson proposed an ad labeling system, which this month was fast adopted by the Liberal Democrats, the third-largest party in Britain. In addition to disclaimers on retouched images of models, the group hopes to ban altered photos in ads aimed at youth under 16.
Last week, lawmaker Valerie Boyer introduced a similar bill in the French National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament. Boyer's bill not only demands warning labels on retouched photos for ads, but those published for editorial purposes as well. Violators could face fines totaling 37,500 Euros, the equivalent of $55,000 - or, alternatively, up to 50% of the cost of an ad.
Altered images undermine young women's ability to control
their destinies, Boyer argued. "These photos can lead people to
believe in realities that, very often, do not exist."
France is particularly concerned about the growing number of women with eating disorders. Last year Boyer witnessed the approval of another bill she championed: one that bans websites that appear to encourage anorexia and bulimia.
For flaws large and small, whatever the country, retouching has become a natural part of the process of developing an image for publication. Common photo programs, such as Apple's iPhoto, even let ordinary users retouch blemishes on personal photos.
And while the process in ads has generally been frowned upon, there are arguments for the necessity of retouching to improve the fidelity of an image. Small changes - such as color correction or textural smoothing - are made even in news photos.
The problem lies in altering the natural proportions of a
model, lending an unrealistic sense of how skinny women must
get to remain attractive. For example, a 2003 cover of GQ in
Britain depicted actress Kate Winslet several sizes smaller
than her actual figure.
For her part, Swinson acknowledges a little retouching is "necessary to make a good photo." Her proposal includes a scale: photos can be rated from 1 to 4, depending on how much retouching has occurs. A 1 may represent just altered lighting; a 4 may insinuate digital cosmetic surgery. The label would also have to explain the changes.