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
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
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
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.