A proposed law could dramatically reduce the level of airbrushing used in the US fashion industry. In an effort to protect young people from the damaging effects of photoshopped images, Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Lois Capps (D-Calif.) have co-sponsored legislation entitled the “Truth in Advertising Act” to reduce the use of misleadingly altered images in advertisements.
The fashion industry is a multi-billion dollar industry preying on women’s desire to look younger, slimmer, and more beautiful. There has always been an element of exaggeration in claims made by cosmetics and fashion companies but over the last decade the promises made regarding products have gotten more outlandish and many advertisements now feature women who are far removed from reality. Advances in technology have resulted in photographs so airbrushed that the models in them often resemble paintings or cartoon characters rather than human beings. In May 2009, Ralph Lauren released an advertisement in the USA that featured model Philippa Hamilton. The picture had been airbrushed to such an extent that Hamilton’s head appeared bigger than her waist.
“Just as with cigarette ads in the past, fashion ads portray a twisted, ideal image for young women,” Capps said in April. “And they’re vulnerable. As sales go up, body image and confidence drops.” The law would require the Federal Trade Commission to report on advertisements photoshopped to “materially change the physical characteristics of the faces and bodies of the individuals depicted.” The legislation would also require the FTC to work with business to develop a strategy aimed at reducing the use of airbrushed images in the industry.
Evidence suggests that people are experiencing serious body image problems and a growing body of scientific evidence reinforces the link between negative body image and exposure to idealized images. A recent study found that one in four people are depressed about their body and another study found that almost a third of women say that they would sacrifice a year of their lives to achieve the ideal body weight and shape. Even more concerning are the statistics relating to our children. The American Medical Association released figures suggesting that 53 percent of 13-year-old American girls are unhappy with their bodies, and by the time they turn 17, that number rises to 78 percent. Another study found that almost half of all girls between ages 3 and 6 worried that they were fat. The AMA contend that airbrushed images in advertisements play a contributing role in these statistics. The problem with airbrushing is that consumers don’t see the negative effects of extreme thinness. Former Cosmopolitan editor Leah Hardy recently admitted that she had airbrushed anorexic models to look less unwell but kept their extreme thinness. This resulted in pictures of women with zero body fat but that still exuded health and radiance. The models retained 22-inch waists but also had bright clear skin and breasts thanks to digital enhancements. “Thanks to retouching, our readers never saw the horrible, hungry downside of skinny. The models’ skeletal bodies, dull, thinning hair, spots and dark circles under their eyes were magicked away by technology … A vision of perfection that simply didn’t exist” stated Hardy.
Arguably, the biggest barrier is the industry’s failure to acknowledge the negative effects of misleading cosmetics advertising. Despite the growing evidence to the contrary, fashion and beauty industry insiders insist that digitally altering and re-touching provides a positive experience for consumers. They argue that the images offer an escape to a more glamorous world and that fashion provides a dream that is important to women. According to Channel 4 TV presenter and fashion stylist Nicky Hambleton-Jones, these kind of images are aspirational – that ‘we all want to look at pictures that make us feel good and think isn’t that gorgeous’ and that ‘in the end, these companies are businesses who make money and will sell their products the best way they can.’ While this may be true to an extent, surely this must be weighed against the alarming statistics linking airbrushed images to negative body image. Three year olds thinking they’re fat? There’s nothing aspirational or gorgeous about that.
While the bill is in its infancy, here at Wigs And Gowns we hope it goes through and that we see an end to the ridiculous over use of the airbrushing in fashion!