Think of the last image you saw. Was it an advertisement? Was it a magazine cover? Was it online while you were covertly clothes shopping at work? Chances are, at some point in the last few hours, you’ve come face-to-face with some type of advertisement, and there’s a high likelihood that something in this image seemed too good to be true. In fact, it may have actually not been true. It may have been distorted, manipulated, or changed. It may have been Photoshopped.
It’s no secret that many images are digitally enhanced in some capacity. It also isn’t surprising to know that many of the images we see every day in the media are adjusted, altered, “re-touched” to appear as close to the ideal image as possible. There is a difference, however, between knowing these things, and understanding these things. Someone may be aware that the two-dimensional female appearing in a swimsuit ad appears taller, slimmer, tanner, and with smoother skin than her real-life three-dimensional self, but understanding the effect repeatedly viewing this image has on self-esteem is a different story.
To address this issue, an Anti-Photoshop Bill was recently introduced to Congress, urging Capitol Hill to delve deeper into the influence of retouched photographs on self-esteem, body image, and overall mental health. What may seem like a simple issue of applying filters to an image may actually be a true public health crisis, leading women and men alike to engage in self-harming behaviors to achieve an image that they want so badly, yet is truly unattainable.
Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Lois Capps, and Ted Deutch sponsored this “Truth in Advertising Act,” which has recently been introduced on the floor of the House of Representatives. Although the bill does not propose regulations or bans on the use of Photoshop, if passed, it will require the Federal Trade Commission to issue a report on how Photoshop is used in advertising and various forms of media. Where knowledge is power, this could be crucial in helping raise awareness and altering mindsets.
One of the Representatives, Lois Capps, made a comparison to other forms of advertising. “Just as with cigarette ads in the past, fashion ads portray a twisted, ideal image for young women … And they’re vulnerable. As sales go up, body image and confidence drops.” Given that studies indicate the correlation between advertising and poor body image, this certainly opens up the issue for debate, and the bill is currently being supported by organizations working to promote eating disorder awareness.
There have been regulations placed on advertisements in the past, staying that the ad “must be truthful, not misleading, and, when appropriate, backed by scientific evidence.” When it comes to fashion advertising, while the actual product may not be doctored, the models are certainly altered with an attempt to help the clothing look more appealing. Perhaps the Anti-Photoshop Bill will successfully apply this precedent to the use of photo editing software on model’s shapes, sizes, and overall appearance.
If you find yourself struggling with the images in the media, remind yourself that if the image seems impossible to attain, it probably is … because it has probably had a visit from Photoshop.
Erika Vargas, LMHC, is a clinician in the Adolescent Intensive Outpatient & Partial Hospitalization Programs at the WBC Braintree location. She is trained in the Maudsley Method/Family Based-Treatment and works with adolescents to decrease eating disorder behaviors with the support of their families.