Will Photo Editing Eventually be a Thing of the Past?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I've never been a big fan of fashion magazines for a number of reasons.  First, I've never considered myself to be a "fashionista".  If you saw me on the street, my standard outfit is usually sweatpants and a t-shirt.  Second, I always end up irritated at the pictures of skinny models in the advertisements and articles.  These images are unrealistic to 99.9% of the people looking at them, yet so many (especially young girls) strive to look this way and beat themselves up when they fall short.  Some of these models truly look like the pictures portray, but most have the benefit of photo-editing software (commonly referred to as "Photoshopping") to smooth out every line and give a look of perfection.  Now the American Medical Association (AMA) has adopted a policy discouraging this practice.

The policy encourages advertisers to work with child and adolescent health organizations to develop guidelines for advertisements, especially in publications targeted to youth and teens.  The goal is to discourage the practice of editing photos, especially when they create unrealistic expectations of body image.  A good example of this issue was a Ralph Lauren ad in 2009.   As you can see in the picture, her waist appears to be smaller than her head.  Although this model is normally thin, she doesn't look so disproportionate like the ad portrays.  This look is thanks to photo-editing software, which probably did a number of "touch-ups" including trimming her waist.  
Here's a quote from the AMA on this issue "The appearance of advertisements with extremely altered models can create unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image," said Dr. McAneny. "We must stop exposing impressionable children and teenagers to advertisements portraying models with body types only attainable with the help of photo editing software."

It's hard to say how much of an impact this new policy will actually have on advertising and photo-editing practices.  But I think we would all benefit from seeing people more like they actually look- since we all know that no one looks perfect.  I am pretty accepting of my body and its flaws.  But looking at these kinds of ads often leaves me thinking "Geez, how can I get my skin to look so perfect?  Why don't my thighs look so smooth and cellulite-free?"  So I know if it leaves me questioning my appearance, it certainly has an effect on young women who are just beginning to learn about self-esteem and body acceptance.

What do you think?

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She looks like she's been stretched on a rack. Of course they probably did stretch the image in addition to the other retouching done. Not even Barbie looks like that!

As for photo retouching, I have several books on Victorian era fashion and in one is a photo of an 1890s woman with a very obvious and poorly executed waist touch up. Report
Being a photographer myself I've seen artifacts of touched up photographs long before the first digital camera. Certainly photoshop and similar programs make it much easier but this really is nothing new.
Not sure where artistic license stops and social responsibility begins. The excellent photographer in my home town always fixed graduation pictures removing blemishes and dark circles, making cheekbones look higher and necks slimmer. He worked with tiny brushes but the effect was the same. Everyone likes to look at their old graduation pictures to see how good they looked in their prime but these photos showed them better than they ever looked.
I've got to the point where perfect images no longer attract me; I assume they are fake. I find it refreshing when women who have good but not perfect figures wear swimsuits instead of swim dresses or cover ups. We are at the point where women with anything close to a normal figure think there is something wrong with them and try to keep people from seeing their bodies. Women are not supposed to have 6 pack abs and hip bones that could put someone's eye out. Women are supposed to be smooth since the naturally carry a little more body fat than men. Report
It really doesn't bother me. I think it is more important for the adults in a girls life to encourage her to have self esteem no matter how she looks on the outside. We can't get rid of ALL unrealistic images! If you think about it, most of the women in the public eye don't have "realistic" bodies anyway! Who can afford the plastic surgery & personal trainers or even 2+ hours a day of working out? and for that matter, what about shows like Biggest Looser? That isn't realistic & leads people to believe that they can loose a huge amount of weight in a week. But, the people on that show are in a VERY controlled environment. So, do we need to get rid of everything that portrays an unrealistic image?
BTW: sweatpant & a tshirt can be stylish, if you wear them correctly & with self confidence! Report
Photo altering began long before Photoshop or computers existed and will likely continue long after they're obsolete. In the '30's the iconic photographer George Hurrell drew actresses' makeup and skin texture on the negatives with a retouching pencil; they'd actually been photographed with bare skin (per interviews with Hurrell, in the book "Hurrell's Hollywood Portaits")! At least in those days, movie studios made it clear they were selling a fantasy. I applaud the AMA's policy, but the real problem is the culture deep within the fashion industry, and the fact that people buy into it. If they didn't, plastic surgery & Botox wouldn't sell. Report
About Face is a website I had forgotten - it's gallery of offenders is important, especially when helping young girls and women understand media tactics and unrealistic advertising. Report
Photoshop in and of itself has not been harmful psychologically ..... it's the people who use it to show inaccurate body shapes that are doing the damage. Fashion houses have no idea what a beautiful woman looks like anymore. All they care about are how the clothes look on a hanger, not a healthy body. I looked into this a little more and discovered that soon after the Ralph Lauren photo was released she was fired for being too fat to fit in the sample clothing. She was a size 4 at the time. Report
Photoshop (the way it is used) has really hurt us psychologically. Yes, editing photos has been around for a long time, but not avaliable to just anyone like photoshop is now. I guess the real problem is what fashion companies want their models to look like. Unrealistic perfection and many forget that these people do not really look like that . All ads should say if they have been photoshopped and maybe even give specifics. Companies need to realize that we don't want to see perfection, we want to see realistic attainable goals. Websites showing before and after pictures would be really helpful. Report
Those Ralph Lauren ads in particular are very disturbing. Nobody should be that skinny! These ads are really setting up all young people for disappointment and self-loathing. Girls think they should look like that and starve themselves during a time in life when good nutrition is needed for development. Boys are convinced that girls should look like that or they're not worth any attention. The images of beauty in movies and t.v. are giving everyone unfair and inhuman standards. They even make me feel bad that I don't look like that. I hope this policy is adopted by every single advertiser! Report
You would be surprised on how many young ladies want to look like the thin models. I see a lot of pictures here in Spark People, where the gal wants to look just like so and so..It's great they have a goal to lose, but they shouldn't have a goal to be stick thin. And if they don't achieve that they feel like a failure. It worries me. Report
I don't think the average person is really that stupid to think they will look like a Supermodel. When I was in high school, Colleen Corby was THE Supermodel of the '60's. She was so beautiful, but I never thought I'd look like her. Report
As much as I wish advertising would take a higher road, it is a business. As long as consumers keep buying the product or idea advertised by non-natural photos, advertisers will keep photoshopping. If we don't like it and enough of us stop supporting it with our money, then the advertiser will have to change its practices. Report
I surely do hope it will be a thing of the past. It gives a false message to women especially. We should try to be the "best me, we can be", but not to strive to look like these People, when they don't even look, that way... Report
I do not see how we can claim our children are trying to be as thin as models, where I am seeing too many of our children with muffin-tops. BTGs! clothing is being cut and designed to fit our over-weight, muffin-topped teens. Report
It's about time.. for them to get real.. My grand daughter is only 4 years 10 mo. She worries about things little girls should not have to worry about. Body image will be the next thing on the list for her. Hope not. Report
Thank goodness the AMA is taking a stand. A lot more needs to be done! These magazines do so much harm, especially to teens and others that don't realize the photos are touched up. Report
What came to my mind when I saw that picture of the model was 1. the lead character on the Nightmare Before Christmas and 2. a praying mantis. NOT an attractive picture AT ALL!

I like the idea of ditching edited photos to portray the "perfect" body b/c everyone's idea of the perfect body is different and if someone is always putting a picture in front of us of what their perfect body looks like, it'll change our own perceptions of perfect, thus creating this epidemic of thinking we have to be super thin to be perfect. Report
I think people need to be a lot more realisitc & use their heads a little. Comment #6 mentioned that the USA has the highest obesity rate in the world...? if this is true then I'm not buying that anyone is looking at these pictures & making them unreal expectations! I think people just want something to complain about.

I agree that photo editing is not needed but as a society we also have to recognize that IF those women (& men!) look that way 'in real life' it is b/c it is there JOB to be that thin. & note I say thin, not healthy.

Even if I had the time to make myself look like that, I wouldn't want to, it is not attractive at all. The RL photo is gross & I feel bad for anyone who aspires to look like that. I think they have bigger issues than their dress size Report
I checked out the Ralph Lauren ad. She looks ridiculous and if I were the model, I'd be furious that they made me look like an alien.
Being a middle school teacher, I see the effects these images have on my students. It's not just female students either. Believe it or not the male students are starting to obsess about their bodies more frequently lately than the girls. We went to a water park at the end of the year and while there were a few girls who kept a shirt over their bathing suit, there were far more boys that wore shirts to cover their bodies. It's very sad to see these students struggle with poor self image. Report
I fully agree with SneakyVegan here! Report
Skinny bashing can stop when all the disingenuousness of the tabloids stop: So much of, on one page "scary skinny" actresses, and on the next page: "Beach photos: look who has cellulite!" I never look at fashion magazines. I only look at tabs and society pages. That is what I see and read. Hypocrisy sells diets.

I have stopped listening to the fat-bashers in my life. I more or less stopped skinny bashing. Positively correlated to not letting myself get hungry or too tired.

Sometimes you know you have to take your business elsewhere. It's a dead giveaway when some entity or person has a hypocritical agenda. That is the ideological equivalent to intermittent reinforcement--getting positively stroked on a sparse schedule. It's how Atlantic City turns the average-skilled and average-pocketed gambler into a financially-on-the-edge full blown gambling addict.

Intermittent reinforcement can create low self-esteem and eating disorders.

I do know that the model, in un-Photoshopped real life, Filippa Hamilton, 5'10", 120 pounds dripping wet, got canned by Ralph Lauren for being "too fat" ... Report
I completely agree with you, but I am not optimistic about journalistic practices changing. Magazines edit photos to sell advertising and make money. If they changed, they might not make as much money. It probably wouldn't help sell diet products either. It would probably take a law, but powerful interests would lobby against it. I think we all need to realize that when so many of us aren't healthy, we all pay. Report
I think that's a great policy! I really hope it works! I've seen before and after pix of celebrities who have been touched it and it makes a HUGE difference! Girls don't need to think that they're flawed because a flawed market advertises in this way. Report
I couldn't agree more with SNEAKYVEGAN. I too am not phased by models. No big deal. I am more concerned with thin everyday women...those we surround me. And I don't think we should stop buying those magazines either - that's very extreme. They are a lot of fun and offer good advice at times. You just have to practice good judgement, as in everything else you do. It's important to remember that photographs are not realistic always and that's why it's such an art form.
Skinny bashing does need to stop. When you reach your desired level of 'skinny' - how would you feel if people put you down and gossiped about your eating disorder? That's absurd. Stop hating. Let's just be happy with ourselves. Live and let live. Report
You should not believe everything you see nor everything you hear - go with your gut feeling. Report
I agree with BEMORESTUBBORN. Photoshop editing definitely isn't going away, although hopefully, we can learn to use Photoshop a bit more responsibly in the future ;P That Ralph Lauren ad is just funny. That's the worst photo editing I've ever seen - it's just disproportionate, it doesn't make that model look at all attractive.

I also agree with SNEAKYVEGAN. I don't think magazines had as much of an effect on me growing up as seeing all the thin, attractive girls at school. That's what I wanted to look like - not overweight, with good skin. Of course, maybe those girls, the ones I wanted to look like, are the ones who wished that they looked like supermodels.
Consumers need to stop purchasing these magazines. It is not realistic to go on a 500 calorie diet or look like warmed over death. The cover of the magazines should have healthy people on them with no photo editing. How about some healthy women who are comfortable in their own skin, who have stories to tell, and not afraid of who they really are! Report
As a fine-arts photographer, I can tell you that the notion of Photoshop editing going away is not going to happen any time soon. A better solution is exactly what this blog is attempting to do: teaching people that what they see in print is not to be trusted or EMULATED! Like movie effects, images like the ones described should be considered pure fiction... Report
I don't know -- when I was a teen, I was more concerned about being as thin as that girl from math class, not that girl in my fashion magazine. I'm still that way now. Models in magazines don't faze me (I'm really just checking out the clothes), but I probably spend more time checking out thin women (for comparison's sake) than my husband does.

One thing that does bother me is some of the skinny-bashing. Some women really are very thin. It doesn't always mean they have an eating disorder. Some women work very hard to stay thin. Some women are naturally very thin. We would all go ballistic if someone called a heavy person some of the names that Sparkpeople members have called thin women. Enough is enough! Report
The AMA is right. There are to may people seeing the "skinny" people and think they need to look like them. God created us in his image. Not the camera's. Report
I think that the AMA's policy is a step in the right direction. More needs to be done. Report
and i don't kno wif anyone has mentioned it but that model was quietly fired for being too "fat" that's why they made her thinner in their add because she was too big for them. Just google search photshop magazines or something like that and you can find tons of examples from jessica alba, kim kardashian, and the biggest one from a few years ago from redbook of faith hill. Report
Regarding body images, does anyone remember the reality TV shows Swan or Homemakeover Beauty edition ( I believe that was the name)? They are shows that offered plastic repair or cosmetic surgery to deserving individuals. The shows (thankfully) do not air on public TV anymore, but when they did, I had to have some serious (calling in our family DR even!) conversations with her about her appearance, her body structure, and her bone structure, and how she was beautiful the way she was. This was the in middle school!! She was not the only one in the school who was facing this issue either several of her friends, both male and female. I wish that the entertainment industry would take a reality check to see what they are publishing/putting on air and actually THINK for a change. Anorexia is NOT pretty, Bulemia and Starvation are NOT dieting options Report
Some of the most amazingly sexy ladies that have ever graced my life don't look a THING like these cartoon caricatures of women that one sees in the fashion magazines. Cartoon artists like Boris Vallejo are brilliantly talented individuals but they don't show us reality, they purvey UNREALITY. Both young women and young men , unfortunately, buy in to this because of the ubiquitous nature of the media. Bulimia, Anorexia , and (for guys) body dysmorphic disorder are ALL to real. Report
It's about time they realized how much impact commercials of extra thin models with flawless skin can affect our younger generations and It will be really cool if they could work more on emphasizing love of one's body and shape.
Even since I've been on my journey to a healthy lifestyle, one thing that strike me every time is that before I make any progress, I have to love myself and be comfortable in my skin, and it is because I love myself and want to live a longer fuller life that I make better eating choices and exercise everyday. Report
I think it's a good policy and it's about time. I know most of the ads are "fake" but a percentage of the young women of America (I personally feel) are influenced in a negative way when they view these ads.

It is also up to us as Moms to educate our children and to teach them true beauty comes from within. Report
Photoshopping is everywhere, even in what should be simple landscape photography. Recently I saw an advertisement featuring a well known female celebrity who is half way through her 60s. Her face was smoothed out and reshaped making her skin looked as pure and perfect as a 6 year old child. Ridiculous. I can't understand why these famous featured people even allow their image to be altered to this point. What kind of a message is that? Report
We, as a society, need to focus on health instead of appearance. This policy may not change things by itself, but it can be one more tool to help change the way we view images. I was very affected by ads as a teen, and had stupid expectations. Being young and ambitious, I thought I could look any way I chose, and fought my good health and perfect weight to do so. It has taken me yearsand a lot of pain to appreciate this wonderful body (with flaws) that I have been priviledged to live in these past 50 years... Report
It's time we have healthy portrayals of women in media. Even though we tell our daughters that these models and stars don't really look like that, it's tough for them to not be influenced by the constant media blitz of what appears to be perfection. Report
I was so mad that when I was in Runner's World, they photoshopped my picture..took out a tattoo on my leg.

Too much ink for the average American to handle, I guess. Report
I definitely agree with the policy. The photo editing really does affect us and what our idea of beauty is, whether or not we realize it. A lot of the time when you see the before and after it makes you wonder why they did it. The person looks fantastic without the photoshopping, but how dare they have a wrinkle of fabric around their waist or slightly rippled looking thighs.

Jessica Alba is a good example of this (google Jessica Alba photoshop). She looked fantastic before they took 20 pounds off. Then she looked ridiculously "perfect".

We need to know what REAL people look like. This editing nonsense is so superficial. Why do we want everything shiny and perfect? Report
I think it is good they are looking to stop the photoshop. If girls want role models and they want to aspire to be a certain image it should be a true image. I believe all body types should be loved. Look at Queen Latifah she is beautiful and she is not a size 0. Report
That Ralph Lauren picture looks like a parody. Do people truly want to look like that? Confusing if so; it's not attractive at all. Report
I don't think it will change a thing because even without photoshop, the industry looks for specific body types and appearances...ones that are not the norm. Most people no matter what height, do not have mile long legs. And what about those who have long torsos and short legs, or pear shapes or apple shapes that no matter the amount of dieting and exercise you do, you will still not have the right body type to meet the ideal? It become very discouraging for the majority and let's face it, uber skinny photoshopped models are not motivating if we have an obesity problem. It sounds like they are creating a self-defeating attitude because no one can meet the ideal so they give up. Even "health" magazines are guilty of this. You will not win if you don't have the correct proportions and those are genetic. Report
I have mixed emotions about this....we always say that we should look for positive role models and mentors. Striving to be the best we can be etc. So what's wrong with a little photoshopping here and there? As a country, the U.S. has the highest rate of obesity in the world - seems like we don't have the right kind of role models and everyone wants to blame someone else for the problems. For me, photo editing in moderation is okay....it's the extremes I don't like. But like the Ralph Lauren ad, do people really want to look like that? The model looks like she has a giant head - I'd laugh rather than aspire to get that look. It's funny, because most of the RL ads feature models who appear to be the epitome of health and I enjoy seeing them. Report
Body image....if we do not accept the way we REALLY LOOK, which many do not, we will have even more PROBLEMS in the future. Low self esteem is a major "BRICK WALL" we face. So if we take a picture of ourselves, THEN ADD A VIRTUAL MODEL PICTURE FOR AN ENCOURAGEMENT, I feel this helps us to see what we can be for all our efforts. Everyone is different, but for me, a picture...not of myself "photocropped" but a drawing, photo, anything that makes me "VISUALIZE" a possible NEW ME helps! Report
I've saved a magazine article with Jamie Lee Curtis for several years. She talekd about the pressure in the industry for actresses to look perfect, and discussed the cosmetic procedures she'd had done. She insisted that the magazine do a full page photo that shows her as she actually looks--alongside the usual enhanced one. It was a real eye-opener. Report
Omg, that Ralph Lauren ad made the model look like a Bratz Doll!
Ridiculous, the lot of it.

I approve of the policy, but doubt anything will change because the dollar rules the land, and people's insecurities fuel the entire "beauty" industry. Sad, but true. Change the world, one person at a time. Don't rely on the media, in any way, shape or form, to propel the change. Also, while I agree we have work to do at home, too(well-put LIBCHIC, btw), the responsibility/power of it all is so HEAVILY on the media/advertising world's shoulders, they make it very hard to undo the damage. Never impossible, but we have to set an example that the "hard" work of changing your lifestyle is worth it. Report
Even as a photographer myself I hate seeing things like the magazine ads. I try so hard to teach my daughter how things can be "photoshopped" and manipulated. It's very sad the message they are sending to young guys and gals. I agree with LIBCHIC that it's more important that we empower our young people to love their bodies and take care of them and teach them as children right away that the magazines are NOT normal, most people never look like that.
I never edit my photos to change the way a person looks. I take photos as you are.... :) Report
Wow! I never saw that ad from RL. Freaky! I do think advertising can affect how peoples perceptions. But I think it is important to empower people--especially young people--to be and love themselves. Can't blame it all on the ads--we have work to do at home, too. Report
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