Warning: This Image Has Been Airbrushed

By Katie, 12:01 pm

Perhaps you’ve seen this advertisement from Ralph Lauren, in which the image of a perfectly healthy model has been drastically distorted.


Or maybe you heard about the controversy over Self magazine’s cover image of Kelly Clarkson, which the editors admit to altering significantly via Photoshop.


And you might have come across this inspiring video from Dove, which visually illustrates the elaborate process of transforming the “raw material” of a model into a suitable billboard ad.

We are surrounded by images of women that have been airbrushed and Photo-shopped and altered like crazy to reflect the media’s definition of perfection. But is there anything to be done about it?

On Tuesday, the UK’s main professional organization for psychiatrists called for a code of ethics to be created to hold the media accountable for the types of messages it sends. The organization also called for a symbol to be placed on images that have been airbrushed, in the hopes of raising awareness that such images do not reflect “reality.”

One of the doctors calling for these changes said:

“Eating disorders…are serious mental illnesses. Although biological and genetic factors play an important role in the development of these disorders, psychological and social factors are also significant.”

The editor of a best-selling teen magazine in the UK countered the psychiatrists’ proposal by calling it impractical; where do you draw the line? She argues that almost all images are digitally enhanced in some way, usually to brighten the colors or improve the clarity. How do you determine which images require the symbol?

I think it’s an interesting debate. As someone who has struggled with disordered eating, I know how powerful media images can be; for a long time I had to avoid women’s magazines completely. On the other hand, we cannot claim that magazines and advertisements cause eating disorders, or else everyone would have one!

What do you think? Should images that have been significantly altered be required to carry a symbol indicating so? Should the media follow a “code of ethics” in its portrayal of women’s bodies?

(Sources: The Independent, Feministing, and Medical News Today)

15 Responses to “Warning: This Image Has Been Airbrushed”

  1. Wow, that Dove video is crazy!

    I do think a ‘code of ethics’ is a good idea… but I agree with that editor who says it would be hard to implement. Where do you draw the line between photo editing and airbrushing?

  2. Sarah says:

    I think there should be a code of ethics for a “healthy image”. It is such a negative thing to put out their for young girls. I wonder how the celebrity’s really feel about it.

  3. I did a project on this last year, and we used that dove video- crazy stuff! From what we found, basically every single ad and pictures found in magazines are photoshopped. I’m not hating on the usage for clearing up skin and whatnot, but these days it’s a bit out of control! At least Kelly looks healthy compared to that sick Ralph Lauren ad! -Claire

  4. Jessica says:

    I love your bento! I have a laptop lunch box (actually, two) and I use it for my lunches every day. How fun!

    I love the concept of your blog. I recently read John Robbin’s ‘Healthy at 100′ and it revolutionized my concept of ‘healthy’. I used to only associate exercise and healthy diet with health, but now I reall see the big picture – how important stress management, loving relationships, self-expression, spirituality are.

    Can’t wait to try hot yoga!!

    • Katie says:

      Isn’t it a shame that most people only associate good health with food and exercise? There is so much more, and it makes such a difference!

  5. It is horrible that they alter photos like that. I mean, airbrushing a blemish is fine, but when you make someone skinnier, that is not good! Why does everyone need to fit into a certain body image? Why can’t we just be who we are? I think they should have to put a symbol on an image if they alter it, but I don’t think they should be aloud to alter it like that anyway!

  6. Diane says:

    I think that putting a label on airbrushed photos might change everything for the way better. If even celebrities who are basically paid to have the ‘right’ body have to be airbrushed, what’s wrong with the world? Maybe, if airbrushing was exposed, people wouldn’t feel such pressure to do it. Natural body bumps and folds would be seen instead of brushed away! (Fun story, despite being a smart girl and knowing that all photos were airbrushed, I harbored a lot of shame about the way my body creases when it moves for a long time.. because the people in magazines don’t have that problem!)

    Of course, conversely, needing to put a ‘this has been photoshopped’ stamp on photos might create pressure to look “perfect” without photoshop (meaning, to publish photos without stamps), thus increasing the need to sink to really unhealthy weights among models and celebrities.

    • Katie says:

      Thank you for your insightful comment! Isn’t it crazy how we get sucked into feeling ashamed of our bodies, even when deep down we know better? And I hadn’t thought of the possibility of the photoshop symbol leading to INCREASED pressure to be “perfect.” It’s like a no-win situation! :(

      • Diane says:

        That was just a random thought- I honestly don’t think that would happen! At least I hope not. In my perfect world, women’s magazines would be full of articles about real health and body acceptance!

  7. [...] usually don’t put too much stock in what Self magazine has to say, especially after the whole Kelly Clarkson debacle, but I do trust the results of this study, which were obtained in collaboration with a [...]

  8. Thanks for the link to the Dove video. I watched it twice and am still shaking my head in amazement. I also have tears in my eyes. The word ‘sad’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.

    I just discovered your blog via Being Joy and am so glad I did. :)

    • Katie says:

      I’m so glad you did too! :)

      Yes, that Dove video is so, so powerful. I’ve seen it a billion times and it still moves me every time.

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