At its annual meeting in June, the American Medical Association called for guidelines to discourage airbrushing, photoshopping, retouching, etc. in advertising “especially those appearing in teen-oriented publications.” The new policy is directed at advertising associations and public and private sector organization, at a time when 53 percent of 13-year-old American girls are unhappy with their bodies; among 17-year-olds, the number rises to 78 percent. Even more troubling, almost half of American girl 3 to 6 years old are worried they are fat.
Three-year-olds are worried about being fat?
As Barbara McAneney, a physician on the AMA’s Board of Trustees says in the Chicago Sun-Times:
“Extremely altered models can create unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image,” leading to eating disorders and other child and adolescent health problems.
Writing in Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams notes that ”number of high-profile Photoshop disasters have, in recent years, illuminated the editorial mania for credibility-straining images,” including a Ralph Lauren ad in which a model’s waist was so “downsized” that her head appeared to be wider (the Hello Kitty physique, I guess). While such “creatively altered” ads aren’t the only reason for the rampant negative body image among American girls and women, they can’t be helping.
Sure, people can choose not to look at such ads and images but the fact is, they’re simply pervasive in our culture. Indeed, I would say that most young women I know are fully aware that something’s not entirely “natural” about the appearances of the perfectly styled women they see. But just seeing those images and knowing that someone might have those proportions can set off that little sliver of doubt and insecurity in a women, so she starts skipping breakfast, limiting herself to a liquid lunch and pushing herself to burn 100 more calories on the elliptical.
So yes, I’m glad the AMA has taken a position on this issue. But I think it’s equally important, first of all, to educate children (of both genders — boys have eating disorders too) and teenagers to “read” and question the images they see. This is a generation that knows how to photoshop and that can certainly be taught to see how ads are out to deceive them.
Most of all, we’ve got to keep stressing that being thin isn’t synonymous with beauty; that looking great isn’t a matter of how you weigh — that photoshopping is for making Chinese officials levitate, but not for showing what women really look like.
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Photo (of image before and after photoshopping) by dreamglowpumpkincat210