In the social media age, it is standard practice for photographers and digital media production specialists to correct perceived “flaws” in the appearance of models. Using software tools like Photoshop, models’ skin shades are lightened, wrinkles and blemishes are removed to make them look younger, and their body size and shape are altered to reflect prevailing norms. Exposure to these unrealistic and unattainable beauty norms has profound negative effects on public health: It is a key risk factor for eating disorders. Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that will affect 30 million people in the United States in their lifetimes, across all genders, racial and ethnic groups, and socioeconomic statuses. The issue has concerned the American Medical Association since at least 2011, when they released a position statement encouraging guidelines be developed for advertising to “discourage the altering of photographs in a manner that could promote unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image.” Yet very little has changed since then.
States have already spearheaded efforts to promote realistic advertising images. For example, in Massachusetts, a bill was introduced in the state legislature to incentivize businesses in Massachusetts to use realistic images in their advertisements by offering a tax credit to those who pledge to not digitally alter models’ skin shade, skin texture including wrinkles, body size, or body shape in advertisements. Click here for updates on this Massachusetts bill and additional advocacy efforts around this issue.
Below you will find important materials to help you bring this important advocacy effort to
your state and community:
Paper co-authored by STRIPED Director S. Bryn Austin: Digital Manipulation of Images of Models’ Appearance in Mass Media: Strategies for Action through Law and Corporate Social Responsibility Incentives to Protect Public Health
This policy brief defines the problem and explains how you can use policies to address this important issue.
This fact sheet explains the harmful effects of unrealistic advertising images and how to put an end to unrealistic body expectations through legislation in your own state.
Another fact sheet on how to reduce digitally altered advertisements through state legislation.
Talking points when speaking with decision-makers and advocates on this issue.