[Beauty Overheard] Should We Regulate Photoshop in Youth-Directed Media?

Considering Rachel Leigh Cook is best known for playing the we-hid-her-hotness-under-glasses lead in She’s All That, I am loving this quote from her, via Jezebel:

Nothing that you see is real, even if you look at what looks like a candid photo of someone, anything can be done. It is false advertising and false advertising is a crime so why isn’t this a crime? I’m just up in arms about it. People need to know that there are actual lenses that are put on cameras that make people stretched out. If you saw these actors in person, you wouldn’t even recognize them as the people you see on TV. It’s just all a complete illusion and maybe it should be viewed as art, the way that art isn’t real. The way that a picture of a rose can be beautiful, but it’s not a real rose.
Cook made this speech at last week’s Healthy Media for Youth Summit, organized in Washington DC by our friends the Girl Scouts, who are continuing their push for the Healthy Media for Youth Act, which I wrote about earlier this month over on Lemondrop. She also said:
I think it’s an absolute travesty that young women are seeing what the media is feeding them. It breaks my heart to be part of an industry and part of a machine that really pushes out these images and propagates these really terrible standards that are false.
Girlfriend is not holding back here. But I think it’s interesting that the Healthy Media for Youth Act actually will not place any restrictions or bans on the use of photoshopping in youth-directed media. When I asked Clare Bresnahan, the key Girl Scout lobbyist for the bill, if she was hoping to see limitations put in place (the way they’re contemplating in France) she was crystal clear:
Nope, that’s not our approach. We want all of the stakeholders — cable, broadcasting, publishing, and advocacy groups — to come together and talk about what could work. I don’t think these people are sitting around saying “How can we damage girls’ self-esteem?” It’s a question of raising awareness.
She also noted that, of course, Girl Scouts are as bipartisan as they come, so any legislation they push has to be palatable to both sides of the aisle. Fair enough. But I’ll admit, I get nervous when we leave industry solely in charge of regulating industry. Voluntary safety standards and best practices just don’t always get the job done. (What up, Brazilian Blowout?) Because of how they’re voluntary.
I do think teaching girls (and women, and all of us) to view every media image they see as fiction is an important first step. If you grow up knowing that teeth aren’t really that white, waists aren’t really that tiny, hair isn’t really that frizz-free, you probably will be less likely to internalize those messages and use them to judge your own body. But as someone who has worked on the other side of the curtain, I know firsthand that knowing how the sausage is made doesn’t always make you a vegetarian. You still see those polished, perfect final images all the time. And somehow, they seep into your subconscious. And that sh*t runs deep.

So while I see the logic of the “if we all know it’s fake, what’s the harm?” argument, I’m not sure awareness-raising is enough of an end game here. We’ll be trusting the industry to voluntarily add more diversity, more varied body types, more natural flaws. But we’ll still be surrounded by fake images. And it will be all on us to tell the difference.

I know there are a lot of shades of gray on this one and I’d love to hear your thoughts. So, look! The first ever Beauty Schooled poll!

(Thanks to Kate E. for teaching me how to do this! I feel so fancy and blogger-y about it.)

Vote, then tell us more in the comments.



Filed under Beauty Overheard, beauty standards, Government Watch, Happenings

7 responses to “[Beauty Overheard] Should We Regulate Photoshop in Youth-Directed Media?

  1. Megan

    The question is can we show that viewing these altered images has an adverse effect on the public. Cigarette ads are banned from t.v. and nifty warnings are put on cartons and packs. Regulation is not without precedent, as I see it.

  2. The quote from Rachel Leigh Cook is a Mobius strip of distorted logic, in my opinion: according to her the same thing that makes Photoshop “criminal” makes it like art, so… art is a crime?

    I do think there should be more transparency about what’s being done to images, but not just because of girls’ self-images. I feel the same way about photographic manipulation that I do about ghostwriting: why can’t the industry give credit where credit is due? People who are able to seamlessly distort and alter these pictures are incredibly talented, as talented as old-school photographers, and if we recognized the skill and artistry involved, maybe we could get them doing something more interesting than erasing freckles and making everybody skinnier. I don’t think the issue is, “Should we stop Photoshop?” but, “How could this technology be employed to broaden the range of visual self-expression?”

  3. Maggie

    I agree with the Chawmonger. Maybe the answer is to leave the industry alone (for now), and push for better and more updated arts education. When people have even a basic understanding of what Photoshop and other manipulation programs can do, they’re probably more likely to spot even well-done ‘shopping. And if we start thinking of it and teaching it to younger students as art, at least some of them will come away with more ambition and even a little derision for the people who only use it to make women look skinny, in a sort of “That’s all?? I could do way cooler things” way.

  4. katie

    I don’t think it should be illegal to edit a photo. That is too much government interference. Just thinking of the paper work associated with regulating photos in the media makes me shudder.

    However, I wish that companies had more integrity and actually cared about consumers instead of capital. I know that I’m idealistic, but ultimately the problem isn’t using software to edit. (I’m doing that right now.) The problem is much deeper, too deep for regulation. That being said, I support the drive to increase education about advertising.

  5. miss-trixie

    My opinion falls somewhere in the valley between choice #2 and #3 so I chose #2. Fact is, photoshopping is so rampant (every magazine cover – every print ad – every editorial – lots of film and TV as well), that a vigilant parent could constantly remind her daughter that the chances are that every photograph she sees of a woman is enhanced or “fixed” – but at some point that would sound like a broken record and cease to be effective. So media outlets have to accept that they bear responsibility for the image of womanhood they are portraying and selling, and the fallout that results when girls go to extremes attempting to live up to an impossible standard. I would love it if magazines (particularly the ones targeted to teens and pre-teen girls) would ease up on the practice of retouching photos of models to extremes of perfection, but it would have to be voluntary because honestly I don’t see how it could be regulated consistently.

  6. I would like to see less enhanced photos, and if they are enhanced~then a statement. Regulated? I hate more government regulations, and I can’t see where they could enforce it~on the flip side, I can’t see where the media will change without the regulations.

    It’s also going to take people, lots of people, pressuring the media for change. The best way to get their attention? Literally, not “buy” into what they are selling. We as parents are responsible to educate our daughters and they, the media outlets, are responsible, not for my daughters self image, but for honesty in what they are portraying.

  7. Pingback: The Tina Fey Photoshop Problem | Beauty Schooled

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