Along with the invention of Photoshop came an increase in digitally altered advertising images.  Many argue that there should be a ban on using changed images, or at the very least, a disclaimer should be placed on any images that aren’t in their original form, similar to laws already enacted in European countries such as England and France.  While a disclaimer might draw attention to the fact that advertising images aren’t what they seem, it’s not enough to protect consumers or counteract any of the negative effects of such images on the younger generation.  Even without Photoshop or similar software capabilities, the models used in ads are ridiculously skinny.  In many cases, it’s hard to believe that the models actually fit into the clothing that they are supposedly representing.  If companies took more of a ‘real woman’ approach, perhaps both the companies and self-esteem of consumers everywhere would be positively affected. 

Although Photoshop itself is a fairly new phenomenon, it turns out that even the infamous pin-up girl pictures of the 50’s were also altered from their original states.  According to Stampler (2012), “pin-up artists reduced and accentuated to create the perfect pin-up”.  Examples of before-and-after photos can be seen here.  Granted, they’re not as dramatically retouched as pictures today, but the altering of images still took place as far back as the 1950’s when the feminine ideal was more curvy and voluptuous.  Today, most advertising seems to convey that you’re not beautiful unless you’re skinny and essentially curve-free.  According to a recent story on ABC News, the majority of models have the BMIs of people diagnosed with anorexia.  In addition, “Plus-size models have shrunk, too. A decade ago, plus-size models averaged between size 12 and size 18. Today, the majority of plus-size models an agency boards are between size 6 and size 14” (Lovett, 2012).  Many countries are taking legal action to help curb the negative effects underweight models have on consumers, especially youths.  For example, Israel passed a law in 2012 that restricts the use of models with a body mass index under 18.5.  Not only does the law apply to advertising created within the country, but also anything that runs in Israel, regardless of where it was created (Ives, 2012).  Other laws are in place in England, France, and more recently, the United States, which ban Photoshopped images in cosmetic ads. 

Photoshopping can go the other way, too.  Earlier this year, a state agency called First 5 California came up with new advertising for a campaign against childhood obesity.  Instead of using Photoshop to make things appear thinner, as is commonplace in advertising, they made healthy children appear obese for the purpose of their campaign (Stampler, 2013).  Apparently, this isn’t as outrageous as it may sound, as it’s not the first time state campaigns aim their sights on childhood obesity in a scandalous manner.  According to Stampler (2013), “State-run health campaigns often target obese children — and are often harshly criticized for “fat shaming” kids who are already victimized for their weight”.  Because of the wide-range of uses that Photoshop has, simply settling for a disclaimer or ban on the software is not enough to combat self-esteem issues from idealized imagery.

Rather than subjecting consumers to idealized imagery, companies should consider using more realistic images in their advertising.  It can be argued that this is one of the only effective ways to battle the self-esteem issues, eating disorders, and other negative effects associated with such imagery.  A good example of a company who has accomplished positive things with their advertising is Dove.  The company has grown from $200 million in the 1990’s to around $4 billion today (Aaker, 2013), largely in part to its “Campaign for Real Beauty,” which debuted in 2004.  According to Aaker (2013), “The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty set out to make women aware that they have real beauty that is not based on the common standard of a young, model-thin body with excessive makeup. The goal was to make a fundamental change in the way that women are perceived and in the way they view themselves”.  In addition to using realistic, everyday models for their advertising images, Dove has created its own self-esteem and leadership programming in collaboration with other companies, such as the Girl Scouts of America (Aaker, 2013).  Dove not only benefits by providing a positive experience for consumers, but also financially.  According to Aaker (2013), “It provides a higher purpose to the brand and a shared interest with customers.  The impact for some of Dove’s efforts has been estimated to be 30 times their expenditure”.  Other companies might want to use Dove’s advertising campaigns to build their brands, because their method both promotes their product and the brand itself, as well as the well-being of consumers.

Overall, merely putting a disclaimer on advertising to alert consumers of its altered state is not enough to protect consumers from self-esteem issues and other negative effects.  Instead, companies should use more realistic models when creating their ad campaigns.  This has been proven to be effective – not only benefitting companies financially, but by drawing consumers to their brands by having a common interest.  Perhaps if more companies followed Dove’s lead, the advertising world, as well as its consumer population, would be a better (and happier) place.

References

Aaker, D. (2013, May 1). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.prophet.com/blog/aakeronbrands/138-dove

Ives, N. (2012, March 20). Israel’s ‘photoshop law’ bans underweight models. Ad Age, Retrieved from http://adage.com/article/media/israel-s-photoshop-law-bans-underweight-models/233422/

Lovett, E. (2012, January 12). Most models meet criteria for anorexia, size 6 is plus size: Magazine. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2012/01/most-models-meet-criteria-for-anorexia-size-6-is-plus-size-magazine/

Stampler, L. (2012, May 09). These incredible pictures show how pin-up girls were ‘photoshopped’ in the 1950’s. Business Insider, Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/these-incredible-pictures-show-how-pin-up-girls-were-photoshopped-in-the-1950s-2012-5

Stampler, L. (2013, June 06). Why the state of California is photoshopping kids to look obese.  Business Insider, Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/first-5-photoshops-kids-to-look-obese-2013-6