The Digital manipulation of models bodies in advertisements causes low self-esteem in men and women of all ages, can cause eating disorders and gives consumers false expectations which can be extremely damaging.
The Journal of Health and Social Behavior stated in an article entitled, “Concern with Appearance, Health Beliefs and Eating habits” that “Our society places demands on individuals to be concerned with appearance.” In mascara ads, the eyelashes are all digitally enhanced, in make-up ads the models are so touched up until no flaws are present - not even the pores, and in clothing ads, companies like H&M can switch bodies, lengthen or shorten limbs and even use computer generated bodies with real heads for every picture. Most of these enhancements are done without the models’ knowledge and often without the knowledge of the celebrities that grace the covers of magazines. Kate Winslet spoke out when her legs were digitally altered for the cover of GQ magazine. Winslet said, "I was pretty proud of how my legs actually looked in the real picture.” She says she spoke out because "it just was important to me to let people know that digital retouching happens all the time. It's probably happened to just about every other well-known actress on the face of the planet."
This problem has gained more and more attention over the past few years. The AMA, American Medical Association, in June of last year formally denounced retouching pictures and asked ad agencies to consider setting stricter guidelines for how photos are manipulated before becoming advertisements. AMA board member Barbara McAneny said, “We must stop exposing impressionable children and teenagers to advertisements portraying models with body types only attainable with the help of photo editing software.”
The National Eating Disorders Association estimates that 81% of 10-year-old girls are afraid of being fat. Weight gain around the age of ten is not only perfectly normal, it’s healthy. According to the “Growth of Children in Height and Weight” in The American Journal of Psychology, Girls ages 11-13 gain about 15 pounds of fat-free mass and girls on average gain more fat than boys during puberty. Weight gain is completely natural but the media is so fixated on body perfection that little girls have grown up believing that those perfect bodies on the magazine cover are what they should look like. This idea of body perfection very often results in eating disorders in adolescents. Think of the difference that can be made in those numbers if more people were aware of the digital enhancements in ads. This idea of inadequacy because of unrealistic bodies represented in advertisements also helps promote low self-esteem.
When older women are represented in ads where they are digitally altered to have the flawless skin of a young woman, it encourages older viewers to engage in all sorts of chemical and surgical enhancements. In a NYT article on health written May 26, 2011 stated “We have triggered a weird, collective, late-onset body dysmorphia. What’s worse is that our anxieties about aging have trickled into our children’s generation, so that the mantra about cosmetic procedures even among some 30-year-olds is “intervention early and often.” The total amount of cosmetic procedures in 2011, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons 2011 Plastic Surgery Statistics report, was 13,828,726, which is almost the entire population of Guatemala.
What can be done to solve this problem that everyone sees but most ignore? There needs to be restrictions and disclaimers on advertisements that have been digitally manipulated. But, will the label make enough of a difference? In the Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, Feb2012, An article reported a social experiment to see if warning labels on magazine ads would make a difference. In a sample of 102 undergraduate women who viewed magazines with either no warning labels, generic warning labels that stated that the image had been digitally altered, or specific warning labels that stated the way in which the image had been digitally altered, participants who viewed images with a warning label reported lower levels of body dissatisfaction, than participants who viewed the same images with no warning label. The findings provide the first evidence that the use of warning labels may help to ameliorate some of the known negative effects of viewing media images that feature the thin ideal. This will work and already Australia has taken a great step forward with their Voluntary Code of Conduct on Body Image in making sure that this problem does not continue.
The Digital Manipulations done to models in advertisements are not only damaging to those who see the advertisements but those who are judged based on those advertisements. We, as a nation, are better than this. We need to all stand up for what it right for the sake of future generations and the physical and mental health of our children. Let’s be real America.
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