This week, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority banned two L’Oréal Comsmetics on the grounds that they were misleading to consumers. The ads, one for Maybelline “wrinkle eraser” featuring model Christy Turlington and another for Lancôme featuring Julia Roberts (both with eerily flawless skin), can now no longer be run as they constitute false advertising. This official measure against excessive Photoshopping in advertising could prove to pressure UK advertisers to ease up on the retouching and may set a precedent for advertisers all over the world to do the same, which would be great, given the media’s current unrealistic and harmful standards of beauty. Coming just a few years after the UK first considered banning airbrushing in advertisements and just one month after the American Medical Association adopted a policy against Photoshop, this decision marks a victory for… everyone! Perhaps soon we will have advertisements featuring natural human beings instead of the strange, disproportionate, alien lifeforms that companies want us to want to be. However, not everyone sees this ban as a victory. David Gianatasio, in his Adweek article “Julia Roberts, Christy Turlington Ads: So Photoshopped They’re Misleading?” disagrees that this is actually what consumers want. He writes:
Of course, the ads weren’t misleading in the slightest, since everyone with enough IQ points to properly operate a magazine surely knows such images are routinely altered, sweetened and enhanced. Who’d want to see Julia Roberts without retouching? She’d look like Eric Roberts in a wig.
I take issue with his remarks for a number of reasons. First of all, I take issue with his transphobic comment about Eric Roberts in a wig. Julia Roberts would not look like Eric Roberts in a wig without Photoshopping, she’d look like Julia Roberts (And if Eric Roberts wants to wear a wig, so be it). Secondly, the ads are misleading! The images are claiming to be results of the products, but they’re not. They are the results of hours of expensive digital photo manipulation and the discriminating eye of an advertising executive trying to make a profit. David Gianastasio questions the ban on the grounds that everyone is aware of the digital editing. But does everyone know? Does public knowledge (or lack thereof) excuse the advertisements and justify their continuance? No. While it’s true that more people are learning how images of celebrities and models are extremely manipulated, it is not true that “everyone with enough IQ points to properly operate a magazine” knows just how unrealistic the images barraging them everyday are. How can that possibly be true when advertisers are continually allowed to print such advertisements but media literacy is not even a part of the curriculum in most elementary, middle, and high schools?
The reality is, even while awareness of excessive Photoshopping increases, these images are still rampant in media today and still give people the message that this unattainable standard of beauty is something they should be aspiring to. People get the idea that if they don’t look thin enough or tall enough, or smooth enough or white enough then they have failed. I applaud the UK’s ASA for banning the L’Oréal ads and I approve the AMA’s decision to stand up against Photoshopping in advertising. In doing so, they are not only saying that they will not stand for false advertising but also that hey care how advertising is affecting viewers and they want standards to change. The ASA’s ruling is especially important for women and young girls, who for several generations have learned to hate themselves for not matching the standard of beauty presented by the media. David Gianatasio flippantly claiming Julia Roberts would not even look like a woman without digital alteration just shows how Photoshopping has affected society’s expectations of beauty. His argument is ultimately that consumers want the fantasy, that we look to advertisements, movies, and magazines for the perfection that can’t be found in our ugly reality. But can’t we show that the world around us can be beautiful, that we can be beautiful, and still sell a product?
As far as consumers wanting extreme Photoshopping, I can only speak on my own behalf. Firstly, I don’t want advertisers to be able to claim that their product is doing something it simply can’t. It is deceitful and harmful to consumers, not to mention completely unjust. Secondly, I do want to see images of naturally beautiful women and men in advertising because I want to see people as beautiful for what they are rather than what they could be. I want to open a magazine and see models that look like my friends, my mom, my coworkers, and my classmates, groups that include so many beautiful people! So, yes, David Gianatasio, ads are misleading. And while it’s great that the word is getting out on digital manipulation in advertising, the knowledge is not enough. If we condemn these ads but do nothing to remove them, are we really condemning them? Ads such as the L’Oréal ones should be removed not only so that companies don’t get away with lying to the public, but also so that when we tell our loved ones, and even strangers, how beautiful we think they are that they will actually start to believe it and love themselves.
ASA Adjudication on L’Oréal (UK) Ltd [ASA]
Julia Roberts Ad Banned in the UK for Abuse of Photoshop [PC World]
Billboards to Combat Body Image Issues Created by Media [Cache Valley Daily]
Photoshopping: Altering Images and Our Minds [Redefining Beauty]