Photoshopping: ‘C’mon Now Make it Stop!’
By Annetta Ramsay
Monday, October 13, 2014
(WOMENSENEWS)–Meghan Trainor’s summer hit “All About That Bass” has maintained its hold near the top of the Billboard charts as we push into fall. The song has been hailed as a positive body image anthem by those struggling with eating disorders. It also raised the ire of some feminists who believe it skinny shames and objectifies women, criticism that seems to miss the point of a song that is clearly a parody of a culture obsessed with thinness.
Trainor got one thing absolutely right: She criticizes Photoshopping, which she knows isn’t real, saying “C’mon now, make it stop.” If only she could.
We can’t look at the cover of a fashion magazine without seeing pictures of models who have been Photoshopped. No wonder a People magazine telephone survey of 1,000 women found 80 percent feel worse about themselves after seeing a beauty advertisement. Maybe beauty ads should be legislated.
In 2011, the American Medical Association announced a policy to discourage widespread use of Photoshopping by advertisers. While this was a great step, it didn’t have any clout.
Now, Congress has the opportunity to cosponsor the Truth in Advertising Act of 2014 (H.R. 4341), a bipartisan bill asking the Federal Trade Commission to recommend a regulatory framework on post-production techniques, such as Photoshopping, to change the appearance of people in advertisements.
The Washington-based Eating Disorders Coalition is pushing the bill. They admit this may be an uphill battle, but this is a “no cost” bill, and it would be a giant first step for the 30 million Americans who struggle with eating disorders. Photoshopping is deceptive and it is linked to emotional and physical health consequences. We need to join the coalition in their efforts to stop Photoshopping people’s bodies.
Most Deadly Mental Illness
I am a Ph.D.-trained, licensed counselor and I have treated eating disorders for the past 29 years, most recently as the director of an outpatient clinic. Eating disorders are the most deadly mental illness, claiming the lives of between 10 percent and 20 percent of those who suffer.
In recent weeks, five clients independently told me how much they identified with “All About That Bass.” Two showed me the music video. One client told me “I can’t stop listening to it.” Now I can’t stop watching the music video either.
I am familiar with the dangers of Photoshopping for my clients, who regularly compare themselves to digitally altered images of celebrities. My clients are smart, and they know advertising and celebrity images are usually altered. Once they develop an eating disorder, though, it is difficult for them to see the negative influence of digitally altered photos on their body image.
Photoshopping can also hurt those whose images are altered. To cite just two: 23-year- old Australian model Meaghan Kausman was excited to work with a famous photographer. But after the swimwear label Fella Swim published photos of her beautiful size 8 body Photoshopped to a size 4, she spoke up for herself. “They had drastically altered my body, thinning out my stomach and thighs in an attempt to box me in to the cultural ideal of beauty,” she posted on Instagram alongside the photo, saying “My body is a size 8, not a size 4. That’s my body!” Fella Swim apologized to Kausman, saying they didn’t intend to offend, disrespect or hurt her.
A Second Example
A couple of years ago, fashion model Coco Rocha, who has a strict no nudity policy, slammed Elle Brazil for Photoshopping her cover image so that she appeared nude. She wrote in her blog “As a high fashion model I have long had a policy of no nudity or partial nudity in my photo shoot. For my recent Elle Brazil cover shoot I wore a body suit under a sheer dress which I now find was Photoshopped out to give the impression of me showing much more skin then I was, or am comfortable with.”
A growing body of evidence links exposure to digitally altered media images to eating disorders. Most research points to a strong link between Photoshopping and body dysmorphic disorder and disordered eating. Correlation is not causality, but it is a strong factor in the development of body dysmorphic disorder, which is a precursor to eating disorders.
The most startling research was published years ago, although it is still considered a landmark study. Electricity did not arrive in Fiji until the 1980s. At that time, television was introduced. Fiji Island women with no documented history of eating disorders or body dysmorphia developed eating disorders within three years.
C’mon now, make it stop.
Annetta Ramsay, Ph.D., a licensed and certified counselor, directs the Chrysalis Program, a leading treatment center for eating disorders, located in Denton, Texas. She is also a fellow in the Op-Ed Project’s Public Voices Fellowship at Texas Woman’s University.