Jan 26, 2010

WARNING: these digitally enhanced images may damage your mental health

by Jenna Shoffner

France may now have a reason to group products such as cigars, alcohol and tobacco with Photoshop.

Health warnings are already common for tobacco in most countries. But French lawmakers are now pushing for similar warnings to be printed on every digitally enhanced and published image, according to the UK Telegraph.

The campaign is led by French parliamentarian Valerie Boyer. She, along with 50 members of the French parliament, proposed that all enhanced photographs contain a message stating “Photograph retouched to modify the physical appearance of a person,” according to a Reuters article.

However, the warning would not be limited to magazine photos. Advertisements, press or political photos and even artistic photographs would be required to have a warning, as reported by Reuters.

The campaign’s goal is to inhibit the possibility of creating a false reality of body image in the minds of consumers. Boyer said that enhanced photos create an impossible goal of perfection, according to Time magazine.

There is little question that airbrushed photographs have made a mark in many cultures. The impact has hardly been for the better regarding consumer body image, especially among women of every age group.

Everywhere are photographs propagating an image of what one is supposed to look like. More often than not, these images are altered.

The campaign objective is admirable. As a general rule, it would be beneficial for the public to be aware that these pictures of perfection are false. However, a health warning seems to be not only an inappropriate reaction, but an extreme one as well.
Boyer is correct in stating that airbrushed photos could possibly contribute to a mindset of impossible perfectionism. Yet at the same time, France’s action seems to be simply an avenue of government control. Another method of promoting a realistic sense of body image would be more effective.

Regulations and warnings would not necessarily alter the mind. An image of a girl digitally made to look bone-thin would still give the viewer the idea that she should look the same as the picture, whether the viewer knows it is real or not.

A governmental health warning seems insufficient in order for women and girls to truly grasp the concept that not everyone has to be extremely thin in order to be beautiful. The best avenue to combat misled thinking would be effort from the French people to educate misled girls in the area of healthy body image.

Furthermore, if warnings are to be required, would that not pave the way for more unnecessary control in the future? France’s overt concern with digitally manipulated photos leads to the possibility that freedom of expression will no longer be an option, even for art.

While France may have a worthy aim in trying to prevent distorted self-image, its methods of regulation are ineffective and can cause loss of personal freedoms as a final outcome.

Contact Jenna Shoffner at

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