Photo Editing and Body Image

July 12th, 2011 by Andrea Bennett

The American Medical Association takes a stand on retouching model photos.

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The Responsibility Project

I’ll admit to finding amusement in perusing the obvious photo editing disasters on a website called, appropriately, psdisasters.com. For instance, there’s the model whose elbow is so sharply elongated it could cut a beef shank. Then there’s the picture of singer Katy Perry with a mysteriously detached shoulder. Some of my favorites can be found courtesy of the Huffington Post’s “11 Biggest Photoshop Fails of 2010,” which include another crazy elbow, an entire bottom half of one body doubled for another on a magazine cover, and several obviously inadvertent amputations.

Having spent my fair share of time in the magazine industry, I’d consider myself inured to the effect that unrealistic images can have on the young and impressionable. That said, the more excessive and prevalent the reimaging, the more I wonder if my own daughter will eventually fall prey to the idea that she can only be pretty if she pursues these revised anatomical proportions.

The problem has apparently gotten so out of hand that the American Medical Association is adopting a new policy against altering photographs “in a manner that could promote unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image.”

In a press release, the AMA wrote, “A large body of literature links exposure to media-propagated images of unrealistic body image to eating disorders and other child and adolescent health problems.” AMA board member Dr. Barbara L. McAneny cited one image in which “a model's waist was slimmed so severely, her head appeared to be wider than her waist.”

According to the New York Daily News, McAneny was likely referring to a 2009 Ralph Lauren ad that sparked an outcry among people who thought the model’s disproportionately large bobble-head was just alarming.

The brand ultimately apologized for the ad, said the Daily News. A spokesman said, "For over 42 years we have built a brand based on quality and integrity. After further investigation, we have learned that we are responsible for the poor imaging and retouching that resulted in a very distorted image of a woman's body."

But are advertisers really so “perplexed and helpless when it comes to taking pictures of women that they really need help from child-health agencies?” asks New York Magazine’s fashion blog, The Cut. It’s simple, they say: “Don’t make women thinner in postproduction, and don’t cast anorexic models…How many people in the general public aren’t sick of the stick figures and the cultural implications – ‘put the burger down, you fat woman!’ – they create?”

What’s your take? Are you glad the AMA is taking a stand, or perplexed it feels it needs to? Sound off here.