OPINION: Photoshopping bodies has no place in advertising

Advertising is inescapable in modern society. Just by living in a city like Chicago, we are exposed to hundreds — if not thousands — of advertisements just by walking out our front doors.

Advertisers control one of the most accessible and saturated messaging channels that exist. Because advertising is so prevalent, advertisers play a powerful role in shaping our culture. Whether they acknowledge it or not, by photoshopping humans in advertisements, advertising professionals are promoting unhealthy standards for body image.

As someone who has studied advertising, I believe that the young people entering this field can change the body image problem in advertising.

There is no place for retouching and photoshopping bodies in advertising.

During my morning commute, I can not help but look at the giant billboards and LED screens that show celebrities, models and spokespeople promoting the latest products and services. As I look at their unblemished skin, bright white teeth and sometimes impossibly skinny frames, I start to question whether I am being sold a version of this person that is unrealistic.

I may suspect that the advertiser has gone in and smoothed the person’s skin, brightened their teeth or even shaved off a few pounds with photoshop, but without a direct disclosure from the advertiser, I can never be sure. For all I know, the people in the ads are naturally perfect.

When you are constantly fed images of perfect people through advertising, it can make you start to draw unfair comparisons. I know that I do not look like the people I see in ads, but because the flawless people are the only group represented, I start to feel insecure about my own appearance. Sometimes, I feel like I should look more like them.

If these models are being retouched and edited, they are inadvertently setting an unrealistic body image standard. When a certain look is perpetuated over and over again in advertising using photoshop, it creates a problematic expectation for the average person and their own appearance.

In the United Kingdom, a bill was introduced to tackle the harmful effects of photoshopping bodies in advertising. The “Digitally Altered Body Images bill” seeks to ensure that advertisers and influencers are upfront about any editing of human faces and bodies in their campaigns.

Luke Evans, the government official who introduced the bill, wants advertisers, broadcasters and publishers to add a logo disclaimer to retouched images. Evans said that adding this logo would be no different than paid promotion disclaimers or disclaimers about not using actual video game footage in commercials.

The bill was created to address mental health, body image and self-loathing. Evans says that he hopes that more advertisers will show body positivity instead of bodies that “are literally impossible without digital manipulation.”

If government officials are concerned for their constituents, photoshopping in advertising is a problem that needs to be addressed.

Some may argue that the correlation between looking at advertising and having a poor body image is purely anecdotal.

That is not the case.

The image-sharing platform Instagram has been under intense scrutiny for being unhealthy for teenage girls. A whistleblower for Facebook said that studies from the company found that 13.5% of U.K. teen girls said Instagram worsens suicidal thoughts and 17% of teen girls say their eating disorders got worse after Instagram use.

Manipulation of photos results in poor body image, harming young women who see these kinds of advertisements or sponsored content from influencers.

Government officials, companies and consumers have brought attention to the harmful effects of photoshop in advertising. It is not healthy to push body standards that are not achievable without editing. It warps people’s body image and creates harmful standards in society.

Advertisers have a responsibility to consumers. As the people behind one of the most powerful media channels, we need to understand how we are creating harm. We must stop retouching people’s bodies.

Photoshop has no place in advertising.