Photoshopped images of models should come with health warnings

Airbrushed images of fashion models should come with a health warning, cigarette-packet style, a Norwegian government minister has declared.

Audun Lysbakken, Norway’s Equality Minister, today declared that enhanced model photos were causing young women to starve themselves.

Talk about exaggeration. Super skinny size 4-6 women on catwalks is one thing. But airbrushing? I wonder if Audun Lysbakken also thinks that gun crime has risen because of video games and action movies?

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A question arises: how unaware are young women of this reality? Are they seriously so naive that we have to declare doctoring photos worthy of health warnings?

Let me make something clear: this is not about photos of anaemic, malnourished models on runways. I’ll happily put my faith in the fact that girls the world over who can afford to flick through magazines ad-nauseum should be intelligent enough to know that when they flick through the drabble that is Cosmopolitan magazine, they’re not staring at a single undoctored image. But according to people like this Norwegian minister, women are not intelligent or educated enough. If this is true, then yes, we do need to educate them. Is treating celebrity images like cigarette packets, really the way to go?

If anything in those magazines should come with a health warning, it should be their relationship and sex advice columns.

Almost any girl can look like a model with a bit of technical know-how. It shouldn’t take government health warnings for you to realise this. Just take your phones out and send one of your half naked self-shots snapped at the “MySpace” angle to your IT buddies who will be more than happy to give you the Photoshop treatment, for free, no less.

Moreso, if photos of skinny models require health warnings, what do the dozens of real-life slender girls I walk past every day deserve? Jail time? How dare they flaunt unrealistic figures around in public.

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Image Source: - Granted, Heidi Montag looked better before the surgery, but make no mistake, that "before" image is quite obviously Photoshopped, too.

Alongside that other magical technology called “make up” that makes a plain girl look like Katy Perry in fifteen minutes, there is another twenty-first century marvel that is rife and omnipresent:

Plastic surgery: the other evil.

Absolutely rife among the wealthy and successful, women who indulge in plastic surgery are the real life equivalent of photoshopping. Does anybody actually believe that Heidi Montag looks the way she looks through dieting? According to Mr. Lysbakken, she should carry a warning sign for pushing girls that much closer to the brink. Strangely, girls like Heidi Montag, although needlessly altering herself and now regretting it, are actually contributing to the painfully slow realisation that looking like a supermodel does not require any sort of dieting.

Most interestingly, the biggest factor for eating disorders and low self-esteem, according to a study by the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, was not actually magazines or television, rather it was the social aspect: the peer/social acceptance by subject’s friends and schoolmates.

“Our findings suggest that social network exposure is not just a minor influence on eating pathology here, but rather, IS the exposure of concern.”

The problem being ignored

There’s a growing international average of overweight girls and boys – the legacy of the computer generation – who are lucky if they burn 6000 kJ a day sitting at their desks, too overworked/overstudied and too over-Facebooked to exercise more than once a fortnight (if that), filled with self pity wishing they could shed kilos. Parents too, are overworked, stressed out, strapped for cash and increasingly resorting to quick and easy take-away meals to feed their kids a couple of times a week.

With every year they get farther and farther away from a healthy, athletic, ideal body.

What the public needs, is two things: if the media and the politicians are indeed right about magazine imagery, women need a nice big lesson in technology. Someone has to tell young women “Sweetheart, we live in the 21st century. To look like this all you need is Photoshop and money, so work hard for that education and you too can look beautiful.”

I kid, I kid.

The second thing the world needs, is to address the infinitely bigger health problem out there that’s killing many more women prematurely than eating disorders, before we give the PC-vote to those who crusade to crucify models for being models.

  • 1 out of 50 young women have bulimia or anorexia.
  • 1 in 3 young women are obese.

It’s not trendy, or politically correct, to bring up that comparison. But it’s the alarming truth. Which is the bigger evil here? 1st-world countries really need to stop protecting this movement that plus size is OK and skinny is the number one evil. We need to stick health warnings on the global obesity epidemic. What girls like Heidi Montag and Katy Perry do for “the ideal woman” image might be sadly unrealistic, sure, and not actually helping anybody. But they’re still more likely to outlive someone who is overweight.

There are girls out there with real, legitimate body image problems, unwarranted, can’t be helped, and photos of attractive people up everywhere enhanced with “the visual Autotune” aren’t helping them feel good about themselves. But we can’t live in a world this sheltered that we ban things and just declare that if you vote for me I’ll slap warnings on anything that offends you.

Don’t be so cheaply gullible enough to buy into this Audun Lysbakken guy. It may appear as if it’s coming from a sincere place, but they’re politicians, at the end of the day. Their job is to care about what gets them the “trendy” vote. If we need to educate the youth, then educate them in a smart way. Computer Studies is as compulsory as English, right? Lessons on the realities of technology and entertainment should be, too.

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Categories: Entertainment, Gender issues, Health, Medicine

Author:Andrew Beato

CEO, Chief Editor and founder of Intentious. Passionate comment enthusiast, amateur philosopher, Quora contributor, audiobook and general knowledge addict.

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7 Comments on “Photoshopped images of models should come with health warnings”

  1. James Hill
    November 16, 2011 at 9:12 am #

    I don’t know if warning labels are the right way to tackle this problem, but I understand the sentiment they’re trying to attack. Women (and men too) are bombarded with photoshopped, airbrushed pictures of models that are presented as the physical ideal. They may know that these pictures have been altered, but probably not to the extent that they have been. Furthermore, while they may know on an intellectual level that these images are digitally altered, it doesn’t stop them making emotional comparisons to their own bodies.

    I actually think these images are damaging in the fight against obesity. It makes people give up the fight to be healthy before they even begin. They feel that having Kate Moss’ figure or Brad Pitt’s abs are totally beyond their reach so they don’t even try in the first place.

    Society will always have ideal body types, that’s unavoidable. But our modern media is making the ideal body type so distorted that it’s unfeasible or dangerous to pursue. If the average person needs surgery or anabolic steroids to reach the ideal, it’s a sign that we’ve gone wrong somewhere as a society.

  2. LuciB
    November 16, 2011 at 3:33 pm #

    “But according to people like this Norwegian minister, women are not intelligent or educated enough.”

    Let’s face facts – some women are *not* intelligent or educated enough. Let alone naive children and teens who consume these images.

    “Almost any girl can look like a model with a bit of technical know-how. It shouldn’t take government health warnings for you to realise this.”

    But it may, given the fact that the layperson has limited knowledge of retouching.

    “1 in 3 young women are obese”

    You really should include a reference/source when making statistical claims. What country and age group are you referring to? Also, what do you define as “obese”? Does this include merely overweight (non-obese) women?

    “1st-world countries really need to stop protecting this movement that plus size is OK and skinny is the number one evil.”

    Very interesting point. I think part of the reason that plus size models are now being used in magazines such as Cosmo and Cleo is that the larger woman can actually relate to them and is therefore more likely to purchase the products that are being advertised (reaching a wider target audience). My objection is that the media features either incredibly thin models or (occasionally) plus sized models – there are no “average” sized bodies being featured in the media (eg. Australian dress size 14; US size 12). The same can be said of film and music stars. We either have a thin Lady Ga Ga or a plus-sized Adele – where is the in-between?

  3. Anonymous
    November 18, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

    What happened back in the good old days before Photoshopping,plastic surgery botox, liposuction,suck in pants etc. Its society gone wrong again. Why cant the women and men out there in the so called beauty world just be who they are,instead of distorting their true body types. Lets get back to being REAL,making the best out of what we are given at birth, grow into ourselves with grace. Some of the most beautiful women in the world came from the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s and all they had to work with was makeup, exercise ,hairdressers, great clothes and that all important attribute, STYLE . The media has a lot to answer for with their constant barrrage of rake thin models,photoshopped faces and bodies which as James said is distorted and unfeasible for us ,Mr and Mrs average society to ever hope to obtain. Society has become so self obsessed with themselves in their quest for the ultimate look it will be left up to the plainer people in the world to pick up the pieces when they take a giant fall from the BEAUTY TOWER.

    • November 21, 2011 at 6:48 pm #

      That day is coming when looking beautiful and having all manner of disabilities/imperfections fixed up is within practically anyone’s grasp who can currently afford to go to the dentist … and from a more basic survival perspective, it’s kind of alarming because if everyone looks like elite athletes with a healthy set of teeth and completely perfect bodies, survival of the fittest / appropriate mate selection will take a beating!

    • James Hill
      November 23, 2011 at 9:22 am #

      Image manipulation has been around for quite a while, much longer than digital manipulation in fact. At one point photos were literally “airbrushed” and artists have been taking artistic liberties when painting rich and wealthy subjects for centuries.

      People are always going to wish that they were a little thinner, or more toned or whatever, and people are always going to look up to “larger than life” characters for inspiration and part of the medias role is to provide us with those characters. The problem is that they characters they’re presenting are so grossly exaggerated as to be almost cartoonish. Is there any need to photoshop Kate Middleton slimmer than she already is? ( Kate is a naturally slender woman and her body type is simply unattainable for most women. Now Kate Middleton’s body type, as presented by the media, is unattainable even for Kate. For the record, the magazine that did that hack job lied about doing it. Most readers would trustingly assume that was a natural, unstaged, unphotoshopped image.

  4. Anonymous
    November 21, 2011 at 9:16 pm #

    Bring back the INDIVIDUAL in everyone. Lets get back to being who we truly are.and remember the old saying,


    It is what is in a persons heart and soul that makes a person beautiful, not their looks and bodies. I have met a lot of people in my lifetime and I can honestly say some of the the most so-called beautiful people with their so-called beautiful bodies are nothing more than full of themselves.

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