Photoshop Hurts

May 16, 2019

Pepperdine Student Stacy Ju

Let us go back to October of 2015. Another photoshop fail has surfaced the Internet. Victoria's Secret has managed to upload yet another photo of a model with a distorted body and creating a wave of confusion and tension. The model is visibly missing a butt cheek and has an abnormally indented arm. You look at the photo and question whether or not the photo had been photoshopped to look weird on purpose as the photo has a caption of "Truly, Madly, Cheeky".' It is now April 2019 and our society is still sensitive about photo and body altering through the use of programs such as Photoshop. Not only can it be offensive, but it can cause a lot of issues when it comes to advertising. So where should we draw the line when it comes to the professional editing for publications and advertisements? When does it become a matter of ethics? In this paper, I will analyze advertising principles and the concept of false advertising to show how the digital altering of images in the media have had a lasting and negative effect, but should not be banned.

Victoria's Secret is a company and brand that has had women and men drawn in for years now with their professional models modeling their underwear and lingerie lines. However, there is one day in particular that encourages people to tune into a specific channel on a specific night—the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show. The show started back in 1995 and has been going on every year, but has reached its peak in 2013 at about 9.7 million viewers. The reason for this gradual decrease in viewers was because of the company and CEO's way of marketing. The company had consistently failed in completing the editing their models' photos and there was a wave of backlash from consumers all over. Women began to question why the company would even bother editing the models' bodies when they already work so hard to even qualify to be an Angel.' The world came for the company especially when CEO of the company bluntly stated in an interview that they would never incorporate transgender or plus-sized models in their fashion shows or as Angels. Since then, the company has lost a great number of customers, as well as viewers of the fantasy fashion show that takes place once a year.

So why is this such a big issue? In today's society, discrimination is greatly looked down upon, whether it is discrimination by race, body, or religion. The millennials of today's world are all about promoting body positivity and acceptance so naturally, people would be upset seeing that even more editing and photoshop is being done to models all over. Photoshop or the altering of images used in professional or official settings has always been an issue. Many believe that the main reason as to why photoshop is controversial when being used in advertisements is that it has the ability to not only alter an image, but also alter the opinion of consumers or viewers. This is also the reason as to why there are regulations for advertisers and what they can and can not create to publish for the public eye.

Studies have shown that altered advertisements have had more of a negative impact on women and young girls as the ads typically portray women in a stereotypical light, sexualizing them and showing unrealistic body types. False advertising in the beauty has not only affected women or young females, but also young children. There have been regulations placed to also limit the type of advertisements that are shown and targeted towards children with the concerns of appropriateness and potentially harmful consequences? Common Sense Media conducted a survey which showed that children as young as five years old, do not like their own bodies.4Many people believe that the advertising industry should take responsibility for the impact that the advertisements can have on consumers as they contribute and increase negative body image.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) holds that an advertisement is considered to be false or misleading if it "misleads consumers who are acting reasonably under the circumstances.'

Photoshop Fail: Truly, Madly, Cheeky

In March 2014, the Truth in Advertising Act Bill was introduced by Congress. This bill required die Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to set restrictions on what advertisers can alter and how much they alter digitally. The bill did not have enough backing or level of importance that it was reintroduced in 2016.6The main issue with the bill is that the act of restricting digitally altering images would affect the images and advertisements that were not necessarily related to the beauty industry. Congress struggled to decide where to draw the line for this issue because it meant determining what is considered creativity of an artist and then manipulation. This is why there are people in and out of the advertising industry who are actually against the constraints that others are trying to form on the ability to digitally transform an image. However, this does not mean that it is not an impossible situation to deal with. The Supreme Court has also determined that advertisements that are misleading or products that are falsely advertised are not protected by die law.

Other countries' leaders have conducted studies and after analyzing the results, they have come to the consensus of banning or limiting the amount of altering that can take place in advertisements. Israel was the first country to officially take action regarding the issue of altering photos in the media. Adi Barkan is an Israel fashion model agent who pushed for the Photoshop Law to be created, which took effect on January 1 in 2013. Israel had a major issue with teenagers constantly suffering from eating disorders as they struggled with their body image. This law states that the law is "designed to minimize the negative impact of exposure to advertisements depicting models as extremely thin on positive body image and self esteem andon the development of eating disorders in Israel."' The National Advisory Group on Body Image was formed by the former Australian Minister of Youth, Kate Ellis, in 2009. She created what is called the Code which informs people in various industries how to go about creating a more positive public body image.' It does so by encouraging them to hire and use models of all different sizes, races, and backgrounds. The Code and the Photoshop Law is similar, but the Photoshop Law is a set in stone law while the Code is not. Although Australia seems to be going in the right direction, it is not enough to implement any hard changes.9These are just two countries that have focused on the well-being of their citizens after realizing how negatively the media can affect their viewers and consumers.

In advertising, we are taught to know our audience and how to conduct appropriate research. When an advertisement is considered unethical, the company receives a great amount of backlash and can heavily affect their public image, loyalty of consumers and their reputation. Advertisers are expected to know how to properly "test" for a possible campaign or the release of an advertisement. Some actions include running a test with a sample of their target audience and doing extensive research on where they are going to place the advertisements (media placement). No one can absolutely guarantee that an advertisement will not be offensive because every consumer is different from one another and advertisers cannot possibly please everyone. Ethics in advertising goes hand-in-hand with being offensive and controversial. Geoffrey Warnock is a contemporary philosopher that believed in four principles for advertising: beneficence, non-deception, nonmaleficence, and nondiscrimination."'

One company that has made a huge step in the fashion and beauty industry is Aerie. This clothing company has decided to empower women of all ages by starting a campaign a few yearsago where all of their advertisements consist of models of all shapes and sizes and from all different backgrounds. They did this to challenge the stereotypical standards of supermodels for young women. This company is setting the perfect example of implementing the principles of advertising. People applauded Aerie as they were properly reaching out to their main target market of of females ages 15-21 years old. Although one company and brand can not avert the issue of the way females view themselves after comparing themselves to those shown in the media, but Aerie has definitely brought the issue to light and has instilled more confidence in women. Their means of advertising is the opposite of false advertising as they chose to show true images with real models in the most realistic and raw way possible.

False advertising is typically referred to the deception and lies in the advertisement and this is not normally found within the copy of advertisements that have been altered. The reason why the beauty and fashion advertisements are so controversial is because of the way the models are presented. Despite them already having die ideal modeling bodies or faces, the adjustments being made to their physiques and faces make die situation all the more worse. It makes it seem like the models themselves are still not good enough, affecting viewers and consumers by faltering their confidence even more. This is why false advertising in the beauty and fashion industry is found to be unethical. The effects of the advertisements that have been manipulated go against the four principles of beneficence, non-deception, nonmaleficence, and nondiscrimination that Warnock had set for advertising.

On a personal note, I am very much familiar with the unrealistic beauty standards that are portrayed in the media here in America. As a Korean, I also experience the beauty standards of Korea and 1 see how it affects individuals. 1 became a freelance photographer a couple years ago,but I did so not to take the best aesthetic photos, but to provide people more professional photos that they would feel proud and comfortable with. I wanted to utilize my hobby to encourage others, male and female, to feel their best and I wanted to show them their best angles that they may not be aware of. I have a multitude of friends who are also photographers, but they edit their photos because they have a particular style in which people reach out to them to have their photos taken and edited that way. However, I prefer my photos raw or lightly edited in terms of die lighting rather than adjusting the models themselves. I believe it is important to stay true in the way things are reflected.

I do not believe that photo manipulation in advertising is ethical. Ethics is typically referred to as the moral standard which many things are based on. Again, body acceptance and body image has been a very big and sensitive topic. However, advertisements will use programs like Photoshop to manipulate and alter the physique of models or people to fit their ideal body image or understanding of beauty without considering the lasting effects on their consumers. Altering these images can be deemed offensive to the models, consumers, and others. When advertisements have been digitally altered, more specifically in the beauty or fashion industry, I believe it is false advertising. It does not portray the models or the effects of the products realistically, which misleads consumers. Although I do not believe that photo manipulation is not ethical, I agree with those who believe that the law that the FTC was trying to have passed is too broad and vague. It could potentially limit the editing that comes with enhancing photos through creativity.


Stacy Juis a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s Media Law class at Pepperdine University. The class covers copyright and social media. Stacy is an Advertising major.

Pfeiffer Law Corp is an entertainment law firm based in Santa Monica, California.

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