Rosel: Last week, L’Oreal became a centre of Photoshopping controversy as Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority ordered the company to pull ad campaigns for Lancome and Maybelline (both owned by the company) featuring Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington. According to The Guardian, the agency ruled that “both ads breached the advertising standards code for exaggeration and being misleading.”
Alex: As a concept I don’t have an issue with it. It’s the execution that we need to be careful with. If Julia Roberts had a pimple or something, I’d expect – or even prefer – that it be Photoshopped out. I’m wary of the idea we should cut out all use of image manipulation. There’s an ethical way and unethical way to sell an image.R: I’m interested in what the line is between the ethical and unethical ways to sell an image. I agree with you to an extent, but I feel people will always find a way to justify overusing Photoshop. In this specific case, Photoshopping someone’s skin to make it look wrinkle-less for an age-defying makeup seems unethical (not that it doesn’t happen).
A: Here’s were the situation gets impossible. Where I might say editing out a pimple is fine, someone else might say it’s fine to edit out a few inches here and there… it’s one of those situations where there’s no answer. However, I agree that these banned ads didn’t just try to sell a certain image, they downright lied about the product. Ultimately, the law didn’t ban the ads for Photshopping, it dinged them for false advertising.
R: What do you think of Adweek defending the companies for retouching the ad? David Gianatasio wrote: “everyone with enough IQ points to properly operate a magazine surely knows such images are routinely altered, sweetened and enhanced. Who’d want to see Julia Roberts without retouching? She’d look like Eric Roberts in a wig.”
A: I’m torn. He’s wrong when you take in to account that some little kid out there will look at pictures like these and not know how altered they actually are. I’ve heard people say that even when you know images are retouched, it’s shocking when you learn the extent of retouching that happens. So his statement is “correct”, but he’s omitting the most important element.
R: I also feel torn. It’s not like I would display every unflattering picture of myself, but with everyone owning fancy cameras these days and having a blog, The rampant use of Photoshop is becoming somewhat unhealthy. Plenty of “mom blogs” now are about how cute and awesome the moms look, with heavily edited photos of their “everyday” life and their fans fawning over how their lives are perfect. And those moms aren’t acknowledging how edited their lives are. There was one mom blogger who edited out her slightest hint of a muffin top from a trip at a beach with her baby, which earned some scorn…
A: We are in total agreement there. The idea of Photoshopping my own photos, except maybe to insert myself into a movie poster or something for fun, seems very sad to me. It’s weird though that I don’t hold the media to the same standards I hold myself. When you start altering yourself, either using technology or by drastically changing your behaviour, to match those edited images in when it gets dangerous. I think that’s why critics often propose “media literacy” education to youth when they start to consume these types of images.
R: I wonder where and when media literacy will become part of standard education for youth though…do you know of any places that offer that kind of training? Other than graduate school or cultural studies programs?
A: Nope. I’m a bit cynical about the whole concept. It seems to me to be one of those things that should be taught in the home. But I guess it has to start somewhere, because clearly it becomes a vicious cycle.
R: How might Photoshopping affect LGBTQ consumers and readers? Bitch discussed the potential transphobia of the “Eric Roberts in a wig” comment by Adweek. Does Photoshopping add to the hetero/gender normative process?
A: It definitely is an effective tool of gender policing, though it could be used as a great tool for subverting that process too. I want to touch on the Adweek comment though, as I thought that was the major flaw of the Bitch article. The idea of Eric Roberts, Julia’s brother, in a wig being seen as a negative thing isn’t really a good rallying point for trans activism, and muddles the actual issue. I think the approach taken by Britain is the more effective one, by attacking these ads on their false premises. Expecting gender equality or trans inclusion from advertising before we figure out how to stop selling the public messed up images is a bit like putting the cart before the horse to me.
R: Well, we’re clearly in favour of the ban on the ads. What are some articles or books about media literacy you’d recommend?
A: Margaret Cho’s book “I’m the One That I Want” deals a lot with being a victim of unrealistic body expectations, and how she managed to survive them. It’s not an academic dissection of the media, but it would be a good resource for anyone wanting to learn about the dangers media can pose.
R: I am a fan of Racialicious’s commentary on race and gender portrayed in pop culture. They do a weekly recap of True Blood, which I’ve been reading pretty regularly. Readers, why don’t you tell us your favourite resources for navigating pop culture and media?