Altered Realities Bad for Human Health?


I came across an article on Reuters the other day detailing the French government’s proposal of a law that would require all digitally modified images  to come with a warning stamp/disclaimer stating: “Photograph retouched to modify the physical appearance of a person.” Valerie Boyer, French parliamentarian, alongside some 50 other politicians, proposed the law to fight what they see as a warped image of women’s bodies in the media & popular culture. Boyer stated, “These images can make people believe in a reality that often does not exist.” They believe that these “false realities” could lead to various kinds of psychological disorders, most prominently eating disorders within young women.

What’s interesting is that this law would apply not only to the glossy spreads of fashion mags, but all press photographs, political campaigns, images on packaging, advertising, even art photographs. More before/after digital photoshopping after the jump. I wonder in the Renaissance if people were upset that fair duchesses and dukes were painted with a smokey-sfumato to hide their big noses….at any rate, this holds some strange implications as far as how we view photography as some sort of implement of “truth”– seems to me gone are the days the photograph will be considered as any sort of factual record…

What do you guys think? Regulating altered realities good, or detrimental to creative expression….? (Also, is it me or is there something strangely visually satisfying about these photos…)





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  • Fei

    Heidi Klum’s doesn’t look that different. Though her boobs are a bit higher and her waist a bit thinner. Hmm….

  • this is insane to me. it really feels like we are pushing ourselves toward the lowest common denominator and assuming that human beings cant figure out the shit that they themselves have created. i have eyes. i see regular people every day, and i see fancy people on tv everyday. i know what make up is, i know what photoshop is. i get it and i dont need a warning. i know this proposal isnt directed at me at all, but what are the dangers that this is going to prevent?

    maybe we could up the digital alterations, leave the warnings out, and shame the obesity out of america.

  • They have a cool feature on the dude’s website who made the Klum one where you can rollover and it flashes the “real” Heidi…

    I think you can tell a bit more when its like that…weiiiird

  • Drew- I hear ya! What I wonder is where the line will be made in between so-called “commercial” photographic modification and “artistic”- I mean …if Richard Avedon were photographing Jessica Alba today, would he really want a warning disclaimer on it? Should art ever have some sort of disclaimer tags?

  • I personally like the unaltered images better than the altered ones. They seem more natural and honest (probably because they are).

    I’d read a lot more fashion magazines if they didn’t digitally alter the pictures at all (besides overall effects that don’t affect how the model looks). I heard that Vanity Fair put out an issue of non-photoshoped images, though I don’t have a copy.

  • You know what Tobi…I kinda like the un-photoshopped ones too….

  • Amir

    kind of gross!

  • i was just telling my babysitter (14 yrs old) about retouching as she had no idea….and was asking me why she couldn’t look more like penelope cruz in the l’oreal ads! the images above are not even that dramatic. i am an art director and have seen mariah and ricky martin untouched. woah!!!! night and day…… what’s really sad is that I KNOW the images are not real… and still compare myself to the retouched photos. there is so much pressure to look perfect. especially on girls and women. so damaging. anyway, thought id’ share. thanks for posting!

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  • Amir

    It’s pretty crazy isn’t it Jennifer? We all want to be something that isn’t even real!

  • Its true, in some ways it might be good for Hollywood to not get away with lookin’ so dang good…even though most of us know its retouched, maybe a lot of younger folks don’t…especially for girls there is a lot of pressure to look perfect….

    It reminds me of the way cereal boxes have that little disclaimer…what is it? Like “not actual size or cereal” or something like that, ’cause they doctor all the food for photoshoots, haha.

  • MJSG

    this debate is ages old. i think it’s up to the general public to not be so dull as to believe that everything they are presented with is the “truth.” are we really so helpless that we need disclaimers on everything? get a clue, that’s my answer. if we put disclaimers on photos, then I demand a disclaimer on every single “reality” show making it explicitly clear that there are producers and writers standing 10 feet away feeding lines to the “contestants” and producing situations that will make great “reality tv.”

  • MJSG, retouching is relatively new to society so it’s potential damage to the human psyche should be discussed…. also, keep in mind what babies, children and teenagers are being taught about themselves when they are presented with a reality that appears to exist but does not…. that being said, i don’t know that disclaimers are the answer. the idea seems more like a band-aid than anything.

  • Photos have been altered for almost 200 years now. Some restaurants show photos, even plastic sculptures, of food that looks nothing like pictured by the time you get it. Thats ok.

  • Nice article! I have worked doing photo restoration and retouching. Yes, it is bs how retouched everything is, but I hope people aren’t that stupid to need a disclaimer.

  • Uncle B

    In the imaginary world of the great hulking American Neanderthals, Barbi-Doll figures, wispy light women (from such huge men?) with huge sexual attributes on child like bodies, selling planned obsolescent cars and unsustainable McMansions, in ‘burbs near factories and work, have died away! Truth is, these American Neanderthals, unemployable since the flight of hard earned American capital to Asian berths in “Yuan” on the Beijing, Shanghai and Hang Seng markets, these “Legacy Workers” of a greatness in America now gone by, nestle in the slums, near soup kitchens, in semi-starvation conditions, they humanure their garden plots in bare Shanty towns, built from garbage, around larger centers. This great American consumer, the manufacturer’s delight, huge, strong Philistine able to endure great punishment to make him a dollar, have been put to pasture in Hoovervilles, tent cities and sent out, banished, from the Great New York, tickets paid for by the city, to conveniently “disappear” now that the Asian hoards of semi-slaves offer a better deal! The new “Elite” in America follow more European Royalty tastes, and delight in the Arts, fine wine and things French and Spanish in taste, and tend not to buy into the Air-brushed fantasies, the Photo-Shopped fairy lands of the great American Neanderthals anyway! Play Boy, dying, Penthouse gone, Esquire sliding away! The internet give access to teenage boys to the “Real Thing” The days of the shapely girl on the hood of a car, draped on the motorcycle, no longer appealing to men who can click on real live fleshy action figures! and America faces another shift, and other convulsion in direction, another identity issue, along with the death of the V- 8 engine, the Corvette, the Cadillac, the Pontiac’s, and the “Merry Oldsmobiles!” We will soon bid adieu to the Great Hulking American Neanderthal, his voracious and unsustainable diet, too! In a computer controlled, hydraulically assisted, electromechanical and computer chip-driven world, he too is an anachronism the Capitalists, mostly Asians now, will not invest in, he, for all his glory in WWII, and the “Smoke Stack Era” has been passed by, as Science and Technologies march on! America worshiped his image, even giving his stature “Foot Ball Star” status, and preferential breeding rights through high school, College and University, only now realizing that the 89 pound PhD from China can kick his sorry ass with hydraulic force and out compute him even in the farm-fields! We will now turn to worship our own intelligentsia or be over-run by Asia’s hoards of post graduates, not interested in our sexual perversions, our altering of female physiognomies, our obsession with larger breasts, thinner thighs, longer legs, It is done! The Great American Neanderthal dies!

  • Alex

    @ DREW

    How exactly do you think that would even work? “shame the obesity out of America”. That sounds about as effective as threatening overweight people with being pushed into a McDonalds to watch other people eat.

    In a lot of cases, it doesn’t take a lot of obvious changes to retouch things. Just altering the light on it’s own can alter the appearance of a model significantly and make them appear better than reality. It’s not always easy to notice if you’re not trained for it. Not that I’m saying disclaimers are the way to go, but it is something that needs to be addressed somehow.

  • Matt

    I have to say, from an American point of view: I do not approve of this idea that pictures should come with a disclaimer should they be touched up. I do sympathize with anyone who thinks women in western culture are exposed to unhealthy levels of objectification. But, as was stated above, how far is too far? Who defines what is considered art? Can art not have a place among advertising? Though I tend to think ad men hide behind the art concept to push immoral and unhealthy concepts into the forefront of billboards, magazines and television adds, is it not their right to portray any reality they can dream up regardless of our opinions of it? I guess my point is that, these women who want to look like airbrushed models at home have problems that cannot be resolved with a simple disclaimer. It is unfair and disgusting that women should have to suffer this but it is reality. As a woman in western society, you must strengthen yourself and build an inner self image that is healthy and strong. Stop being a part of the victim mentality and take control, for shit’s sake.

  • John

    @Matt – From an American point of view I disagree with you. Would you give your advice to ‘stop being a part of the victim mentality and take control, for shit’s sake’ to a tween-age girl who is forming her self image and want’s society’s approval with every cell of their being? I think the disclaimers are a step in the right direction. It could be applied to commercial advertising without any impact on ‘art’.

  • Caitlin

    Drew- I hear what your saying, and on a personal level I agree, but I dare you to become a preteen girl and flip through the pages of a fashion magazine. Everyone looks the same, and it’s incredibly intimidating. Also, as a preteen girl, your common sense is still hiding out with your taste in music/movies, therefore, it’s a little harder to judge whether or not a photo has been altered. Also, when you see a face repeatedly and it always looks flawless it instills in you (still pre-teen girl you) a hatred of bad hair days and of not looking 100% perfect 100% of the time. I think this label should be instituted in commercial photography, however, I think it gets a little ridiculous when we start looking at art. I mean, even the air-headiest of pre-teen girls can see that art is art.

  • Amir

    Man this is one deep deep deep discussion! I like it!

  • Uncle B

    Fact is, young American girls reach pre-pubescence, puberty, and menses earlier in the last few decades than all others, world-wide, and have strong nesting and maternal instincts as early as ten, eleven and twelve, where as in earlier generations this did not occur before the later teen years or early twenties! This “Shift” this “scewing” has left them in the awkward position of denying their biological needs to stay in school, has prompted a pandemic of STD’s (12 to18 year old American girls, one in four have STD’s Virgins? virtually non-existent) Socially they have taken the American tradition by surprise, society cannot accommodate them and the regulations and rules governing them as children are inadequate and out-dated! They are here! They are fruitful as many unhappy parents have discovered, with very successful early births, by daughters in Middle Schools! Girls as young as ten, to twelve years old, go full term, deliver very healthy, happy, normal babies every day in America! The fathers, often children themselves, can hardly fill the socially demanded roles required, not at 12, 13, 14 years of age! What is going on here! The 14 year old boy’s wildest dreams come true! Yes! But just out of grade school? Uh! Oh! Some kindly food scientists attribute all this recent change to the hormones, and antibiotics in our meats and milk in America, and the plentiful supply of GMO containing corn sugars and corn based foods we eat – absolute proof has not even been sought! This paradigm shift in American society will certainly be a part of the great social and economic convulsions we face in the next decades. The death of the “Smoke Stack Industries” followed by the Great Capital flight to Asia especially of American Capital, and the end of the “Manufacturing Era” in America, along with the collapse of our economic system recently, marked by the death of GM(America) in face of the birth and tremendous success of GM(China), The rise of part-time and temporary employment for normally affluent Americans, and the price of oil rising steadily in the background, all come into play in our next great adjustment, and unfortunately, we are overshadowed by the next forcastable, normal, capitalist economy, down cycle, and hiding in its troughs, perhaps the greater depression and harder times for all Americans! With all this happening around our heads, will a little, out of date, air-brushing and photo shopping even be noticed? I doubt it, now that 13 year old girls have curves their mothers only wished to have, and the America’s in general, enter the “Fourth Turning” and a new age, an age of Aquarius, the true Age of Aquarius, marked by the end of the Mayan calendar, and perhaps the end of the “American Empire”, and the return of its people to plough shares, and away from weapons of mass destruction – Who knows!

  • alex,
    my shaming comment was a joke. obviously that isnt a plausible path to take… which is what made it a joke.

    ill have to agree to disagree with you. granted, i wouldnt want to be a pre-teen girl and i cant really ever know what that feels like. my point is that if it is so damaging to young people, a disclaimer is not nearly enough to either fix or help that situation. if these magazines are actually affecting children in such a potent way, then why not put an age limit on buying them like porn magazines?
    i think its easy to bring this discussion to the broader topic of proper self image (and the apocalypse???? in the crazy and awesome post above mine), but thats not actually what we are talking about. we are talking about a disclaimer on photoshopped images. the pictures themselves are a symptom of a greater problem and attacking it with a note at the bottom of a page is equivalent to giving a cough drop to a cancer victim.
    my point of view leads me to strongly oppose any sort of limit on creative liberties, because (like a lot of people already said) who draws the line? i would just prefer to see a fix occur in parenting, education, or better judgement rather than having an anonymous group decide what is real and what is appropriate for adult eyes.

  • Mello

    It’s not just the tween and teen girls that are being affected by this trend of unrealistic images everywhere. Look at the tween and teen boys of today, they expect to date girls that look like the girls on tv and in the ads that they see everywhere. They are looking for women that are large breasted, tiny, no body hair and want sex all the time with little to no commitment or expectation. They expect this, because everywhere they look they see half naked airbrushed women that look like they are ready to go. Even adult males now seem to have a great deal of anger because they think that if they had that car, or that type of lifestyle they see in the ads and on tv, then they would have those (unreal) beautiful women. I have heard men state over and over that women are just looking for the man with the best stuff and will toss him aside for a bigger, better deal. This opinion seems to be based more on always seeing these sexy women selling stuff, or looking like they want to make love to merchandise. I am not that old, but I recall the time when a teenage boy was ecstatic that a real girl was willing to let him touch her boobs, let alone show up and get naked. It is a shame to me that so many teens and young guys have never really seen a real, naked woman, in spite of having more porn on demand than ever before.

  • misanthropope

    if you are in the habit of letting the media provide your thoughts for you, a defective body image is the least of your worries.

  • mane

    this is shopped! Lamers!

  • shala

    Hmm, reading the comments so far, I’ve noticed that most of the people saying that adding a disclaimer is bullshit are MEN. Most posters with a female name are much more sympathetic to the idea. Coincidence? Or is it that men don’t have to deal with the same pressures and body image issues that women do? I’m going to go with the latter. So, until you’ve dealt with a lifetime of society constantly telling you that you’re not thin enough, beautiful enough, tan enough, hot enough or busty enough, please STFU. I think a disclaimer is a good idea.

  • Gladys

    I’m awfully late in this discussion but dammit, SHALA, said pretty much what I was thinking by the time I finished reading everyone’s comments. My 16 year old sister WOULDN’T understand what you guys are talking about anyway besides, “How come I’m NOT so thin? So tall? So pretty?” I do think the disclaimer is headed in the right direction. At least when it comes to “commercial” photography. Anyway, good discussion. I feel smarter already!

  • Steve

    Shala and Gladys you’re both talking guff. It’s been shown numerous times that it’s women who are their own worst enemies when it comes to body image. When women were asked to draw themselves they consistently drew themselves fatter than their partner drew them (sadly I can’t find the article in question) and when asked men are more likely to say they find curvier women attractive than skinnier women ( and (

    The sad fact is that the pressure put on women is entirely of their own doing: it’s women who read beauty magazines and in many cases it’s women who are the editor of beauty magazines (the editor of Cosmo is a woman, the editor of Marie Claire is a woman). These are women’s magazines FOR women BY women that are responsible for the depiction of women.

    Stop blaming men for the body image you inflict upon yourselves.

  • HelloKitty

    Jason, wow, I didn’t know they had photo editing programs 200 years ago. lol Well, I understand people would paint black and white photos to add color but nothing else was needed to be done. Black and white is actually more flattering, but everything back then was honest and direct. Photoshopping is used way too much and when it is not necessary. Jessica Alba needed no tweaking, neither did Adriana Lima. I understand if the model has a large pimple that day, they had a hair across their face, or they have an allergy and their eyes were red and itchy. But wrinkles in the clothes and trimming their legs, arms, and waists and giving them breasts they do not have is not right. It distorts everything and gives young pre-teens and teens a false sense of what is acceptable, and to men too. Men have become way too shallow because of this phenomenon. Most men live in a fantasy world and believe all women should appear this way while they can look like bums and be “acceptable”.