Rethinking Retouching: A Small Step Towards Realistic Imagery In The Media

11/10/2017 17:29 | Updated 6 days ago

Retouching an image to change the shape of a model's body and using it for commercial purposes - without disclosure - is now illegal in France, meaning publishers and advertisers that do not clearly label these images could face hefty fines.

The move follows another new French law requiring models to supply medical certificates to prove they are healthy to work, with the objective of preventing anorexia by putting an end to the promotion of unattainable beauty ideals.

In recent years, certain sections of the media have faced increasing criticism for endorsing such images, with some organisations saying unrealistic depictions can be linked to a rise in eating disorders. Tabloid newspapers and celebrity-focused magazines in particular have come under fire for their emphasis on famous women's weight and body shape, which arguably implies there is a 'perfect body' that readers should aspire to and that other body shapes are therefore 'imperfect'.

Advertising has also been subject to scrutiny because of the way it sometimes presents the 'ideal' body. Perhaps most memorable is the heavily criticised 2015 Protein World campaign which showed a very slim model along with the caption 'are you beach body ready?', which was interpreted by many as an overt example of 'body shaming'. It prompted London Mayor Sadiq Khan to ban all ads that promote an 'unhealthy' or 'unrealistic' body image from appearing across the Transport for London underground and bus network.

Shortly after, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) launched an investigation into gender stereotyping by brands, which may lead to a review of the way it regulates campaigns. While this investigation signals a step in the right direction, it's important to highlight that this pressure is not only felt by women. In fact, figures published by Credos and the Advertising Association suggest that 41% of boys feel that the portrayal of men in media images is unrealistic.

Arguably, the media and advertising industries have always promoted unrepresentative imagery, and many advertisers especially would argue that they want people to aspire to the looks or products shown in their ads. But the rise of social media has added a new dimension to the issue and is regularly blamed for increases in mental health issues, particularly among young people.

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In a report released by The Royal Society for Public Health, four in five 16-24-year olds reported that social media made them feel anxious. It's easy to see how the images posted on Facebook and Instagram on a daily basis (without disclosure of the editing involved) could leave even the most confident person feeling inadequate.

At Getty Images, we recognise the influence of imagery on society and appreciate our role in challenging accepted norms by painting an authentic picture of the world. In line with the new laws in France, we've decided that we will no longer accept images from our photographers where models' body shapes have been retouched to make them look thinner or larger.

We're the first in our industry to do this, and hope that others will follow suit so that together we can tackle stereotypes, create tolerance and ultimately empower communities to feel represented. We would struggle to do this without cooperation from the media, who we believe also have a responsibility to choose content that is representative of its readers.

For many years now we have witnessed a shift in the representation of women in imagery, fuelled by a demand for a depiction that better resonates with the things people see around them every day. Last year, across the Getty Images library, searches for "unfiltered" rose by 219 per cent, "superhero female" increased 300% and "authentic" by 104%.

The decision to alter submission requirements is part of our wider goal of further diversifying our offering. We have been working on a range of partnerships and initiatives, recently celebrating the three-year anniversary of our Lean In collection - realistic images of women and the communities that support them, curated in partnership with Sheryl Sandberg's LeanIn.org. We also announced an exclusive partnership with MuslimGirl.com, which aims to tackle the misrepresentation of Muslim women in the media and in advertising.

We still have work to do before representative imagery becomes the norm, but the new French laws are certainly a step in the right direction. And, if image providers and publishers commit to changing the status quo, we may go some way to helping future generations feel happier and more confident in their own skin.

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