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Will a Bill Restricting Airbrushing in Ads Really Change How We See Ourselves?

Airbrushing

There’s no question Julia Roberts is beautiful, but why must we think that mean she’s also unrealistically flawless?

There are plenty of times in my life when I look at other women and feel bad about myself. Take any photo of Gisele Bündchen, for instance. Even on her worst days (assuming she has them, or has had one — ever), I would kill to look just a fraction as thin and effortlessly sexy and stunningly beautiful as her.

I’m not talking about the pictures of her on the cover of, say, Vogue or an in any number of the ads in which she regularly appears. No, what I mean are photos like this one or this one — shots where you can see that she’s naturally a goddess that’s all long, lean limbs, flowing, glowing hair, and abs that would make classical sculptors of yore weep out of respect for their chiseled glory.

It makes me feel bad about myself, yes, but it doesn’t make me loathe myself. I spend a minute or two imagining what life would be like had I been born more blessed in the looks department. And then I move on. (Yes, sometimes to an entire sleeve of Thin Mints, but usually just to a different form of chocolate.)

When I see models and actresses in advertisements for jewelry, makeup, perfume, and clothes, I don’t feel bad about myself. On the contrary, I feel happy for the digital re-touchers who have thriving careers. I feel envious for shareholders in Photoshop. And I feel pretty confident that everyone over a certain age and IQ knows that the photos have been doctored. Images in and on magazine covers have become so comically false that it’s hard to believe that anyone looks at them and thinks, “Wow, so Julia Roberts is 46 and has miraculously escaped the effects of aging to the extent that not a single line exists on her face other than the fact that her eyebrows and lips technically form some version of a line. Good for her!”

That being said, I get and appreciate the sentiment behind the Truth in Advertising Act of 2014, which was introduced by Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and California Congresswoman Lois Capps in March. Yahoo Shine writes that it was inspired by a California dad named Seth Matlins. He’s the founder of Feel More Better, a female-empowerment website that was inspired by a law passed in the UK in 2011, which aimed to stop altering images that are “‘not representative of the results the products could achieve’ and gave women unrealistic and false expectations of what women should look like.”

Matlins proposed the current U.S. legislation to convince the Federal Trade Commission that research is needed to see how distorted images affect culture, and young girls especially — and to encourage advertisers to “operate with a social conscious” in the same way that cigarette and alcohol companies are made to do.

Ros-Lehtinen said recently at a rally: “The link between false ads and eating disorders becomes increasingly clear every day. We need to instead empower young men and women to have realistic expectations of their bodies.” The bill would disallow advertisers from distorting a model’s weight, height, cellulite, wrinkles, muscle tone, and skin tone in an effort to dupe people into purchasing their products. Magazine covers would be exempt from the bill, because they’re protected under the First Amendment. (Yes, because headlines such as “The Undiscovered Joy of Having a Chinese Lover” and “Fasting: The Ultimate and Best Diet, You Can Do It If You Try” are surely what our Constitution’s authors were seeking to shelter when laying the foundation of our nation’s laws.)

While the bill’s supporters cite a study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders that found girls and women feel bad about themselves after seeing thin models, I find it questionable that Photoshopping in ads is really the culprit of so many girls’ and women’s poor body image. A few years ago in Israel, they saw fit to banning models who were too thin from walking runways. Why not check in with Hollywood about their casting ideals? Or get on the case of designers who have Size 0 models with protruding rib cages and razor-thin collar bones showcasing their clothes on billboards and catwalks? How about starting a classroom curriculum about body image for all kids — and literally teaching them the difference between real, healthy bodies and fake, unrealistic ones?

Airbrushing in ads is ridiculous, but so are Gap mannequins and some models for Target. Why not get to girls before they’re old enough to buy Cosmopolitan (although hopefully by the time they’re old enough to read it, they’ll be too smart to want to)? Banning Photoshop seems more like a feel-good Band-Aid to me, not the golden ticket to a happy life and positive self-esteem.

More from Meredith on Babble:

Follow Meredith on Twitter and check out her regular column on the op-ed page of The Denver Post at MeredithCarroll.com

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