Photoshopped Beauty Ads Banned in UK

julia roberts for lancome
Too Perfect?

You know the look. Huge, sparkling eyes peering out from a face that appears human in shape, but not surface.  Skin that looks more like a swatch of sandwashed silk than a porous organ. Impossibly flawless. The point, of course, is to convince people that the product advertised in the corner of the page actually produced this velvety fantasy. The reality, however, is that these images only look that way after extensive manipulation of reality: before, during and after the shutter clicks.

Earlier this year, the American Medical Association came out against photoshopped images in advertising and media, saying they “can contribute to unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image especially among impressionable children and adolescents.” In the UK, Jo Swinson, the MP who is becoming known as a champion of girl’s rights, has been pushing a more proactive agenda on unrealistic advertising images. And she’s just won her first battle.

Two cosmetic ads, featuring smoothed out versions of Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington, have been banned from publication after the Advertising Standards Association deemed them “unrealistic”.

See the other ad after the jump.


Roberts’ ad, pictured above, was for a foundation that claimed to create the look of light emanating from the skin. Turlington’s face, at right, was used to sell a “beauty eraser” said to perfect the skin’s texture and tone. In the ad, some areas of the face left “bare” while others were supposedly perfected by the application of the product. But when the company was questioned, they acknowledged that “post production techniques” were used to lighten the dark circles under Turlington’s eyes and smooth out other imperfections. The ASA asked to see un-retouched pictures of the celebrities for comparison, but L’Oreal claimed that they were contractually obligated not to disclose them.  “On the basis of the evidence we had received we could not conclude that the ad image accurately illustrated what effect the product could achieve, and that the image had not been exaggerated by digital post-production techniques,” said the ASA, and thus determined the pictures were…false advertising.

The promise of perfection has always been at the core of the beauty industry. But as technology has advanced, so has the ability to create a more convincing lie.  We may buy the myth and the products it promotes. But as adults, we do it as semi-willing participants.  If we don’t see how we’re being sold a bill of goods, it’s because we don’t want to. But kids are not so savvy. The rise of digital retouching has ratcheted up the ability to tweak images for maximum “aspirational” impact. How will they be able to parse out what’s real and what’s not?

“A large body of literature links exposure to media-propagated images of unrealistic body image to eating disorders and other child and adolescent health problems,” says the American Medical Association. The past year has brought more awareness to this issue than I’ve seen in 15 years of personally crusading against it. And today’s news shows that change just might be possible.

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