I was recently asked to speak on the BBC Radio Scotland Kaye Adams show to add my tuppence worth to a debate around Jameela Jamil's recent i_weigh sub-campaign to ban photoshopping.
(If you haven't checked out @i_weigh yet then you might want to...)
Jameela talks about her thoughts in her recent editorial piece in Nylon magazine. Calling it a 'crime' and 'evil'. And in recent tweets talking about how Photoshop has been 'weaponised' against women.
I agree. To a degree.
I agree that Photoshop is overused and abused. I agree that the way it is used to elongate bodies, slim them down and tone them up is rather evil. Evil to the people taking in the media who never get to see a real, normal body and evil to the models in the images who are altered beyond their own recognition.
Airbrushing really mucks with our idea of what a normal body should be.
I get what Jameela is fighting for and I think for society to progress in the right direction we do need these people with the powerful loud voices to use their platform.
We need them to push out the grand ideas which have been long discussed within the Body Positive Movement but perhaps didn't get the clout they needed to reach a wider audience.
That exposure gets us all talking, raises awareness where it was lacking before and means that more of the general public will recognise the sheer scale of the problem.
Any fighting for change in the right direction is valid and I will support it but I'm also a realist and, in my mind, a blanket ban on Photoshop in photo shoots would be wholly unfeasible and impossible to police and enforce.
Let's look at it in sections....
Why do Advertisers Use Photoshop?
That's an easy one... To perpetuate a certain beauty standard.
Advertisers use photoshop to normalise unrealistic beauty ideals so they can create an unattainable desire.
This desire to be better, thinner, prettier... it drives consumption.
It's Capitalism 101.
Keep the standard just out of reach and you will keep the consumer coming back for more.
We are never going to stop buying the products that promise us the ultimate body type. The body type which promises to make us happy and loved.
Now women must be thin and unblemished and never age and men must be muscly, defined and either completely preened or rough and rugged.
No one has acne or hair in the wrong place or bulges…
Everyone is smooth like Barbie or Ken.
The Impact of a Lack of Diversity
Only thinking there is one ideal because that is all you see, everywhere, can be disastrously consuming for some people to cope with.
Having this idea of what a body ‘should’ be, leads to a dissatisfaction about our own bodies and makes us have expectations of other bodies.
Internally it can lead to eating disorders or disordered eating, an increase in body dysmorphia which can mean people seek out surgeries, or alterations and just general body dissatisfaction which impacts poorly on our mental health, self worth and confidence.
Externally it can lead to fat shaming, body shaming, trolling, bullying.
Photoshopping and Our Brains
Psychologists have measured that our confidence drops 80% after reading magazines.
Ask yourself: if the images in that magazine weren't photoshopped, would that confidence drop be as significant?
Dove did research in 2016 as part of their Dove Global Beauty and Confidence report. It says 77% of women say they believe all images they see have been altered or airbrushed to some degree.
When I do body image workshops in schools across the Scottish central belt and ask the 4th, 5th and 6th years (14-17 year olds) about the media imagery they experience and discuss if they know about photoshopping, they are pretty much all aware that images are altered and airbrushed.
But does 'knowing' stop us from being affected by it?
Even though we know the image is altered can we stop comparing our own bodies or expecting other bodies to look a certain way?
I don't think so.
We see 400-600 adverts every single day. Obviously not all of those adverts are to do with beauty or bodies but the majority of them will contain a specific body type to promote whatever product or service is being sold.
And generally that body is white, thin, young, able bodied, straight and male or female.
That's the body type/ gender/ colour we are persistently told is 'correct'.
Do you realise you take in 400-600 ads per day? Of course not. The majority of them are taken in subconsciously.
This means the damage isn’t being done in our rational mind.
No matter how aware, or logical, we may pride ourselves on being.... due to the sheer volume of images we see, most of which have been airbrushed means that our subconscious idea of what a ‘good’ body is, is still completely unrealistic.
And this isn't even taking into consideration the altered images we are now seeing of our friends, acquaintances and influencers on social media thanks to readily available and downloadable photoshopping apps.
Initiatives Making Changes
Photoshop Law: France and Israel
At the same time as bringing in a ruling about using models considered too thin (which the respective Government's have proclaimed as 'not healthy') for the catwalk, Israel (2013) and France (2017) have also launched the 'Photoshop law'.
This ruling means that any image to be used for commercial purposes which has been digitally manipulated must bear a mark saying so.
In France a hefty fine of 37,500 Euro's is attached to the ruling.
Dove's No Digital Distortion Mark
Dove has done it the other way around and announced the ‘No Digital Distortion Mark’. They commit to mark all their imagery to show it HAS NOT been altered in any way. The flip-reversal of what France and Israel have enforced but an approach which suits Dove's needs.
Their commitment to real bodies via this mark can be read about here and here.
Dove have implemented this campaign since July 2018 and from Jan 2019 it will be incorporated into all of Dove’s imagery globally.
How impactful do I think a ban would be?
I don’t know.
It’s never been done in another country so how could we know?
It would be interesting to get data from the impact of the photoshopping law in Israel since that's been in place for 5 years now, and perhaps France in a few years time...
Also, just because there hasn't been a full ban elsewhere, it doesn’t mean we couldn’t trial it here.
But I have questions:
Would it affect everyone or only big brands? I know that some of my friends who are small business owners would be really negatively affected. Not getting the perfect shot or being able to alter lighting, remove marks/ mistakes is a very real issue. Re-doing the whole photoshoot just isn't possible for small businesses. And I am talking about the most body positive inclusive brands who wouldn't be slimming down or altering models. They still use photoshop for touching up/ altering to get the best out of the products they sell.
(This is a snippet of a recent Edinburgh photoshoot collaboration where I really wish I had been in the room. Peeps involved were: @mcglynnsisters, @theodoravd, @edinmumma, @heatherrobertson.hair, @amm_team, @heathersnowiemua, @bloomingroutes, @arrowandtwine, @brochan.cafe, @look_lauren, @whatlydiamade, @solas.sleepwear)
But if photoshop was banned then to what level? Can a stray thread be removed from an image, a stray hair here or there, or would it only be to do with the manipulation of bodies? And how would that be policed?
Perhaps the UK could be the first country to trial it!? The idea of being in the room when trying to figure out the details of that ruling is already making my head melt.
Do I think a ban on photoshopping would be effective? Yes
Do I think a ban on photoshopping is feasible? No (Quibbles around blanket ban and policing)
Do I think a ban on photoshopping is the most effective thing that could be done right now by media to improve the way people feel about their own and other bodies?
I was discussing this topic on social media with some of my followers to gauge perspectives and the very wise Imogen aka @the_feeding_of_the_fox said the following which I wholeheartedly agree with: "Banning photoshop which is being used to tweak the thin, white bodies we see each day may make a bit of difference but making sure we are getting diverse bodies into mainstream media is the most important thing we should be demanding right now."
"Increasing diversity would be vastly more useful for marginalised bodies." (I paraphrased her)
What Would Work?
I’m a Be Real Body Confidence Ambassador.
Be Real is a campaign that was started by Dove and the YMCA a few years ago.
They have created a number of tools to help promote Body Confidence (including a toolkit for schools which you can download for free on their site so if your school wants to run a body confidence week they can use the kit to create it.)
They have also created a Body Image Pledge for Businesses and what's interesting is even the pledge doesn’t dictate that brands have to have an outright ban on ALL photoshopping.
The principles they ASK businesses signing the pledge to adopt are:
- Reflect Diversity
- Promote Health and Wellbeing
- Reflect Reality: Which means reducing photoshopping, limiting it to technical corrections, lighting changes and the removal of stray ‘things’ if required.
(They also request that you promote the pledge to other businesses)
As well as reducing photoshopping another part of the 'Reflect Reality' principle is that they ask that images used in advertising campaigns reflect what is realistically attainable for most people when using the product or service that is being advertised. For example... if it’s a protein powder and the guy on the bottle has an 8 pack but that’s only really obtainable for 5% of the users of said protein powder then they suggest... you don’t use that image...
This Pledge for Businesses was created on the back of funded research, done after a 3 month All Party Parliamentary Group inquiry into Body Image. It’s a campaign which has been well considered and researched and Be Real have spoken to a number of companies and brands to see what would work for them, what would be impactful for the public and what would be possible.
It's also an invitation. They INVITE brands or organisations to sign up to the pledge. It's not a demand, it's an invitation. If you run a brand, could you follow these principles?
I think if all brands did we'd see a huge shift in how people feel about their own bodies and how they feel about other bodies.
If you know a brand which might benefit from signing up to the Pledge then send them this link.
If you don't already follow the work Jameela is doing via the @i_weigh movement then follow her here (Jameela) and here (I_Weigh).
I'd love to hear your thoughts on a photoshop ban, on airbrushing reduction and it's impact and any personal stories related? If you have a story to tell then get in touch.
To follow more Body Positive Conversations then check out The Chachi Power Project's Instagram, or Facebook or Twitter or read more on my blog.