Do digitally enhanced models in ads for fashion brands and other products hurt consumers? A bill that was introduced in Cogress in 2014 would require the FTC to look into the prevalence of advertisements that show digitally altered humans, and the potential harm that they could cause to consumers, especially to the mental health of children and teens. Now the bill’s sponsors are engaging in a new push to get it passed.
While the idea of ad police checking every model’s rib cage and thigh gap is kind of strange, it’s true that excessive use of Photoshop can be harmful to young people. The American Medical Association spoke out against retouched ads in 2011, using their expertise as physicians to point out that human bodies with waists narrower than our heads are generally not a thing that happens in real life, and that unrealistic images in advertising can contribute to eating disorders, depression, and anxiety.
In Britain, where advertising standards are tougher and more heavily regulated by the government than here, ads can actually be banned for creating unrealistic expectations, like a Dior cosmetics spot featuring Natalie Portman with her eyelashes lengthened in post-production.
Lingerie brand Aerie noted a sales increase after the company stopped retouching its models’ photos at all, including tattoos and birthmarks, though that could have been thanks to either the more honest ads or the publicity that surrounded the switch.
The proposed bill wouldn’t regulate ads right away, but would require the FTC to report back to Congress about “the consumer harm arising from the use, in advertisements and other media for the promotion of commercial products and services, of images that have been altered to materially change the appearance and physical characteristics of the faces and bodies of the individuals depicted.”
H.R.4445 – Truth in Advertising Act of 2016 [Congress.gov]
ModCloth Lobbies Congress for Truth in Advertising Act [Racked]