The French parliament has held its first hearing of a proposed law that would require every advertisement to display a disclaimer telling the public that images of people were manipulated. The goal is to help cut down on body issues in adolescents, and violating the law could be costly.
If there was a disclaimer on every piece of media that received a bit of digital “help,” our images here in the US would be nothing but disclaimers. In France, however, lawmakers are concerned about the effect that Photoshopping has on people’s body images. As a result, one such member of parliament, Valerie Boyer, has proposed a law that would require “enhanced” images to sport a warning, making it clear that viewers are not looking at an unretouched image.
Magazines and advertisements around the world are filled to the brim with airbrushed imagery portraying not-quite-real people living in a fantasy world filled with diamonds, puppies, Louis Vuitton bags, and lots and lots of great sex. Men’s and women’s magazines are equally guilty, and it’s not exactly a secret that impossibly hot people help make effective advertisements.
It’s also no secret that these images can warp how normal people see themselves, especially teenagers who are particularly prone to developing body issues. That’s the group that Boyer is most looking out for with this proposition. A proponent of anorexia and bulimia awareness within the French government, Boyer believes that the disclaimer would help bring youngsters back to reality and promote a healthier body image for all. “These photos can lead people to believe in a reality that does not actually exist, and have a detrimental effect on adolescents,” Boyer said in a statement this week. “It’s not just a question of public health, but also a way of protecting the consumer.”
It’s not just Boyer who believes this, either. Fifty other French politicians have gotten behind the proposed law, which would require all enhanced photographs to read: “Photograph retouched to modify the physical appearance of a person.” This would not only apply to advertisements, it would also apply to press photos, political campaigns, art photography, and photos on product packaging, according to the Telegraph. Advertisers who fail to include the disclaimer could be fined €37,500 (about $55,440 under today’s conversion rates) or up to 50 percent of the cost of the campaign—we assume whichever is higher.
Clearly, there’s a line somewhere between reality and fantasy when it comes to images in the media, and the widespread practice of Photoshoppery has only helped to blur that line. Still, do airbrushed images really require an Surgeon-General-like warning? The French fashion industry has already agreed to a charter to refrain from using images that promote “extreme thinness,” so it’s not outside the realm of possibility that they may come up with a voluntary solution on their own without legal intervention. In the meantime, the rest of us will chuckle at some Photoshop disasters—perhaps some advertisers should focus on better original photographs before resorting to Photoshop after all.