By Dustin Niles
In the previous blog post, I discussed the impact of manipulated digital images on news and politics, as it relates to deep fakes and other convincing forms of image manipulation possible in digital spaces. But other convincing forms of digital manipulations have been present on billboards, magazine covers, and television ads for much longer than deep fakes have been around for. And while the effects of these images may not be as stark and dramatic as those of deep fakes, the results of the body image issues that come from them can be devastating. “Tiggemann and colleagues…found that spending more time on MySpace and Facebook was associated with increased body surveillance, greater endorsement of the thin ideal, more frequent appearance comparisons, and decreased weight satisfaction among younger girls and adolescent women.” (Holland & Tiggemann, 2016) And what really compounds the effects of the altered images that we see is the absolute landslide of images that we see them in. In addition to the billions of JPEGS that are created every day, “the average American young person can watch anywhere from 13,000 to 30,000 ads per year on TV alone.” (Baraniuk, 2015, & Scriver, 2019)
It’s in this context that the power of Photoshop in still images begins to become apparent. Photos are edited and altered after the fact so often and so seamlessly that even the most editing-averse genres of the medium have become infected with it. In 2015, 20% of the entries in the final round World Press Photo contest were disqualified after they were found to have been digitally manipulated. (Ming, Y. & Laurent, O., 2015) So when images are being used to sell a product, it’s likely that they hav been heavily edited to show that product in the best possible light.
Original photo by Justin Hoch, retouching done by Jans Arkesteijn. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) introduced the Truth in Advertising act in 2014, “to direct the Federal Trade Commission to submit to Congress a report on the use, in advertising and other media for the promotion of commercial products, of images that have been altered to materially change the physical characteristics of the faces and bodies of the individuals depicted.” (H.R. 4341, 2014) However the bill didn’t end up being enacted into law.
But Photoshop and other forms of image editing aren’t the only things to blame. ‘“Capitalism is what determines what type of bodies go into the advertising we see, because capitalism is determining which bodies are desirable,” says Sonalee Rashatwar, MSW, LCSW, MEd. “Capitalism is also informing the rigid, narrow confines of what is beautiful and what’s attractive.” This means brands will absolutely determine which bodies and people get to be visible, Photoshop or no Photoshop.’ (Scriver, 2019) Inclusion is another issue in broad imaging and advertising that can affect how marginalized communities see themselves. Without a wide and diverse cross-section of models used in advertising, we’re putting aside images that can positively encourage marginalized communities.
While the advertising industry has a long way to go in terms of inclusions and body positivity, there are other areas of image use on the internet that are doing good things using the ubiquity of images on the internet. In the next blog post, I’ll look at a positive story of internet imagery.
Baraniuk, C. (2015) JPEG lockdown: Restriction options sought by committee. BBC News. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-34538705
Holland, G., & Tiggemann, M. (2016) A systematic review of the impact of the use of social networking sites on body image and disordered eating outcomes. Body Image, 17. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1740144516300912
Ming, Y. & Laurent, O. (2015, Feb. 12) World Press Photo disqualifies 20% of Its contest finalists. TIME. Retrieved from https://time.com/3706626/world-press-photo-processing-manipulation-disqualified/
Scriver, A. (2019, Aug. 29) Hell yeah, you can use Photoshop and love your body. Greatist. Retrieved from https://greatist.com/live/banning-photoshop
Truth in Advertising Act of 2014, H.R. 4341, 113th Cong. (2014). Retrieved from https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/4341