Advertisers must stop lying to customers with Photoshop

By Grace Gaddy

Whoever said the camera doesn’t lie was lying. The camera indeed lied, and the media lied with it. Or rather, the guy playing around in Photoshop did the lying.

Regardless of whodunit, there has been some funny business circling in the realm of image integrity within various media. A photograph carries a message comprising a significant form of communication. No good results come when the ethical boundaries of that communication become blurred – as the lines in Photoshop.

When someone digitally manipulates a photo but pairs it with a message that indicates actuality, that is walking a thin tightrope over dishonesty. And consequently, the viewers develop distorted perception of reality.

Advertisements, for instance, can twist our perception of what is normal, beautiful and real. All one needs to do is go to the store and pick up a magazine. In it, they are sure to be greeted by a flawless, stick-thin superhuman, and probably a few of her sisters. But in truth, they are the masterpiece of a digital Picasso.

Two years ago, I remember stumbling across an article on that showed the fantastic effects of photo manipulation. Clothing brand Ralph Lauren had taken model Filippa Hamilton and digitally squeezed her down into an abnormal collection of stick-like appendages, “so emaciated that her waist actually appears to be smaller than her head,” the article pointed out.

After Ralph Lauren faced a torrent of public uproar over the incident, questions began to circle: When does editing go from minor cleaning up and improving of an image to complete distortion – and a violation of ethical integrity? Where do we draw the line between fact and fiction? In the case of Ralph Lauren, I think it is safe to call Hamilton’s likeness a work of fiction. But the danger that ensues from such digital distortion is very real.

More than just an image was distorted; a message was as well. Hamilton represented fashion. So a conclusion could be drawn that fashion is a skeleton – which reeks of danger.

Last year in the UK, the issue garnered special attention amid surveys finding that one in four people claimed to be depressed about their bodies, and eating disorders had “more than doubled” in the past 15 years, according to an article in the Associated Press. British government officials called a meeting in 2010 with members of the advertising, health and fashion industries to “discuss how to curb the practice of airbrushing and promote body confidence.”

Campaigners wanted British ads and fashion magazines to label retouched photos as just that – retouched. To this, I applaud them. But apparently, the issue is still very much alive.

In the U.S., research by the Dove Campaign found that 68 percent of women strongly agreed “the media and advertising set an unrealistic standard of beauty that most woman can’t ever achieve.” A picture of a model with digitally brightened eyes, shrunken limbs and strangely lacking pores might send a message to the average viewer that they don’t measure up.

But nothing could be further from the truth. Beauty comes in all shapes, sizes and colors, and most importantly, beauty is imperfect.

So I ask myself: “What’s really going on here in the media with public advertising?” In order to sell a product, manufacturers know they have to create a need. And to do that, they have to enhance the product’s appeal. This is as old as sin – literally, when a snake convinced Eve she needed an apple to be wise.

Similarly, sellers may resort to distorting an image in order to enhance the product’s appeal and convince the consumer of a need. In short, it’s deception – as well as greed – and that’s where the ethics are compromised.

The underlying message tacked to the advertisement reads that with “this particular product,” the consumer may become more desirable and/or experience a better quality of life.

But the message is based on a creation in Photoshop – not reality – and therefore not due to the product. While I believe there is certain freedom to be exercised in advertising, with room for artistic imagination and creation, I think there needs to be more advertiser accountability.

If an ad is clearly so absurd to be rendered fake, that is different, since it falls into the category of surrealism.

Think of the polar bear drinking a Coke at Christmas. Everyone knows polar bears don’t drink Coke, not of their own free will anyway.

But in the case of trying to broadcast a message that subtly imposes falsehood, such as a squeezed-down version of a human being or a product promising something it could never actually accomplish, that crafts a lie. In the case of the Coke advertisement, such an image is clearly fictional, but the other attempts to indicate real life.

If it claims to be a true representation of reality, it needs to be. Otherwise, some of the media has some fessing up to do.

Grace Gaddy is a senior journalism news-editorial major from Palestine and is a reporter for the Lariat.