The Impact of Retouched Photos on ED

Photo retouching and airbrushing are commonly used to erase pounds and modify the features of fashion models and celebrities, creating unrealistic images of physical perfection.

The result of photo re-touching is an almost impossible standard of beauty that can have a negative impact on the self-image of millions of “average” women and men.  Numerous studies have linked photo retouching with eating disorders, body-image anxiety and other serious health problems.

Commercial photo retouching can range from smoothing out a model’s or celebrity’s skin tone to reshaping a nose or shaving inches off the waist.  The bust may be increased in images of women while muscle tone is added to images of men.  Critics of the beauty industry in the U.S. and Europe have long opposed radical photo retouching because of the effect it can have on the psychology of women, men and especially teenagers.  According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, a significant number of teenage girls and boys use unhealthy measures such as bulimic binging, fasting, vomiting, taking laxatives, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol to control their weight.

At the 2011 annual meeting of the organization acknowledged that retouched photos in the media create unrealistic expectations of beauty, especially for impressionable children and teenagers.

The AMA called on advertisers to adopt new guidelines for altering images, especially in publications that target the young.

Adobe Photoshop is the software application that is often used to digitally alter photographs.  Now researchers at Dartmouth College have developed a software tool that can measure how much a photo has been altered by Photoshop.  The tool assigns a score of 1 to 5 to indicate the scale of the alternations (with a lower score indicating less retouching).  Dr. Hany Farid, a Dartmouth Computer Science professor, came up with the idea for the tool after reading about a movement among European legislators to put a uniform photo labeling system into place.

Dr. Farid is hoping that the tool will provide an incentive for self-regulation among magazine publishers and advertisers.  With his Photoshop rating tool, publishers and advertisers would print a retouch score with every photo.  Readers could consult the score to determine whether the subject depicted in a photograph was untouched or had been heavily Photoshopped.

Lesley Jane Seymour, former editor of Marie Claire magazine and current editor of More (a magazine targeting women over 40) stated in a New York Times article that surveys show that most readers want celebrities to look great but to also look real.  Most readers are aware that images are digitally altered and would like publishers and advertisers to use restraint when retouching photos. The involvement of technologists like Dr. Farid indicates that concern about the problem of using Photoshop to create false images seems to be growing.