Federal Bill Aims to Ban Retouched Images in Advertising

Could the beautiful and perfect airbrushed images we often see in advertisements become a thing of the past? Yes — if a bill proposed by Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and California Congresswoman Lois Capps becomes law, that is. 

The federal bill, dubbed the "Truth in Advertising Act of 2014," was introduced by Ros-Lehtinen on March 27. But it's the brainchild of Los Angeles father-of-two Seth Matlins, founder of Feel More Better, a female-empowerment website, who was inspired to move into the political realm by British Parliament member Jo Swinson’s successful 2011 push to remove unrealistic ads in the UK. He authored the proposed legislation with the following goals: to convince the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate the impact such images have on culture, particularly young girls, and to provide recommendations for how advertisers can operate with a social conscious — just as it does with cigarette and alcohol ads. Matlins has also created a Change.org petition in support of the bill, which as of Wednesday, had more than 16,000 signatures and many passionate comments, including, "My daughter has a eating disorder that we have been fighting for a few years. She has almost taken her life several times. This is a real and very deadly problem!" 

At a Capitol Hill rally about the bill in March,Ros-Lehtinen noted, “The link between false ads and eating disorders becomes increasingly clear every day. We need to instead empower young men and women to have realistic expectations of their bodies.”

According to the bill, images that altar a subject’s height or weight and erase characteristics such as cellulite, muscle tone, wrinkles, or skin tone misrepresent and deceive people into buying products. The bill doesn't address other aspects of airbrushing such as, say, making a sky bluer smoothing out clothing wrinkles — just as it doesn’t address magazine covers, which are protected under the First Amendment.

“To be clear, we aren’t trying to ban airbrushing in general,” Matlins tells Yahoo Shine. “We’re trying to generate a conversation — currently, 53 percent of girls are unhappy with their bodies and by the time they’re 17, that number rises to 78 percent. By age 25, 91 percent of women are dissatisfied. That’s a public health crisis, because while we know that some eating disorders have biological roots, the media is also a factor.” 

A study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that women had a more negative view of their bodies after viewing media images featuring thin models, than they did after seeing photos of models with average proportions. And according to the National Eating Disorders Association, disordered eating patterns are linked to seeing images of thin women in the media. One study conducted by the International Food Informational Council Foundation even found that 63 percent of women would rather lose $1,000 than gain 20 pounds. 

Matlins offers a few possible solutions to the problem, including a rule that advertisements carry a disclosure label stating, “The people in this ad have been digitally manipulated.” He also suggests banning manipulated ads from the back covers of magazines. 

Of course, supermodels — many of whom look airbrushed even when they've not been — will still be in high demand (maybe even more so) if the bill becomes law. But, as Matlins notes, this is a first step toward solving an international health epidemic that affects girls as young as 8-years-old. And in a world where women with (possibly airbrushed) thigh gaps are featured in teen advertising, that's a very good thing.