Clairol's famous ad campaign may only date back to 1956, but humans have engaged in artificial enhancements of our looks ever since one of our prehistoric ancestors rubbed a bit of ochre on her skin -- no doubt scandalizing her future mother-in-law. Some of those enhancements are obvious and completely unremarkable in modern Western culture (e.g. pale pink nail polish); others are more subtle and still a bit clandestine (that little nip/tuck over the holidays). The same is true of representations of ourselves. Surely medieval portrait painters chose flattering shades to depict their wealthy patrons, and presumably omitted a wrinkle here or a blemish there. Today, photo editing software makes the process quicker, easier, and more universal.
Want "natural" beauty? Go camping. Or maybe to Berkeley.
A member of the French Parliament, Valerie Boyer, begs to differ. Concerned about the negative effects of enhanced media images of women's bodies, she and 50 other legislators have proposed adding warning labels to such images. The text, which Boyer believes should apply to everything from press photos to advertisements and product packaging to art photos, would read, "Photograph retouched to modify the physical appearance of a person."
The effort is part of Boyer's ongoing campaign to combat body image-related psychological problems, in particular eating disorders, among young women. Last year, she was the primary proponent of legislation intended to outlaw advocating "extreme thinness." The goal is undeniably laudable -- and quite timely, given the skeletal parade that has just walked the runways of New York, is currently in London, and will next head to Milan and Paris. But is it likely to be effective? Is there a scientific link between undeniably unrealistic images and eating habits -- and if so, why is obesity on the rise? Given the availability of "before" and "after" pictures online -- some authorized, some not -- aren't image-obsessed individuals in particular already aware of the prevalence of digital enhancements in their favorite magazines? And in any case, isn't it a bit overbroad to require a warning label on every image that fixes a stray hair or shiny nose?
In other words, would a law adding text to virtually every editorial or advertising or art photo out there really add anything at all?