Hadassah-Brandeis Institute

Israel's Photoshop Law Exposes the Body Image Fantasy

Feb. 17, 2015

By Bethany Wolfe Barnett

Two years after Israel passed a Photoshop law designed to ensure models maintain healthy weights and to promote editorial transparency in fashion advertising, the law is gaining notice again.

At the start of the year, as people focused on New Year's resolutions for health and weight loss, Israel's law received attention on social media, prompting discussion about Photoshop's effect on our minds and bodies. This attention came on the heels of actresses, such as Keira Knightley, posing topless to show the real size of her breasts and others objecting to their Photoshopped images. The fashion magazine, Marie Claire, reports in a blog that it will be printing a photo of model Cindy Crawford without the benefit of a Photoshop retouch next month. The photo itself, revealing beauty, but not perfection, is circulating the Internet this week.

As consumers, we encounter digital manipulation everywhere. Bodies and faces are stretched, contorted and smoothed over into an ideal. Already thin models are often slimmed down to points of unnaturalness.

Israel's law makes us wonder: have we gone too far with images of women's beauty? Do consumers no longer know what bodies look like, without the doctoring of Photoshop? Of course, we know that our thighs touch but that's not what we see in the magazines. In print, we are told that breasts are large and bodies are stick-thin. What we forget, however, is that these images are constructed to sell both clothing and a fantasy lifestyle. Israel's law may help to puncture that balloon. The law may point out what is falsified about the images, and help us, consumers, realize what is enhanced.

The Israeli Photoshop law is part of a wider movement of body acceptance. Online clothing retailer ModCloth signed the Heroes Pledge for Advertisers, promising "not to change the shape, size, proportion, color and/or remove/enhance the physical features, of the people in our ads in post-production." The no-Photoshop policy is also present in the women's lifestyle magazine Verily. The Verily motto is "less of who you should be, more of who you are." Their Photoshop policy recognizes that perceived imperfections — be they crow's feet, birthmarks, stretch marks or softer bodies — are part of what makes a woman beautiful. This Photoshop movement celebrates a model's natural beauty rather than changing her body structure into something it is not.

Photoshop itself isn't evil. It is a tool to enhance photographs, to help the photographer achieve the best possible image. We would not demand that photographers stop using proper lighting, shooting the best pose, or using professional makeup artists. And even if we stop enhancing body parts altogether, we may still debate the merits of covering a scar, red eye or a bruise. Where is the line? Will we welcome the changes or have trouble letting go of the fantasy?

Overall, we applaud Israel for taking a stand in this international discussion. Other countries have indicated that they will follow suit. In 2014, the Truth in Advertising Act was introduced in the U.S. Congress. Campaigners have called for similar laws in Australia, Britain and France as well.

This conversation is one that we need to have. While we recognize that many fashion magazines and advertisements make heavy use of photo editing, we still compare ourselves to the manipulated images. We know, but cannot always find distance from the fantasy the images provide. Talking about what is fit, healthy and realistic are discussions that we all need to have, regardless of age or gender. When we look in the mirror and see our bodies, however they appear, we must recognize that they are real, fleshy and whole — not airbrushed and edited to oblivion. Whether individual publications and corporations lead the charge, or it becomes the purview of governments, there is a call for change in the air, one to prevent eating disorders, protect the citizens of the world and reacquaint ourselves with the reality of our bodies.

Bethany Wolfe Barnett is the HBI communications coordinator.