And the ugly truth is when advertising sells that (and uses that stuff to sell) sometimes, unintentionally, really bad things happen. Nowhere is this more the case than with advertising that “photoshops,” or otherwise digitally and materially alters the people in it into something they aren’t and never can be. These ads are teaching kids to chase computer-generated versions of “perfection” that there’s no chance, no hope, and no way of ever catching, because the images aren’t real, just fabrications of what is.
“Think of these ads as the visual equivalent of secondhand smoke: ubiquitous, unavoidable clouds of toxic messaging, infecting minds and bodies of children, teen girls, and women disproportionately.”
Here’s the ugly truth. Advertising’s photoshopped beauty “ideals” and standards become some little kid’s internalized expectations of what they’re supposed to look like. They see what’s false, believe it’s true, compare themselves to it, not realizing it‘s a “fantasy”; dieting, hating, and hurting themselves when they fall inevitably short of the image in the ad.
No one thinks the industry’s lobbyists, advertisers, or agencies intend to do harm. They don’t. But intentions aren’t reconciling with facts or consequences. The industry is prioritizing thewellbeing of advertising over that of the people they advertise to, as if suddenly unaware of their power to influence attitudes and behaviors, for good or less so.
Which is of course far less material than ignoring the medical community, and the abundance of cause and effect data — to say nothing of their own ethical codes (see 4As and AMA). They’re also ignoring the commercial value and rewards of owning their ethical responsibility and opportunity, and standing up for the wellbeing of the consumers they sell to. They could be heroes but so far are choosing not to be.
The bill (TIAA) simply asks those responsible and accountable for the public health crisis caused by these ads to do more, to do something, to protect our kids and reduce the damage they’re doing — which doesn’t seem unreasonable.
The TIAA isn’t suggesting we “ban” Photoshop, nor is it concerned with ads photoshopping a blue sky bluer or cleaning up fly-away hair. It doesn’t encroach on First Amendment rights, focusing only on reducing the negative effects tied to altering and misrepresenting someone’s shape, size, proportion, color, or features beyond what makeup and lighting can do.
Now, one reason the industry may be ignoring everyone is that its principal lobbyists (the ANA, 4As, AAF etc.) look to America’s consumer protection agency, the FTC, for guidance on both policy and potential legal, financial, and/or criminal liability (see Israel’s law and 2nd-hand smoke litigation) that may await them and their clients for continuing a practice proven to do what this one does.
But as the lobbyists look, they find the FTC (which like many government agencies is overburdened and under-resourced) focusing on many things (like this and this), but not yet on the widespread consumer harm being done here, an egregious misplacement of priority.
Frozen in time, the FTC continues governing a 21st century marketplace with 20th century policies, as if unaware of the cultural and commercial changes driven by Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, emojis, and the like. Their failure to evolve has grave consequences, and is seen by some as a material breach of the agency’s fiduciary responsibility.
There’s certainly no doubt that if these same bold-faced lies were told in words not pictures (what with pictures being worth 1000 words and all), they’d have been legislated and litigated long ago.
Worth noting is the model is 59. This Revitalift is one magic potion.
Are these ads really telling lies? Yes. When you say something that’s not true, that’s a lie. When you show something in an ad intended to influence behavior that’s not true, that’s a lie too. If I used George Clooney’s face on my Tinder profile that would be false and misleading, right? Right — because that’s not what I look like and not true.
Don’t take my word for it ask former Victoria’s Secret supermodel Erin Heatherton who said: “It feels like I look like someone else. You look better, but it’s a lie.”
Or Jennifer Lawrence, who said this upon seeing her Dior ads: “That doesn’t look like me at all. Of course it’s Photoshop. People don’t look like that.”
But let’s applaud Kate Winslet who put a “no-Photoshop” clause in her recent deal with L’Oreal, doing it because “we have a responsibility to the younger generation of women…I always want to be telling the truth about who I am to that generation.”
So Kate Winslet understands what the FTC fails to: Actions matter more than intentions, and kids, and the adults they’ll become, need protection from the damage this false and unfair ad practice is doing to their physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. Now.
Obviously, advertising is not the sole cause of these problems nor the only accountable party. Parents are always a child’s first and last lines of defense. But the truth is we don’t parent in isolation. We parent alongside socio-cultural influences and, absent blindfolding our children, even our best efforts can’t keep the messages these ads sell away from our kids.
So what can we do?
With the Truth In Advertising Act’s reintroduction, we’ve never been closer to better protecting our children from the ill effects of these “photoshopped” ads. And in less then 2 minutes you can help by contacting your Congressperson, and asking them for their support.
I live in the Congressperson’s district, and urge them to co-sponsor H.R. 4445, the bi-partisan Truth In Advertising Act, because false and unfair Photoshopped ads are doing too much harm to our children’s health.
As the TIAA’s lead sponsor, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R/FL), said “imagine what could be accomplished if young Americans were free to focus their attention on improving the world around them rather than focusing hopelessly inward to change themselves on the basis of false and unattainable physical standards.”
About the contributor
Seth Matlins is a father, marketer, activist, and social entrepreneur. The founder of That Was Then Enterprises, which connects big brands to the social good, he’s also the creator of the Truth in Advertising Act, bi-partisan Congressional legislation and a grassroots movement working to protect children from the false expectations created by “photoshopped” ads of the human body.
Previously, he founded Feel More Better, a brand dedicated to making the world happier for women and girls; was the Global Chief Marketing Officer for Live Nation, the world’s largest concert promoter and live entertainment company; started the Marketing Department at CAA, Hollywood’s leading agency. Before CAA, Seth was President of Rock the Vote, and he began his career selling water for Evian.
He lives in L.A. with his 2 kids, his girlfriend, his ex-wife, and a dog-named Daisy. You can find him @SethMatlins.
This piece first appeared on Medium and is republished here with the author’s permission.
About the lead image
This powerful image is by photographer Meg Gaiger as part of her Outside influences project the fashion edition. “The whole premise of the project as a whole was/is to build concepts based on the perceived and sometimes very real stereotypes fed to us by the media about how the media itself affects children…,” Meg explains on her Facebook page. “TV and magazines etc etc are full of slimming aids followed by fast food, beauty products, dressing a certain way, even smelling a certain way, the pressure out there from the media itself is often a topsy turvy one… and then from society which often reflects that…it is pretty huge regardless of whether you feel it effects you personally or not and no matter how much you practice self acceptance we remain bombarded by conflicting images on how we should look…it is confusing for adults, let alone children.” Read the full statement here