In the Name of Girls: The AMA Calls for Magazine Ads to End Photoshopping Bodies

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By Pia Guerrero, Co-Founder/Editor

When we first launched the Adios Barbie website 12 years ago, I had to explain what the term ‘body image’ meant to friends and family when they asked what I was up to. I was leading a lot of media literacy workshops at the time where I often had to prove to skeptical teachers and students that the media affects our perceptions and self-esteem.  Many didn’t believe they were impacted. But eyes and minds opened when they saw examples of body after body in magazine ads that had been digitally altered. “It’s impossible to look like that!” they’d finally exclaim. And I’d smirk, in a self-congratulatory way, thinking that my work was done.

In 2001, two media literate students produced this image to raise awareness on the media and body image.

 

Today, a lot of awareness has been raised around the digital and plastic manipulation of models and actresses in magazines. The likes of Kim Kardashian no longer hide the work they’ve had done and instead flaunt their new bodies on anything they can plaster their image across. Regardless, thousands of girls and women continue to hate what they look like and strive for the impossible–to look like women that don’t actually exist.

The primary message that most ads send to girls is that above all else their most valuable quality is their body and appearance. The most prominent image girls see of women and teens in the media is one that is hyper-sexualized and centers on an unrealistic ideal of beauty and size. As a result, studies show that mass media consumption is linked to obesity, eating disorders, and poor body image. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 42 percent of girls in first through third grade want to be thinner, 81 percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat, and 51 percent of 9 and 10-year-old girls feel better about themselves if they are on a diet.

The good news is that the American Medical Association (AMA) announced they’ve adopted a policy against what I’d call false advertising.

The AMA adopted a new policy to encourage advertising associations to work with public and private sector organizations concerned with child and adolescent health to develop guidelines for advertisements, especially those appearing in teen-oriented publications, that would discourage the altering of photographs in a manner that could promote unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image.

To drive the point home, Dr. McAneny of the AMA states, “We must stop exposing impressionable children and teenagers to advertisements portraying models with body types only attainable with the help of photo editing software.”

This institutional stand is definitely a cause for celebration, but don’t put on your party hat just yet. While the first step is always the most important, I hope AMA doesn’t end at only “encourag[ing] advertising associations” to stop their practices. Because it’s not just the advertisements in magazines that are the problem. It’s ads everywhere. In fact it’s other media like billboards, commercials, music videos, movies–even cartoons. I applaud the AMA for taking this first step. It’s powerful and important and will hopefully lead to great strides towards long-term change in how women and girls are portrayed everywhere.

 

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Comments

  1. CinnyMinnie says:

    Well said, Amée! I would also like to add the influence that the ads would have on people in the target audience’s lives. For example, the media portrays a standard of beauty that even if a woman with high self-esteem & knowledge can fight off, what about other people she deals with? I can say I’m beautiful regardless of what ads say, but if people in my life are constantly reminding me that I’m too fat/skinny/dark/etc, because they believe the hype, that makes my life much harder. The media affects us internally, as well as inter-personally (I think I just made up a word!).

  2. Tatiana,

    I very much agree that every body is different, there isn’t a norm and there are naturally sknny and naturally curvy people. I hate when people use the phrase “real women” because every woman and every body is real – some people are naturally incredibly tall and skinny – the trouble is when the media ONLY use this kind of person, and then on top of that – photoshop the hell out of them – and I think that’s what this article is focusing on.

    It’s not calling an end to all advertising, but the amount of photoshopping used in some of these photos is terrible, they take already incredibly beautiful, slim women and make their limbs even smaller – thus creating an image that no one could actually ever live up to – even the model potrayed in the image themselves!

    This does damage peoples self esteem, studies have been carried out on this area, which is why, far from cut the whole industy, it’s just important to cut down on the amount of work they do on their images so we don’t end up with young girls trying their damned hardest to starve themselves to look like a fake image, hurting not only their self esteem but leading to a whole variety of eating disorders.

    I think it’s dangerous to say that the media is a reflection of what people believe – it’s like the chicken and the egg argument. Media is all around us from the moment we are born – there are studies done that show that a woman is significantly lower in self esteem after she finishes reading certain magazines, even if her self esteem was fine before. These kind of false advertisements have a direct link to how societys collective self esteem suffers and the amount of eating disorders growing.

    I think you can work on society and the media at the same time. There should certainly be a shift to re-teach children about self esteem and body image within schools, but the media is a huge source of secondary socialisation – we need to work on that also.

  3. I think the problem I have with this is that if every person has a different body, then not every single body can be represented in media. Most of the outcry is against showcasing women who are thinner than the “average” woman – but there ARE women who are thinner than average and naturally so. But even on the other spectrum of having plus size models, even plus sized women don’t look like that.

    So – what if you manage to get rid of the advertisements, what would you have instead? What kind of women would you showcase? “Normal” women? What does it mean to look normal? You can’t tell if someone is healthy or not by looking at them. Not all women look the same. Some women are naturally at size 0′s and some women are naturally at size 14′s. What kind of middle ground are you hoping to create by trying to eliminate media advertisements? What would you put in its place?

    I can’t say that I’m happy about this because I believe that people internalize images and ideas and perpetuate them. The media is a reflection of what people believe. By changing the external, that doesn’t change the internal – you’ll just create a different set of problems. The internal must be shifted and targeted, instead of focusing all the blame on things like cartoons, women/men magazines, movies, billboard ads, etc. It needs to be more of communal effort to re-teach children what self-esteem and self-love is and I don’t think targeting a media (that is mediated and created by the people who watch it) is the answer.

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  1. [...] Also in June, The American Medical Association called for advertisers to end the practice of photoshopping model’s bodies into unrealistic and unattainable [...]

  2. [...] American Medical Association is on the right page with this IDEA: teens are easily influenced by messages from the media, and when the messages are negative, that [...]

  3. [...] In the Name of Girls: The AMA Calls for [...]

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