AMA Takes A Stand On The Retouching Issue

By Ali Fornash


In the recent years, many designers and ad companies have been getting a lot of  (completely warranted) backlash for the retouching they do to photos of the celebrities and models that are used to sell anything from perfume to jeans. Here is an examples for you:

One of the most famously controversal images was released in 2009 of Ralph Lauren model Filippa Hamilton scaled down to about half of her actual size. This new RL ad  was premiered right before Filippa was “let go” from her contract as a model for that company. Reps from RL say Fillipa was dismissed because of  a contract disagreement. Fillippa,whom had modeled for RL for 8 years, claimed it was because she was told she was “overweight” (she was a size 4) and didn’t fit into their clothing anymore.  The retouched Fillippa is to the left and the real Fillippa is to the right, obviously.

I know you are thinking, “Alright, we know that photos are retouched. Why is this news?”  Well, in the last 6 months the American Medical Association (AMA) stepped in and initiated a new policy to prevent companies that advertise to children and teens from retouching photos because they feel as if the photos are skewing the ideals of impressionable teens. They are actually encouraging ad agencies to work with organizations that are concerned with child and teen health to develop new ads geared towards teens that do no promote an unrealistic image.

Here is the actual information from the AMA’s website if you interested in the actual policy.

The AMA adopted 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.

“The appearance of advertisements with extremely altered models can create unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image. In one image, a model’s waist was slimmed so severely, her head appeared to be wider than her waist,” said Dr. McAneny. “We must stop exposing impressionable children and teenagers to advertisements portraying models with body types only attainable with the help of photo editing software.”

It is pretty obvious advertising is ruining the self-esteem of our young girls.  And guess what happens. Those young girls grow up to be women with those same issues that are just magnified because they are so deep seeded after years and years of taking in the images and feeling ugly, fat, less than and worthless. Low self-esteem affects everything in life too, not just body dissatisfaction. It effects how successful you are, the kind of relationships you enter into, the way you allow other people to treat you and the way you treat other people.  As a person who has suffered from an eating disorder in the past, I believe that the images thrown at children, teenagers and women everyday play a huge role in how we feel about ourselves. We can teach our children, students and nieces to not compare themselves to the models, but that is just human nature. Whether we want to admit it or not, life can sometimes be one big competition.

I know it seems like this retouching to promote a thin ideal has been around forever and that nothing can be done about it. However the ideal of extreme thinness is actually fairly new, about the last 30 years or so. On the left of a photo from Vogue magazine in 1980 and on the right is a photo from 2010.


My opinion is not only backed up by news articles, my conversations with the teenagers I work with everyday or personal experience. There is actual psychological research behind this.  Here are a few alarming facts from some published psychological studies I have read this year alone:

  •  70% of adolescent girls report being affected by body dissatisfaction. (Knauss, Paxton & Alsaker, 2008)
  • Negative body image and the desire to be thin is so wide-spread it is currently described as “normative discontent”. (Tiggerman &Miller, 2010)
  • Although obesity is on the raise, most adolescents that report wishing they were thinner than a  normal weight for their height and age. They feel that they would rather be underweight than of nromal weight. (Tiggerman &Miller, 2010)

And the grand finale:

  •  “ In summary, the present study found that girls around six years of age already have the desire to be thinner and are aware of dieting as a means to lose weight”   ( Dohnt & Tiggemann, 2006)

Six years old? Really? We have 6 year olds in our country using food restriction as a way to manage their weight! This needs to stop, now! I hope that the AMA’s new guidelines will forces companies into being more socially responsable with their advertising. Maybe this new push will bring on a decade of ads geared toward promoting a healthy body image, while still being able to market the product. Wouldn’t that be a win/win? I applaud the AMA for stepping in and forcing a change. Someone certainly had to!



3 Responses to AMA Takes A Stand On The Retouching Issue

  1. Judy centola says:

    Very sad this is what some ofbthe world thinks is beauty!

  2. Kristen says:

    Great article, love the new site!

    That Ralph Lauren photo makes me sick, but more importantly I’m happy to see the model doesn’t really look like that.

    I think a great way to start this revoluation would be to have widespread campaigns that show the before and after photos (sort of along the lines of the cigarette commercials that show the body bags in front of the cig companies). Or show these pictures as the “Can you spot the differce” comparision in the back of magezines instead of the cheezy ones they have now.

    Whenever I read articles like this I instantly think of the scene in Mean Girls where the three girls are bashing their bodies and then turn to an innocent Katy (who has been brought up in Africa and isn’t used to this type of “girl talk”)to see what she hates about her body. I can’t remember what they all list but I’m pretty sure one of them says she has fat earlobes (or something equally ridiculous).

    Keep up the awesome work!

  3. Faith says:

    Very cool!! I’m glad the AMA has finally taken a stand, that is a huge deal because of how hugely influential they are in other health fields. Great article…but girlfriend, proof read 🙂

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