Photoshopping Women Into Oblivion

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The public doesn’t realize how much photoshopping is used in advertising–and probably doesn’t care either. At least until the photoshopped image of the model Filippa Hamilton was picked up by Photoshop Disasters and then Boing Boing.

Ralph Lauren's Idea of the Ideal Woman
Ralph Lauren's Idea of the Ideal Woman

Ralph Lauren tried to push off the blame for the ridiculous image on a department store in Japan for using the photo that “was not the approved image for use in the U.S.”  He has since accepted responsibility and apologized for the image, but not before trying to slap Photoshop Disasters and Boing Boing with cease-and-desist orders for duplicating it. (He failed because it is apparently not an infringement of copyright law if  “content you own is reproduced for purposes such as criticism, comment, or news reporting. ” Look it up here.)

This is not an isolated incident for Ralph Lauren, as seen in the image here.  Yet in his apology he stated that “for over 42 years we have built a brand based on quality and integrity. After further investigation, we have learned that we are responsible for the poor imaging and retouching that resulted in a very distorted image of a woman’s body.” The point is, whether he uses photoshopped images or just extremely thin models, he is most certainly promoting a distorted image of a woman’s body. Unless he just happens to believe that the average woman is 5’8″ and weighs 120.

Those are the statistics for the model in the ad, and yet she was fired by Ralph Lauren for being too large (“as a result of her inability to meet the obligations under her contract with us”). The company allegedly told her agency that Fillippa could no longer fit into its clothes. Well, gee, maybe they should just make their clothes a little larger. I’m sure that wouldn’t disappoint most women in America. (I can’t speak for Japan.)

With apologies to the naturally thin women out there, not to mention those who are struggling with eating disorders, the fact remains that models who fit into size 00’s (and smaller!) are not normal. They are not representative of the average American woman. And I’m not saying that just because America has an obesity epidemic. Women who are truly obese don’t need pictures like this to tell them that they need to lose weight.

The women who are most affected by these ads are our young women, even our little girls, who buy into this ideal that to be attractive you have to look like a Barbie–or a Bratz–doll. They absorb the message that thin is better and the thinner the better. And when they can’t measure up, they start to hate their bodies before they’ve even had a chance to enjoy them. How many women are messed up sexually, not because they have problems with sex itself, but because they have problems with the way they look? Meanwhile their husbands and boyfriends think they look great and can’t understand why they’re always bemoaning their statistics.

How do we stop this–I would say trend or phenomenon, but it’s been going on since the ’60s–insanity? There is no easy fix, I’m afraid. A place to start would be to stop buying the fashion magazines and the clothes of companies who feature unnaturally thin models. But that’s only a band-aid. What is needed is a major overhaul in the way we raise our daughters. Don’t EVER tell them that they look fat. Encourage them to love their unique features. Help them to get in touch with the strength of their bodies through physical exercise. Don’t reinforce the stereotype that women are frail and weak. Resist the urge to treat them like little girls or they will feel that they have to keep on looking like them. Help them to not be afraid of growing up. Tell them you’re proud of the women they’re becoming.

Then maybe they’ll stop thinking that they have to shrink into oblivion.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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