Is she Photoshopped? In France, they now have to tell you

By Nalina Eggert
BBC News

Published
image copyrightAlamy

It's no secret that images of models are often retouched to make their bodies look thinner or curvier in certain places, to lengthen their legs to mannequin-esque proportions, or to smooth out their skin and widen their eyes.

From Sunday, in France, any commercial image that has been digitally altered to make a model look thinner will have a cigarette-packet style warning on it.

"Photographie retouchée", it will say, which translates to "edited photograph".

Anyone flouting the new rule could be fined €37,500 (£33,000) or 30% of the cost of creating the ad.

The government is essentially trying to tackle persistent image-doctoring as a public health issue.

It's hoped the change will help tackle extreme thinness among models, and body image problems among those who aspire to shapes they cannot hope to live up to because they were faked on a computer programme.

"Exposing young people to normative and unrealistic images of bodies leads to a sense of self-depreciation and poor self-esteem that can impact health-related behaviour," Health Minister Marisol Touraine said.

Fatness 'despised'

France is not the first country to introduce these kinds of rules. Israel, for example, has already done so.

But thinness gets a lot of attention in France.

Tens of thousands of people in the country suffer from anorexia and the average body mass index (BMI) - a measure used to determine if someone is underweight or overweight - is the lowest in Europe.

In one new book, author Gabrielle Deydier makes the case that thinness is revered in her country, and fatness despised. She even lost her job in a school, she says, after a colleague took exception to her obesity. Another time, in a job interview, she was shocked to hear her interviewer say it was "well-known" that fatter people had lower IQs.

image copyrightSarah Brimley
image captionThe BBC's Tulip Mazumdar got her photos airbrushed - it made her feel she looked "old, tired and a bit chubby" in the originals

Could a change in the way advertisements are presented make a difference to how French people see their bodies?

It's a concept not entirely rejected by Tom Quinn of UK eating disorders charity Beat.

He told the BBC: "It's simplistic to suggest that looking at Photoshopped images will cause eating disorders. But many people who look at altered images have low self esteem.

"We support any measures that contribute to a society having a healthier view of body types and everyone being more aware of which pictures have been touched up.

"Moving towards a society where there isn't the same pressure on models and the general public to be as thin as possible will be very welcome."

'Ads tell us who we should be'

The veteran lecturer and campaigner Jean Kilbourne, author of Deadly Persuasion: Why Women and Girls Must Fight the Power of Advertising, has said: "Ads sell more than products.

"They sell values, they sell images, they sell concepts of love and sexuality, of success, and perhaps most important, of normalcy.

"To a great extent, they tell us who we are and who we should be."

media captionAnorexia survivor Shannon is campaigning for shops in the UK to use mannequins that reflect a healthy weight because people compare themselves to them

Dr Terri Apter, psychologist and author of The Confident Child, told the BBC that while she felt "this kind of culture" could change, things seemed to be moving very slowly.

"There's not less anorexia than there was 25 years ago, for all the effort that many people have put in," she said.

While the French change "in and of itself" won't "have a big impact on the culture", it will protect models, she adds.

Instagram tricks

This is not the only thing the French government has done recently to try and tackle excessive thinness in the country's world-leading fashion industry. Since May, models have had to show a doctor's note to prove they are healthy, and some top companies have banned super-thin models.

But it's important to remember that there are other tricks of the trade besides Photoshop alteration. Posing a certain way, taking a photo from a certain angle, lighting well or just sucking your tummy in can make a model look very different in a very short time.

This applies both to thinness and the current trend of athletic-looking bodies, flat stomachs, and larger, squat-honed, buttocks.

It's also worth keeping in mind that the new French rule does not cover retouched hair or instances where the appearance of blemishes has been removed.

COMPARE AND DESPAIR CONFESSION! I'm guilty of comparing my body to people on social media. I see the tiny waist, big butt and perfect skin and I think 'whyyyyyy don't I look like that! I'm not good enough as I am'... ▪️In a world that tells us we are never good enough as we are, self love and acceptance is a powerful form of rebellion. Let's rebel together. ▫️Personally, when I'm not in my hole of self hate and negative thinking (yes we all have one of these nasty little suckers in our brain), and when I remember who I truly am, I love how I look on the left. I think it shows what real skin and real waists and real butts look like. ▪️I work my ass off to have this ass. Every squat, every bit of cheesecake, every gym session, every drunk night out, every hour of sweat was mine. I own it. I'm proud of it all. ▫️My body is a reflection of my life. It's a reflection of the hard work, the memories, the lifestyle I chose. I don't want anyone else's struggles or successes. I want MINE. ▪️so why do we allow social media images manipulate what we know to be true so easily? Especially images which we know are FALSE? ▫️simple answer. Comparison is the thief of joy and pride. ▪️Simple solution. Stop comparing. Stop comparing your body to someone else's (even your own). ▫️stop wishing your body was someone else's, they earned theirs. EARN yours. ▪️stop comparing your body to images which aren't even true representations of reality. ▫️stop hating your body. Own it. Love it. Nourish it. AS IT IS! Soon as you do that you start seeing changes anyway, it's just a happy bonus to the process of self acceptance and self care. ▪️delete any account that gets you stuck in that silly little dark hole. ▫️cut off any people who compare you to others. Wearing @womensbest ▪️▫️▪️▫️▪️▫️▪️▫️▪️▫️▪️▫️▪️▫️ #mybodyisatemple #exceptonsaturdaynights #realityversusphotoshop #wellness #psychstace #keepingitreal #dedicated #bodytransformation #transformationtuesday #strongnotskinny #bbg #bodygoals #fitness #inspo #kaylaitsines #progressnotperfection #muscle #training #girlswholift #bodypositive #muscle #womensbest #bodypositivity #s2bm

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Since the new law was announced, the stock images agency Getty has banned retouched images from its commercial category. It's a sign that a sentiment in favour of showing more attainable bodies may well be spreading.

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