France Now Requires Labels On Photoshopped Ads, Are We Next?

Everyone loves some bad photoshop. There’s nothing like the uncanny valley of a famous actor or (usually) actress whose face has been smoothed into a little thumb with hair. *cough* Melissa McCarthy on the poster for The Heat *cough* Or, celebs who do a little touch up on Instagrsm, only to leave the walls around them wiggly like a reflection in a fun house mirror. But, it’s the photoshopping you don’t catch that creates unrealistic and unhealthy expectations, and France is passing laws to alert people to the use of retouching.

As of Sunday, October 1, a new French law is in place. It states any models in commercial photography who have been made to appear thinner or thicker by image processing software have to include a statement declaring the image retouched, or “photographie retouchée.” Anyone who opts to flout this law can be punished by a fine of $44,000 or more, or 30 percent of the cost of the advertising.

This isn’t the first time France has taken a stand against unhealthy depictions of the human body. In 2015, they responded to criticism of unhealthily thin models by requiring every model who wanted to work in the country provide proof from a physician of a healthy body mass index. Since then, Israel, Spain, and Italy have passed similar laws, though we in the states continue to resist.

We Americans are getting onboard with the photoshopping law to some extent, as Getty Images is refusing to accept any creative content “depicting models whose body shapes have been retouched to make them look thinner or larger,” representative Anne Flanagan told NPR. The move was inspired by the French legislation and Getty will not be removing existing edited images. Instead, they will be labeling them.

We would all like to think that we can spot a retouched ad and adjust out response to it accordingly, research indicates that’s not the case. A study published in the journal Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications showed we’re crap at even spotting touched up images. On average, people identified altered photos 60% of the time in one experiment and 65% of the time in another. And, even when people could correctly identify photoshopping had occurred, only 45% could point out exactly what had been changed.

Unless a person is missing a shoulder or their arm is coming out of their back, we can’t tell because it’s not the amount of change, it’s the plausibility of the change and we have all been raised on photoshop, so even gross affronts to anatomy seem plausible now. Perhaps, alerting people that changes have been made will help develop a more sensible expectation for the human form and the many shapes it takes.

Now is a good time to celebrate Getty for their decision and to support other companies in following suit. Both Seventeen and Modcloth have vowed not to use retouched models, as well. We can’t force advertisers to do what’s best for us, as it often goes against what’s good for them, but we can give them the most support when our needs align.