Has Photoshop gone too far? Kate Winslet and Brad Pitt are among several public figures who think so and the American Medical Association (AMA) is now backing them up.
Winslet was one of the first to break ground when she took action against GQ magazine for digitally altering her body in its photographs — making her unrealistically thin. Pitt requested that there be no retouching on his W magazine cover, personally selecting, Chuck Close to shoot it, a photographer known for his extremely detailed portraits that expose skin flaws. While most people dream of magically removing their pounds and wrinkles — and some celebs demand it — more and more are seeing Photoshop as dangerous terrain.
The American Medical Association (AMA) recently announced it was taking a stand against image manipulation in advertising, stating that alterations made through processes like Photoshop can contribute to unrealistic body image expectations, eating disorders and other emotional problems. Surprisingly, professional and public reactions are mixed.
One eating disorder specialist, Carrie Arnold, reacted with “show me the evidence.” In her piece, “What’s Photoshop Got to Do With It,“ she quotes the AMA as saying “a large body of literature” exists linking media exposure to eating disorders, but after Arnold did her research, she found little scientific evidence to support the statement. The studies AMA cited just don’t connect Photoshop to diagnosable eating disorders, as spelled out by the DSM-IV. She writes, “We don’t think ads for disinfectant somehow promote OCD. We also don’t think that those Bluetooth headsets promote schizophrenia because it looks like you’re talking to yourself.” Condemning Photohop may make for a good media story, but Arnold questions its validity.
In a post here entitled “Photoshop Isn’t Evil,“ Elizabeth Perle wrote that her “knee jerk reaction to hearing this news was a long, exaggerated eye roll.” The AMA’s statement against Photoshop, she believes is “too little too late,” adding it “frankly might make it worse for models, actresses, singers and other performers, for whom the pressures to alter their bodies will only be heightened.”
Photographers and artists have their own take on this issue. “We have wonderful tools to create images, new digital cameras and photographic digital printers and powerful tools such as Photoshop and we are expected to do what — nothing? I don’t think so,” says Jeff Schewe of Photoshop News. Some feel the AMA misses the point. Michael Graupman, in “Photoshop on the Chopping Block“ writes, “perhaps it is time for a refresher course for the media and Americans of what Photoshop was created for originally: bringing a subject more into focus, not creating works of fiction.” Denouncing Photoshop, many believe, will have little impact on America’s distorted view of beauty and that the alteration of images in photography should not be singled out.
I disagree. The importance of the AMA’s recent policy statement is that it is headed in the right direction. First, let’s get the facts straight. Denouncing Photoshop sounds newsworthy, but it was not the focus of the AMA’s statement. No one in the medical association — which joins physicians to promote professional and public health issues — talked about completely banning this creative technique from photography. Second, although physicians are studying links between photo distortion in advertising and the rise of eating disorders and other body image pathology, the connection and the solutions have yet to be determined.
The AMA is just beginning to raise public awareness about the impact of image manipulation on childhood development. They want us all to reflect upon the way in which unrealistic imagery may serve as a contributor to adolescent health problems — and to consider creating ground rules for those who present these images to the public. As part of a general move toward overseeing potentially harmful media influences, the AMA suggests that ad agencies work with child and adolescent-focused health organizations to create guidelines for future advertising.
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