Despite Talk of Ethics Codes, Airbrushing Is Here to Stay

What Everyone Is Talking About

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Color us skeptical on this one: Magazine editors in the U.S. and England are considering codes of conduct governing the way they Photoshop stars' imperfections.

Not that it's a bad idea. Photoshop abuse is out of control at magazines, partly because celebrities demand protection from exposure to reality and partly because editors live and die by newsstand sales. An actually ugly Betty just wouldn't be good for anyone's business, even if it might represent something relatable.
Glamour denies it shaved sizes off America.
Glamour denies it shaved sizes off America.

In America, however, magazines repeatedly have been embarrassed by a string of revealing incidents. In the biggest blowup last summer, someone responding to a blog's $10,000 bounty leaked a photo of Faith Hill in a Redbook cover shoot -- before substantial retouching erased her crow's-feet, back fat and other human features. It's affecting their credibility: Glamour has had to repeatedly deny it shaved whole dress sizes from America Ferrera, the nominally "Ugly Betty" of ABC TV, on its cover last October.

Mags across the pond, on the other hand, have been accused of promoting unrealistic ideals of body and beauty, to the detriment of women's health. The Model Health Inquiry, amid concerns last year about emaciated runway models during London Fashion Week, has urged the fashion industry to consider a voluntary code on digital manipulation.

So Britain's Periodical Publishers Association has asked for input, much as the American Society of Magazine Editors recently told Folio magazine it was considering an industry panel on the subject.

But we can't imagine that many more freckles, frowns or pounds will show up in magazines after all the talks. "ASME is not considering a ban of any kind," said ASME President and Glamour Editor Cindi Leive, according to Folio. "Given the ubiquity of retouching technology these days -- think of brides and their wedding photos -- it seems unrealistic to forbid all digital manipulation of photos in any magazine."

But it's advertising that will determine the outcome here. Even if magazine editors suddenly prohibited any retouching, models in every ad still would get airbrushed and digitally manipulated beyond the human plane. And no star of a cover feature will stand for getting shown up by the girl in the Dillard's ad.
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