Anti-Airbrush Movement: Scientists Propose Warning Labels for Retouched Photos

Christy Turlington Julie Roberts Print Ad Photoshop - H 2011

Christy Turlington Julie Roberts Print Ad Photoshop - H 2011

Health organizations, citizen groups and scientists call for airbrushing warning labels on photos to raise people's self esteem and help stop eating disorders, depression.

Every fashion, beauty and celebrity magazine you pick up is packed with photos of stars with slim cellulite-free legs, flawless skin, taut tummies, perfect teeth and not a wrinkle or blemish in sight. Most Photoshopping in magazine beauty advertising is done well, so you can only snarl and suspect it.  But there have been a few notorious cases where retouchers have gone too far, lopping off limbs and biting out chunks of thighs and waistlines. Twilight Saga Breaking Dawn Part 1 star Kristen Stewart's missing left arm on the cover of Glamour springs instantly to our mind.

So are you fed up with Photoshop, totally over airbrushing and long for a little reality? You are not alone.

PHOTOS: Models Turned Movie Stars

Health organizations warn that constant exposure to digital enhancement promotes unrealistic expectations of body image and leads to depression and eating disorders, especially among young females. And we might add, women of all ages. It also leads to teenagers wanting -- and sometimes getting -- breast implants, Botox, facial fillers, even liposuction. These issues led two computer scientists to work out a way to quantify the amount of Photoshopping in an image in order to impose a universal 'health warning' on the images.

STORY: Airbrushed Julia Roberts' L'Oréal U.K. Ad Campaign Banned

"Publishers have legitimate reasons to alter photographs to create fantasy and sell products but they’ve gone a little too far. You can’t ignore the body of literature showing negative consequences to being inundated with these images," says Dartmouth College professor Henry Farid. "The ubiquity of these unrealistic and highly idealized images has been linked to eating disorders and body-image dissatisfaction in men, women, and children. Now what we have developed is a mathematical measure of photo retouching."

Each altered photograph was scored between one and five, with five for heavy retouching. Human volunteers scored photos from 1 to 5. The scientists found a close correlation between their computerised assessment and the human opinion, suggesting the technique could be used to come up with a rating that could be published alongside the image.(Examples below.)

Farid, along with his Dartmouth doctoral student Eric Kee, wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science: "We can predict what the average observer would say.  So we propose that the interests of advertisers, publishers and consumers may be protected by providing a perceptually meaningful rating of the amount by which a person's appearance has been digitally altered, When published alongside a photo, such a rating can inform consumers of how much a photo has strayed from reality, and can also inform photo editors of exaggerated and perhaps unintended alterations to appearances."

STORY: 'Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn' Star Kristen Stewart's Photoshop of Horrors: Left Arm Hacked Off Magazine Cover

They're not the only ones who are concerned about this social health issue. Seth Matlin and  Eva Matlins, founders of  Off Our Chests, recently launched a Self Esteem Act  campaign to pass a bill that would regulate the digital retouching of models in magazines and advertisements They also want commercials and magazines to have disclaimers if models have been significantly airbrushed or Photoshopped. According to Matlin". "Real, serious, and enduring problems occur when we don't recognize that the images and ideals of the human form being presented in the media are setting unrealistic expectations and standards for our country's female population."

STORY: L'Oreal Fetes 40th Anniversary of 'Because You're Worth It' in Paris

In June, the American Medical Association also called for industry standards in photo altering, saying: "We must stop exposing impressionable children and teenagers to advertisements portraying models with body types only attainable with the help of photo editing software."

The future is almost here. And it may not be Photoshopped. Earlier this year, two Lancome ads featuring supermodel Christy Turlington and Julia Roberts (pictured above) were banned in Britain for conveying unrealistic expectations of the  products' efficacy.

Should fashion, beauty ads and celebrity photos carry Photoshop warnings? Or do you prefer the fantasy of unachievable perfection? Sound off in the comments section.