Should Magazines Label How Much Images Have Been Photoshopped?

November 30, 2011  |  

By now we all know that when we see a celebrity or model in a magazine, we’re looking at a digitally perfected image of the real person, but that doesn’t necessarily stop the damage that’s done to our psyches. Researchers at Dartmouth are attempting to limit that effect with the proposal of a software algorithm for measuring how much photos have been altered. The 1-to-5 scale would rank alterations from minimal to glaring in an effort to encourage disclosure and reduce retouching.

Seth Matlins, a former talent agent and marketing executive, told The New York Times that the metric could be “hugely important” to efforts he and his wife have underway. The founders of Off Our Chests, an online women’s magazine, are working to gain support for legislation that would require photos that have been significantly changed to be labeled as such.

“We’re just after truth in advertising and transparency,” Mr. Matlins said. “We’re not trying to demonize Photoshop or prevent creative people from using it. But if a person’s image is drastically altered, there should be a reminder that what you’re seeing is about as true as what you saw in ‘Avatar.’”

Lesley Jane Seymour, editor in chief of More, said she thinks this is a good discussion to have but readers have already become aware of the photoshop practices in print magazines, often ridiculing changes that go to far. That may be true, but having a rating right next to an altered image would minimize the potential for thoughts such as “I wish I were that skinny, or I had her nose, or my butt looked like that,” to seep in, because you’d be immediately hit with the truth that no one has that woman’s body, butt, or nose.

I think the tool is a good idea, but no doubt will receive backlash from advertisers determined to sell us all hugely unrealistic fantasies. What do you think about this idea of ranking how much a photo has been altered and labeling images? Could it significantly combat the negative messages women receive from magazine photos?

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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