Altered images

This month, the American Medical Association adopted a series of new recommendations. Among the suggestions: Nutrition counseling for pregnant and postpartum women, implementing dietary guidelines for those who are incarcerated and encouraging advertising associations to refrain from Photoshopping images of women in teen-oriented magazines.

Specifically, the AMA recommends that ad agencies “work with public and private sector organizations concerned with child and adolescent health to develop guidelines for advertisements … that would discourage the altering of photographs in a manner that could promote unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image.”

My first thought upon hearing this?

It’s about time.

My second thought:

Is it enough—or, worse, too much?

Crazy body-morphing image tactics are hardly novel or new. Magazine designers have long airbrushed and sculpted the life out their models. This month’s array of cover models reflects that ongoing aesthetic: Jennifer Aniston, Zooey Deschanel and Lauren Conrad are thin and poreless renditions of their real-life selves.

Not all cover models like their makeovers. In 2009, Kelly Clarkson complained after Self’s overzealous editors whittled away the singer’s curves.

The magazine admitted to giving Clarkson Photoshop liposuction but defended its tactics with a press release:

“Our picture shows her confidence and beauty.”

Oh, OK. Sure.

As a teen, I used to flip through countless teen and fashion magazines, often snipping out images of my favorite models for clothing inspiration.

In the end, my hobby turned me into neither a fashion plate nor someone with an eating disorder.

But the influence of such magazines—Seventeen, Elle, Vogue, et al.—remains. Decades later I still occasionally find myself fretting about my weight whenever I skim through the pages of a glossy fashion magazine, staring at Amazonian women positioned in elegantly painful poses, their bodies little more than skin and bones.

Even worse are ads using images of digitally altered, airbrushed women to sell the likes of razors, perfume, shoes and, yes, diet aids.

These models, stick thin with porcelain smooth skin, look about as real (or confident) as a partially deflated blow-up doll.

Still, guidelines are one thing, but we shouldn’t literally police magazines and ad agencies, because eventually the lines between manipulation and artistic interpretation will be violated.

Instead a magazine or manufacturer’s audience should act as its judge, jury and executioner.

Last summer, the clothing company Ann Taylor apologized to consumers after a retouched image appeared in its online catalog. The picture depicted a model who had been so digitally thinned and stretched it was nearly as comical as it was grotesque.

Customers threatened to boycott and Ann Taylor took down the image, blaming its presence on a “technical glitch.”

“We are embarrassed by what occurred,” the company said in a press release. “We want you to know that these answers come from a place of passion and honesty and we hope you will read and respect them as such.”

Oh, OK. Sure.

Ann Taylor’s apology is weak, but it’s a start, and it’s proof that recommendations are OK but official policing is unnecessary.

The more consumers protest and boycott images presented by magazines, advertisers and manufactures, the more such images will eventually disappear.

No Photoshop required.