Yet another Photoshop controversy raises the question: Can it be stopped?

Photoshopping in the fashion industry usually falls into one of two categories: 1) the fixing of small imperfections 2) the wholesale creation of fictitious images. Sometimes the differences are subtle. Sometimes they just really, really aren’t. Take, for example, this recent Ralph Lauren ad.

Right, so unless the laws of physics have somehow been circumvented, I don’t think there is any possible way a model’s head can be wider than her hips. In fact, her ankles may even be larger than her waist. While the model in question, Filippa Hamilton, is indeed skinny, she isn’t a circus sideshow.

Check her out in another Ralph Lauren ad looking more like an actual human being.

After first demanding various websites take down the image (which, by the way, is perfectly permissible to post under the rules of fair use “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting.”), Ralph Lauren issued an apology yesterday for the image:

For over 42 years we have built a brand based on quality and integrity. After further investigation, we have learned that we are responsible for the poor imaging and retouching that resulted in a very distorted image of a woman’s body. We have addressed the problem and going forward will take every precaution to ensure that the caliber of our artwork represents our brand appropriately.

They are responsible for poor imaging? Well, that’s an understatement. Looking at it is making me queasy and reminding me uncomfortably of Holocaust survivors and that is never a good thing when marketing your brand let alone trying to be a decent human being.

Of course, this Ralph Lauren Photoshop disaster is just one in a long and ugly line of altered images that bear no resemblance to reality. Models and actresses have all been routinely subjected to the digital knife, rendering them into ultra-smooth, ultra-thin, ultra-unrealistic versions of their actual selves.

Just ask Kelly Clarkson, America Ferrera, Angelina Jolie and Faith Hill — I could go on and on and on.

But other than write angry blog posts about these depictions and shake our fists at the sky, what can be done? Well, if you ask lawmakers in Britain and France, quite a bit actually. The two countries are both considering legislation that would require ads containing altered photos of models to carry disclaimers.

Think of it as the anti-smoking disclaimers for the soul. Warning: This unrealistically altered image may make you feel terrible about yourself.

Now those are pretty drastic moves, but ones I applaud at least in intent. Both countries argue that Photophopped images, particularly those aimed at teenage girls, adversely affect women’s body image and may lead to dangerous eating disorders and other self-esteem problems. As French lawmaker Valerie Boyer, who introduced the bill in the National Assembly, argued, “These photos can lead people to believe in realities that, very often, do not exist.”

I mean if Beyonce isn’t beautiful enough as is, what hope is there for the rest of us?

But the real question is, is it plausible? Retouching and digital manipulation is so commonplace in fashion photography that it’s a big deal when someone doesn’t use Photoshop. Two recent photo shoots by well-known photographer Peter Lindbergh made headlines for showing famous European actresses and well-known supermodels without makeup or retouching.

And recently Glamour magazine won raves from readers when they let one of its plus-size models show her real belly in its pages.

I’m not sure if similar legislation would work here in the United States, or in any country really. It might be difficult to enforce, too. Not all examples are as egregious as the Ralph Lauren stick figure model. But I welcome anything that opens a dialog about body image and the media.

So what do you think? Can you legislate away Photoshop? Would it help? And, for the love of basic human anatomy, someone give that model a ribcage.

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