When you’re looking at a magazine cover or an advertisement these days, the sad fact is, you’re not looking at a real woman. Oh, sure, her face may be familiar; maybe you even you see her on your TV every week — but, more often than not, you’re looking at a computer-generated image that might as well be a cartoon. Wrinkles removed, bosoms enhanced, waists cinched down to sizes smaller than a head. Sometimes it’s infuriating. Always it’s disheartening. And now the American Medical Association has declared that it’s dangerous.
At its latest convention, the AMA adopted a new policy to “encourage advertising associations to work with public and private sector organizations to establish guidelines that would discourage airbrushing or retouching in advertising, especially those appearing in teen-oriented publications.”
It’s a bold, necessary move by the country’s largest medical organization. What started out as “retouching” — smoothing lines and soothing blemishes — has morphed into “body re-creation.” And the repercussions are catastrophic. According to recent studies, nearly 50 percent of girls under the age of six are worried that they’re fat, and by the age of 17, 78 percent of girls say they are unhappy with their bodies. Certainly, low self-esteem is a problem, but there are long-term psychological and medical issues to consider as well. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, as many as ten million women in America suffer from some form of eating disorder.
Those statistics don’t seem to matter to magazine editors and ad agencies. Neither does it seem to matter that a public outcry always follows the reveal of severely reconstructed ad and magazine images. Or that celebrities often speak up to say they didn’t ask to have their bodies re-created — or even, in the case of Kate Winslet’s ‘05 GQ cover shoot, that they don’t want to look like their retouched photos.
Self magazine’s Lucy Danziger is on record as saying she just wants celebs on their covers to look their “personal best.” Vogue icon Anna Wintour once told 60 Minutes: “That’s one of the things that makes me rather angry, that I don’t understand. That if you look wonderful, does that make you less important? Less powerful? Less serious?”
And therein lies the crux of the problem. We love women who look their personal best; we love women who look wonderful. What we don’t love is women who don’t look like real women. There’s nothing “personal” about having your head pasted onto a Disney Princess body. And anyway, why does Anna Wintour get to regulate what passes as “wonderful”?
Barbara McAneney, an AMA board of trustees physician, told the press, “[We’ve] had enough. We must stop exposing impressionable children and teenagers to advertisements portraying models with body types only attainable with the help of photo editing software.”
And you know what else we’ve got to do? We’ve got to stop pretending those Photoshopped bodies are “wonderful.”
You know what I think is wonderful? A body that tells the story of your life. Muffin-top from eating a few extra cupcakes with your favorite niece? That’s wonderful. A scar on your chin from that time you fell out of your cousin’s tree house? That’s wonderful. Wrinkles on your forehead from squinting into the sun, crows feet around your eyes from laughing ‘till it hurts, chicken pox scars, stitches marks, blemishes, bumps, bruises and scrapes: Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Why do we want to cover up the things that make us us? Our “imperfections” tell our stories. If our bodies aren’t flawless, it’s because we’ve lived.
Magazine covers are cartoons. And, sure, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel were pretty, but they spent their lives in glass cages, waiting on men to carry them away. I don’t know about you, but that’s not the story I want my body to tell. Give me a sword and I’ll let you photograph my story. And get a close-up on these scars, will you? I got this one from fighting for something I believe in, and this one from accidentally stabbing myself with a fork, and this one from falling off my bike and rolling down a mountain.
Here, have a cookie and I’ll tell you all about it.