Earlier this week, the ASA banned a L'Oreal Paris advert after ruling that excessive airbrushing had been used to make Rachel Weisz's skin appear smoother. The ban was prompted by complaints from MP Jo Swinson, who's also partly responsible for the banning of L'Oreal adverts featuring Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington.
With airbrushing in ads becoming an increasingly hot button issue, is it finally time we took a tougher stance on photo manipulation in advertising? We invited a range of experts in the fields of fashion, beauty and photography to argue the case for and against a ban on airbrushing.
For the banOutlawing airbrushing entirely may sound like a drastic measure, but many believe it's high time such a ban was introduced. We spoke to some critics of airbrushing who believe a ban is the way forward.
Whilst it may well be common knowledge that almost all of the adverts we see have been digitally altered in some way, many argue that this doesn't lessen the pressure the majority of adverts put on us to look good.
“Images that are altered and manipulated to give an impossibly thin look add to everyone’s insecurities about their bodies," points out Susan Ringwood, chief executive at eating disorder charity Beat.
"Some people are particularly vulnerable to this pressure to be perfect and risk developing an eating disorder. This is precisely why we're calling for the media to get real and show us bodies in all their gorgeous, natural glory.""We often run sessions in schools to raise awareness of eating disorders and to promote positive body image," says Rachel Matthews, nurse consultant at While it's true that most of us are aware that the majority of women in adverts have been airbrushed to within an inch of their life, sadly, the same can't be said for younger girls, who, from a very early age are being bombarded with digitally altered images without realising just how much they've been manipulated.Newbridge House, a specialist eating disorder clinic in Sutton Coldfield.
"We find that although younger girls are exposed to many different types of media and images, these younger girls are not usually able to tell the difference between normal photographs and air-brushed images. This means that over time, young women are increasingly seeing and comparing themselves with images which are neither realistic nor authentic."
Clauses admitting (albeit in tiny font) that images have been digitally tweaked are now often added to adverts, but if you're selling a mascara that promises to make your lashes look longer than ever before shouldn't the mascara be allowed to speak for itself? Similarly, if a cream is being marketed as the latest wrinkle-busting wonder product, how can we really know if the product does what it says on the tin if the reason for the models wrinkle-free appearance is the result of computer?
[See also: Controversial fashion and beauty ads of 2011]It seems particularly ridiculous that adverts for products which claim to celebrate natural beauty or the art of ageing gracefully are often allowed to use airbrushing to conceal just what they claim to be celebrating.
Take Twiggy, for example. The 62 year may well look reasonable for her age, but in adverts for Olay the former model is almost unrecognisable thanks to the digital removal of almost every fine line and wrinkle, which seems even more ironic considering the advert's tagline: "Love the skin you're in." If these adverts are anything to go by, Twiggy's certainly not too comfortable in hers.
So why shouldn’t we outlaw image retouching?
Against the ban
It's not just those in the photography industry that feel banning airbrushing entirely would be a step too far, as we found out.
"I don't think that a ban on photo retouching is realistic or appropriate," says Professor Hany Farid, a computer scientist and digital forensics expert who has developed computer software which can tell whether a photograph has been faked.
[Interesting: What models look like before Photoshop]"I do, however, think that advertisers and publishers should be aware and respond to the overwhelming body of literature that has linked eating disorders and body dissatisfaction to the over-exposure of idealised (and unrealistic) images. This does not mean that photo retouching should or can be banned, but that it should be used more judiciously. In particular, it is reasonable to eliminate the now common practice of radical digital retouching that dramatically alters the appearance and shape of models."
Those against the idea of a ban on airbrushing also point to the fact that the recent fuss surrounding it has caused people to forget that airbrushing is an incredibly useful technique that's been around the since the dawn of photography.Tereza Haszprunarova is a project manager at London Retouch, a studio that specialises in high end photography retouching and counts some of the world's top make up artists and photographers amongst her clients.
"Retouching has been part of photography since its very beginning," says Tereza. "In the 19th century the black and white pictures were hand coloured to give them a more natural and beautiful look. Digital retouching is not as revolutionary as it seems - the process has just been opened up to the public."
In other words, it's not just used to whittle inches off a model's waist or obliterate the faintest hint of a bingo wing.
[See also: Retouched images that have gone too far]
"Products, such as clothes, often need airbrushing. Creases need to be removed, and sometimes colours needs to be changed or matched so that the consumer sees the true product. Should the product, as well as the model, not look its best too?"
Indeed: while there's no denying airbrushing is often used excessively, do we really want to open the pages of our favourite glossy magazines to find the latest handbag being modelled by someone with swollen ankles wearing a creased dress?
Donald Mitchell at Edinburgh Film Studios makes another point. "Make-up artists, lighting technicians and wardrobe assistants all play a part in creating the images. Since all advertising is based on lies anyway, I don't see why retouching should be singled out."
But the final word goes to Danielle Geraghty, co founder of 2 Shooters Photography.
"Photo manipulation has been occurring since the invention of photography," says Danielle.
"I don't think it should be banned. The recent controversy is highlighting a shift in what consumers want to see. Instead of seeing better versions of ourselves, we're seeing monsters with painted faces and unhealthily proportioned bodies and we're not buying. Banning airbrushing implies consumers believe everything advertisers tell them. I don't think teenage boys think angels will drop from the sky at the first whiff of a certain body spray. Although I could be wrong..."
Do you think airbrushing should be banned? Or do we need to teach young children to be more aware of the use of photo manipulation in the media?