Should Photoshopped Ads Be Completely Banned?

The practice of Photoshopping has long been a topic of controversy, but the idea of altering the images we’re exposed to so drastically as to make them nearly unrecognizable – as well as humanly impossible – has come under increasing fire over the past several months, and for good reason. With even large retailers like Target getting in on the extreme photo editing action, we’re finally beginning to ask ourselves a tough question: should Photoshopping ads be outlawed completely?

There are several lobbyists in Washington who think it certainly should, and members of the Eating Disorders Coalition teamed up with over 50 lawmakers to discuss a new piece of legislation that would accomplish just that. Introduced late last month, the Truth in Advertising Act of 2014 would force the Federal Trade Commission to investigate advertisers who utilize Photoshopping as well as the effects the practice has on society and young girls in particular.

As California Democratic Rep. Lois Capps put it, “Just as with cigarette ads in the past, fashion ads portray a twisted, ideal image for young women. And they’re vulnerable. As sales go up, body image and confidence drops.”

That isn’t guesswork, either. Plenty of studies have been done over the years showing a direct correlation between self-esteem in young girls and its relative health in regards to the advertising they’re exposed to on a daily basis. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to discern that the barrage of imagery we see daily – mostly all of which show overly thin, technically “perfect” individuals – would increase the pressure we feel to fit in and achieve the same results. It’s a sad truth and one that will continue to have devastating consequences if we don’t act soon.

While the Truth in Advertising Act may face an uphill climb to gain widespread support – especially when many politicians have financial ties to the large companies that so heavily rely on Photoshopping – it’s a step in the right direction to even introduce such a measure for consideration. Hopefully, with more education and awareness, we can begin rectifying a problem with one seemingly simple solution: ban photo editing in advertising. While such a law wouldn’t single-handedly fix the self-esteem of our young girls, it would certainly lay the groundwork for healthier self-image and allow us to begin establishing a newer, realer version of “normal”.

What do you think? Should we outlaw Photoshopping in advertising altogether?

  • Lane Marie

    as a professional photographer…no it should definitely not be illegal. stop caring so much about what you see in magazines and start worrying about everything. Photoshop does not give people eating disorders.

    • Lane Marie

      i meant start worrying about yourself 😛

  • Mark Schieber

    While I find the practice loathsome, I couldn’t disagree more about outlawing it. Government is hardly ever the answer. We have to take back the power ourselves and stop relying on our incompetent and corrupt representatives to protect us. Corporations aren’t the enemy. They’re driven by profit. They profit from us. We’re the ones I control. We need to stop giving that power away and start using it.

    • Ron Tam


  • Jessica McGhee

    I hate the idea of photoshopping people into unrecognizable versions of themselves, but I can’t agree with banning it. I own a small online retail business – and by small, I mean, I have to do everything myself. I make the merchandise, I take the pictures, I edit the pictures, I built and maintain the website, etc. I’m not a professional photographer. I’m not terrible, but I’m not that great. I rely on photo editing to correct my photography mistakes, so that I can sell my product. Banning photoshop wouldn’t hurt the big companies nearly as much as it would the small ones – we can’t afford make-up artists, hair stylists, and professional photographers. We’re already at a disadvantage – a ban like this would take away one of the few advantages some small business owners have. How would you even police that? Would you not be able to correct a blemish? What about wedding photography? Wedding photographers use their own photos to create ads, and the brides want the very best version of themselves in those photos. I think the best way to fight this is to keep sharing stories like Lorde’s recent photo reveal (edited vs. not edited). Celebrities have the power to show their real flaws to the public, to help people understand that this “perfection” is the magic of celebrity – stylists, make-up artists, personal trainers, expensive clothing, high quality make-up, and yes – photoshop.

  • Marlana Hobden

    I feel like outright banning it is too extreme. I think a better alternative would be to put a disclaimer on every advertising piece, that Photoshop was used, that what you’re seeing isn’t real. We need to stop relying on government to legislate every little thing we don’t like.

  • Tanners Lopez

    I totally agree with Jessica. Banning photoshop editing altogether is taking it a little too far. If we already know all of these ads are edited with photoshop, then what is the need to ban it? To prove a point? Seems a little extreme to me.
    Also, photo editing has been around since the camera was invented. I understand that it’s just now coming under fire for its contribution to negative body image issues, but editing photos is part of the art of photography. Depending on the intentions behind the photograph, it has the ability to present a realistic or false reality. The conversation about body image should start at home. Companies and advertising groups are not responsible for the way children view themselves, their parents are.

  • Ariana Brookes

    As the mother of a two-year-old girl, I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can portray and encourage healthy female body image. As adults, we can often look at an image and know when it’s been Photoshopped, but little girls only see a Hollywood ideal on the cover of a magazine. However, I don’t think banning Photoshop is the answer. It is up to us as parents to tell our daughters that they are pretty, so that they grow up with a certain confidence about their looks that comes from having never doubted that they were good enough. I recently wrote a post about this on my modern mama parenting blog

  • Calista Collier

    Photoshopping is an art, and takes talent. Photographers do it to make an image visually pleasant, and do it to everything not just humans, so the color and lighting will catch the eye. And self-consciousness isn’t derived from this, but the mind. As a teenage girl I can feel self-conscious by just being around peers. So I think there are better ways of helping girls with eating disorders, than banning artists, like therapy.

  • Laura Ayres

    As several others have said, Photoshop should be used to enhance photos, not completely change the model or product being sold. In my opinion, there comes a point where too much Photoshopping becomes false advertising.

    Photoshop should be used to enhance lighting, correct blemishes, remove red eye, and essentially “clean up” an image that would otherwise detract from the product being marketed. It should not, however; make a model look fake, a product look totally different than what is being sold or detract from the overall message.

    I also don’t believe this is a place for government. Rather, let the free market choose with their wallets who they want to support. If I see too much “thigh gap” or “Photoshop”, I tend to move onto another company for my purchase. If nothing else, I can’t get a good opinion on how a garment will look on me because my thighs actually touch each other, I don’t sport an airbrushed six pack and I actually have some meat on my arms. (I’m an online shopper and VERY RARELY go into stores so I rely a lot on images to make my decisions.)

    Eventually, companies will learn what is acceptable when their customers decide they no longer are interested in purchasing from them.

  • Joy McGillicutty Courson

    As a 19-year-old woman, I hate Photoshop. But even as much as I hate the lies of Photoshop, and the false, unattainable ideals of beauty it presents, no, I absolutely do not agree that it should be outlawed. It is not the government’s place to regulate things like that. It is unwise to give the government such powers, and it sets a dangerous precedent for how much control the government has over private (or not private) businesses. It’s true that the photoshopping has gone too far, and it’s a problem. But we as the consumers shouldn’t just cop out and ask the government to fix it for us. We need to fight it on a personal level. We need to teach our daughters that while they are beautiful, their worth is NOT based on their appearance. They are worthwhile and deserving of respect because they are human beings created in the image of God (That’s my personal belief, but even if you aren’t a Christian, the principle of inherent worth as a human being still stands). The problem is too deep to be fixed purely by regulations and rules. It will never be enough to just ban Photoshop. It has got to start in teaching our girls what’s really important. For that matter, we need to teach our sons the same thing. We need to teach them to value women for who they are as PEOPLE, not for what they look like as females.

    • Seamus Radu

      Great points! I completely agree.

  • Noel Davila Guillory

    As a designer who makes a living using photoshop, I don’t think that photoshopping images in ads should be banned. I just photoshopped a picture of a mountainside so we could use it to advertise. Post-processing is necessary to achieve the aesthetic we want for more than just images of women. It would be very expensive to have to have the photographer take a perfect image for every ad. For smaller companies like mine, photoshop saves us a lot of money and allows us to compete with larger corporations. Just be aware that if you’re seeing an image in an ad it’s aspirational not reality. The images you see exist to inspire you to make purchases and as long as you keep that in mind they shouldn’t be a problem.

  • Seamus Radu

    “Plenty of studies have been done […]” Could name a few? Or link a few so that we can see for ourselves? So-called online journals use misleading phrasing like that in order to convey a sense of authority and authenticity to an otherwise personal and non-verified point of view. How do we know that these studies exist? I’m not trying to argue against you, I’m just saying it helps when trying to make a convincing point and/or educate readers to back up your claims with proof and figures.

    “It’s a sad truth and one that will continue to have devastating consequences if we don’t act soon.” Again, in context, that’s just your opinion, it’s just guesswork that doesn’t build on any actual data or points in the text and it sounds like you’re trying to pass off your own feelings on the matter as general fact.

    Thing is, the Truth in Advertising Act isn’t in fact a move to ban Photoshopping, it’s aim is to have the FTC study the effects of this practice on vulnerable demographics. There is no intent to make it a regulatory act. Just to figure out if this thing is worth regulating or not, based on the findings on self-esteem that would emerge from it. Therefore, officially, nobody really knows what the consequences are yet, let alone if they are devastating, outside of course of guesswork and the logical fallacy of immediate or personal experience that we tend to generalize on.

    In short, these so-called Eating Disorder activists just want to investigate the effects of this practice. And even so, they aren’t relying on any data to justify their aggressive move, outside of personal experience ( as Lois Capps says about this act being based on her experience as a mother).

    The question in the title is wrong altogether. You have to regulate or outlaw something particular about the practice, not the whole thing altogether – this would essentially mean that anytime someone Photoshops something – anything! – on an ad, they’re committing a violation by default. That’s absurd and far too broad. You can target false advertising or extreme makeovers, but you have to do it in terms that aren’t so broad and fuzzy and open to interpretation.

    And, in the end, if you’re gonna worry about falsifying natural body shapes and enhancing looks, doesn’t that include make up, push up bras, cosmetic surgery and so forth? Are you going to enter dangerous legal waters and somehow set the premise for banning, say, celebs from getting cosmetic surgery as to not offend the vulnerable youngsters out there as well? Because that’s the point here – the race for a better self-image and the ever-changing ruler by which we measure beauty is not something so cut and dried that can be regulated or controlled specifically without risking some serious ethical issues through such bans.

    • Ninotschkah Valentin

      totally agree on validating statements with data and resources, which i think hello giggles should do more often in general. it would make their points of view realistic rather than emotional, and is the best kind of journalism :)

  • Heather Davis


  • Ron Tam

    Incredible that people have so little or no regard to our right of free speech. BANNING SHOULD BE BANNED. Instead of trying to remove people’s rights in order to stop negative influences, EDUCATE your children, start campaigns and programs to EDUCATE BROADLY that the media and advertising cannot be trusted. Counter the bad influence with GOOD influence, with TRUTH. You can’t stop all possible bad things by prohibition and shutting everything down. You CAN make people smarter, more self-confident and far above the falsehoods and brainwashing ads out there. That’s what needs to happen anyway. Un-sheep the people, NOT make Daddy government enforce more arbitrary laws that tie everyone’s hands.

  • Micaela Kauffman

    I think retouching is fine. But the extreme “body-morphing” Photoshop shouldn’t be happening. I’m not saying outlaw it, but it isn’t right.

  • Aisling O’Keeffe

    Perhaps there should be a law that requires photoshopped images to state that they are photoshopped?

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