Truth in (French Fasion) Advertising
September 23, 2009 10:40 AM   Subscribe

Campaigning MP Valérie Boyer, a member of Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party, has put forth another controversial bill to address the role of the fashion industry media in portraying healthy body images. Boyer, who wrote a government report on anorexia and obesity, is currently proposing "health warnings" on digitally altered photographs of people, stating that the image was "digitally enhanced to modify a person’s body image." The previous bill supported by Boyer and others came in April 2008, when France's lower house of parliament passed a bill that would make it a crime to promote "excessive thinness" or extreme dieting,. The bill would empower judges to punish with prison terms and fines of up to €45,000 any publication (including blogs), modeling agency, or fashion designer who "incites" anorexia. That bill, which followed closely after key members of the French fashion industry signed a government-backed charter, came under fire from fashion designers and some politicians. French fashion and politics weren't at the front of this effort, with Madrid's fashion week turning away underweight models in 2006, facing concerns that girls and young women were trying to copy their rail-thin looks and developing eating disorders.
posted by filthy light thief (37 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
"digitally enhanced to modify a person’s body image."

Maybe it works better in French, but if they use the word "enhanced", aren't they sort of losing their own game?
posted by rokusan at 10:41 AM on September 23, 2009

Here's another round-up of news on France's legislation from 2008, and links to unaltered images of celebrities and models that caused a stir.

Other digital alteration mis-haps: Paris Match was caught at least twice for altering pictures of French President Nicolas Sarkozy .
posted by filthy light thief at 10:44 AM on September 23, 2009

The health warnings are well-intentioned, but debate on it should lead to a follow-on discussion of how cynical and unbelieving we are becoming of published photographs.

I'm inclined to believe that although we still want to believe, in a decade or so there will be a generation of people who from birth have learned to view photographs with the same credulity that we currently view pictorial paintings and drawings.
posted by ardgedee at 10:51 AM on September 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Great idea. But how would they codify and enforce it? What counts as a salient modification of body image? Does it have to do with body mass? Coloration? Posture? Would aggressive cropping count? Will photographers have to retain their memory sticks &c, in order to have the raw stuff compared with the final images?

How would you classify Brad Trent's (warning: irritating Flash website) gleaming Obama? Or the compositing and repositioning involved in this Lacoste Ad?

These are not rhetorical questions, I'm genuinely interested in any MeFi generated ideas about this.

Also: "The warning won’t only apply to advertisements; it would encompass “packaging, political campaign pictures and art photography.”" (!, italics mine)
posted by voronoi at 10:53 AM on September 23, 2009

I think I am more or less okay with this applying to advertising. Corporate personhood not withstanding, I don't think that a full range of expression is necessary, or even desirable, for corporate "speech." I would not be okay with this applying to art as created by individuals.

The dividing line there would be tricky.
posted by adipocere at 10:58 AM on September 23, 2009

I think I am more or less okay with this applying to advertising.

Sticking only to advertising, this would quickly become the equivalent of cigarette warning labels, because as voronoi describes, every single advertisement is digitally altered or enhanced in some way. So the warning would be on every single advertisement... and soon ignored.
posted by rokusan at 11:01 AM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

This law is going to be hell for body-modification morph fetishists.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:01 AM on September 23, 2009

From FTL's link:
President Sarkozy's 'third leg' embarrasses French magazine Paris Match
That photo was so much less titillating than advertised.
posted by rokusan at 11:03 AM on September 23, 2009

Pretty much every four-year old in France will end up in prison during their "Stick Figures on Refrigerator" period.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:05 AM on September 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

photos of skinny models:anorexia :: Marilyn Manson:Columbine
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:07 AM on September 23, 2009

I'm okay with people ignoring it. It's really up to people to heed warnings or not; informed consent is first informed, then consented to. The alternative is to ... I don't know, plunge into some kind of dystopian society wherein we are forced to read warnings then take some kind of test which measures our sweat levels when exposed to a stimulus — "He's not dripping with anxiety when seeing a packet of cigarettes, indoctrination is not yet complete!"

"Hey, you wouldn't believe how much Photoshopping we did on this" is a good start. In some wacky cyberfuture where we're all downloading and reading magazines on electric paper that works on some kind of Buy-on-Demand system that docks us through a micropayment scheme for each article we read, we could make sure that it was free to do a click through on any given image and see the composited originals, so you could compare-and-contrast the airbrushed-out stretchmarks, the distortions in body shape*, and so forth between the presented and base images, but we're not there yet.

* By then, Photoshop will have a tool that extracts the underlying skeletal structure of a photographed human, then reimages them as if they had a few lower ribs removed at an early age, then went into a rigorous upbringing of waist training, starvation, and demrabrasion
posted by adipocere at 11:13 AM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Meanwhile, on this side of the pond, more fatties than ever before. I drop off my kid at school and am always mortified by the sheer number and size of obese adolescents. It's really disturbing.
posted by VicNebulous at 11:14 AM on September 23, 2009

That photo was so much less titillating than advertised.

I was thinking the same thing. But it is what it says: a third leg. In other words: this is SFW, and not a picture of France's president and his huge penis.

Great idea. But how would they codify and enforce it?

I'm not sure. The articles I found in English were scant on the details, beyond that the bill calls for fines of 37,500 euros (55,000 dollars) for non-compliance with the health warning. I imagine that all fashion advert photos would have that warning.

The health warnings are well-intentioned, but debate on it should lead to a follow-on discussion of how cynical and unbelieving we are becoming of published photographs.

Valerie Boyer: "We want to combat the stereotypical image that all women are young and slim."

"Many young people, particularly girls, do not know the difference between the virtual and reality, and can develop complexes from a very young age.

"In some cases this leads to anorexia or bulimia and very serious health problems.

"It's not just a question of public health, but also a way of protecting the consumer."
Think of the children and easy to confuse, and all that jazz. Does anyone know if the labeling on cigarette packages has done much to decrease smoking? If you label everything, it can become a sort of noise that is easier to ignore.

(Also: I confess I wasn't able to find out if the bill from last year passed the senate or not. Most articles focused on the fact it passed the lower level. Does anyone know if it passed?)
posted by filthy light thief at 11:20 AM on September 23, 2009

Geez, not a lotta love for free speech! Criminalizing those who promote excessive thinness? Seriously, who cares about free speech? We know what is right and what is wrong; now all we gotta do is outlaw bad speech. Are women actually children who need to be protected from bad ideas? I mean, this doesn't even make a distinction between adult and child audiences.

I think I am more or less okay with this applying to advertising...The dividing line there would be tricky.

To put it mildly. I'm all for curbing the abuses of evil corporations, but this is essentially protecting people from ideas that can hurt them. Why not outlaw pornography while you're at it? Or at least pornography with fake tits. So the French are OK with porn, as long as the performers are well-fed? This is so absurd that it makes some of the republican ranting about "nanny states" and such sound pretty reasonable. And when you start to make Glen Beck sound reasonable, you know you've gone way too far.

I guess it's passe to point out that free speech can include forms of speech that could be offensive, disruptive and even unhealthy. In other words, stuff you don't like. This aint like yelling "fire!" in a crowded movie theater, people.
posted by Edgewise at 11:22 AM on September 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

Restricting speech never works and always reveals its proponents to be idiots. If the culture sucks, it isn't the governmnet's job to hijack it.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:23 AM on September 23, 2009

Meanwhile they want to cut people of from the internet after 3 accusations, with a farce of legal process. Oh those french!

Hard work never killed anyone, but it is illegal in some places.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:24 AM on September 23, 2009

Sticking only to advertising, this would quickly become the equivalent of cigarette warning labels
I was hoping for a big watermark across the ad in orange FAKEFAKEFAKEFAKEFAKEFAKE
posted by a robot made out of meat at 11:25 AM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

stating that the image was "digitally enhanced to modify a person’s body image."

that strikes me as impossible to avoid. did I not digitally enhance to modify if I punched up the contrast, took out a flare or smoothed out skin? how is that different from applying more make-up or having liposuction? what should be done if the model taped her breasts together to fit them under that dress?

I am not opposed to calling this out. an awful lot of girls I have encountered have no idea what's possible and can't believe the difference is so damn huge. when you're working in this industry and you're surrounded by psd all day long you eventually come to think everyone just knows what you can clone, transform and dodge and when someone walks through the door and salivates over what one of your juniors is doing with a wacom you think they just crawled out from under a rock.

however: I do not think this kind of warning would stand out. it would become so overused it would end up being about as much as a warning as the "parental advisory" stickers with the only difference that wal-mart won't just stop stocking cosmopolitan because of it. the fashion industry isn't likely to stop using skinny models either. nobody really wants to look at average people and we don't aspire to be equal to ourselves or less. there is no glamour and magic in seeing another averagely cute or overweight person. it's only refreshing in the right context and only then if it's an exception. it's the same principle behind movies... people don't care to see their realities accurately portrayed, they want drama. (there are exceptions but there is an exception for everything.)
posted by krautland at 11:28 AM on September 23, 2009

Yeah - Why limit this to body image issues? Just stick a big watermark across all advertising photos that say, "This is an advertisement. If you believe anything you see or read here, you are a rube."
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:28 AM on September 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Maybe it works better in French, but if they use the word "enhanced", aren't they sort of losing their own game?

Actually, in French, they use "retouchée", which I guess literally translates to "retouched". Maybe "retouched image" doesn't sound so good in english and they decided to use "enhanced" instead.
posted by splice at 11:31 AM on September 23, 2009

Edgewise: "Criminalizing those who promote excessive thinness?"

What do you think Cummings would have gotten for "Not even the rain has such small hands" ?

6 months of community service?
posted by Joe Beese at 11:31 AM on September 23, 2009

Does this mean that as we all get fatter and fatter, the models will have to reflect our girth...or go to the guillotine?
posted by Postroad at 11:34 AM on September 23, 2009

and art photography.
you can't enforce that unless the art is used to sell something else and in that case it's something else.
posted by krautland at 11:37 AM on September 23, 2009

Putting aside the question of whether there is any real need for this....

Why not just make access to an unaltered version mandatory? Like, providing a URL on print ads, and a clickable link on electronic ones, to the original version of an altered image?

It would be a huge PITA for the advertisers to maintain that, of course, but it would allow for self-education w/out censorship. And easy policing of advertiser compliance.

I don't see why artists should need to do this, as they are not trying to promote any kind of image, or individuals either; the whole premise of "thin images lead to eating disorders" is that advertising is everywhere and impossible to avoid. Random Flickr accounts or art projects are not in the same category.

The way this thing appears to be worded, though, is too paternalistic. Citizens, male or female, don't need to be shielded, they need to be informed. It would be much better to make a case for not letting them be bombarded constantly with deceptive advertising than it would to base your actions on a tenuous link between said ads and eating disorders.
posted by emjaybee at 11:51 AM on September 23, 2009

I like emjaybee's take on this. As much as I appreciate the intent of the measure, I find it hard to imagine that a ubiquitous warning will have much impact.

Course, it could just be that I'd really like to have access to that repository of unaltered images. Every time someone links to a before/after comparison of magazine images I lose myself clicking back and forth between the two. Even with a decent (hobbyist) background in Photoshop, I am always fascinated by the number and extent of changes between the two images. In a similar vein, I can spend hours studying photoshop disasters.
posted by Babblesort at 12:36 PM on September 23, 2009

I doubt that a Photoshop Awareness campaign will have any significant effect on eating disorders. If that does work, then they should consider fighting depression by putting disclaimers before and after depressing French films that say something like "Not all things in life are terrible, for example look at this cute kitty."

With that said, the fashion industry really is one of the more visible and obvious manifestations of our culture's focus on unrealistic images of women. I think it might be a better idea to promote images of regular looking women in our media, rather than trying to point out that beautiful super models are slightly less perfect than they appear to be in fashion magazines.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:38 PM on September 23, 2009

No, protecting people from ideas which could hurt them would be removing the images entirely. This is more of a "by the way, this isn't exactly true." A bit like the infomercials having, at bare minimum, "this is a paid advertisement" before the program begins.

When it comes to free speech, I am ... a little bit on the "let it ride" side for MetaFilter and for most folks at large. Just not for corporations. And here, I am not restricting it, so much as saying, "An additional clause that says 'This model's proportions have been digitally altered.' might do well to remind people what is going on."

This also opens up the question of "What other alterations?" If a model has breast implants to change her figure, it isn't a digital alteration, but it is an alteration to her proportions — do we get to know about that? What about liposuction? What about gastric bypass? Or some kind of eating disorder? "This model subsists on a diet of black coffee, heroin, and tuna; we can find greater bone mineral density in an old milk stain" might be accurate, but it is certainly intrusive. So I can see privacy issues coming into play, in addition to free speech issues.

I am not against the spirit of the thing, because global media has a way of distorting standards and perception that is unique. A few hundred years ago, the handsomest man in the village was only competing against a score or so of other men; the best storyteller in town was compared against the few other storytellers you knew, and your parents. Now people are comparing each other (and themselves) against the best* the planet can provide. An actor dismissed as "plain" by some half-assed reviewer might have been stunning compared to, say, everyone within a day's ride of the village donkey. Even with all of that in mind, though, there's a lot of factors to consider.

* whatever your metric is here, substitute it in for "best," you get the idea
posted by adipocere at 12:42 PM on September 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Probably worth noting that some people with eating disorders (or who aspire to them) photoshop their own "thinspiration." Pro-eating-disorder forums are rife with dangerous misinformation, so photoshopped images do frequently get mistaken for truth, but just as often people know they're not real and still use them to self-trigger. (Years ago when I was sick, I bought magazines based on how thin the models were, ripped out the most appealing advertisements, and cut out the already-thin models, trimming the "excess" arm and leg width until the models looked more like Giacometti figures than anything human. I was well aware that they were fake and unrealistic and unhealthy and horrifying and impossible to attain, but I did it anyway.)

Slapping a big red THIS IS FAKE tag on a photoshopped image isn't going to help, just like shutting down pro-ana sites isn't helping. I wish I could say what would help.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:51 PM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

So just out of interest, how many people suffer from anorexia, bulimia, or other weight-loss related illnesses?

How many suffer from obesity related health disorders?
posted by rodgerd at 2:45 PM on September 23, 2009

This aint like yelling "fire!" in a crowded movie theater, people.

If you are going to use American free speech as the basis of your critique of this French proposal, then you should at least acknowledge that in America commercial speech is not as protected as other forms of speech, such as political speech. So, you are right, that this isn't like yelling "fire" in a crowded theater, but only because that restriction on free speech has nothing to do with the restriction on free speech being discussed here.

My personal take is that this isn't needed, but I don't have a problem with curtailing commercial speech through the use of disclaimers (no one is suggesting that these ads are not published at all, only that they come with a warning). If a direct causal link between these images of women and an increased incidence of anorexia and other eating disorders in women was proven, would people who are deriding this proposal still feel the same way?
posted by Falconetti at 3:26 PM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I fail to see how labeling something "this isn't real" is censorship, stifling of free speech, or other such complaints. From my understanding, it's just additional text, not prohibiting anything.

At the same time, I'm not sure how much labeling will help the issue, especially in light of Metroid Baby's examples, which frighten me like nothing else. I understand that Valérie Boyer, having studied eating disorders, wants to make something change for the better, and might be using the tools she has (law-making). Truth PSAs for the fashion industry, like the Truth PSAs for cigarettes in the United States, would be interesting but unlikely to ever happen.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:04 PM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Eating disorder statistics: According to US estimates from The National Institute of Mental Health, between 5 per cent and 10 per cent of girls and women (i.e. 5-10 million people) and 1 million boys and men suffer from eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or other associated dietary conditions. Estimates suggest that as many as 15 percent of young women adopt unhealthy attitudes and behaviors about food.

Obesity statistics - USA Obesity Rates:
* 58 Million Overweight; 40 Million Obese; 3 Million morbidly Obese
* Eight out of 10 over 25's Overweight

World-wide: ranging by country, from the low end of 6.3% of women and 6.5% of men in Italy, to 27.9% of women in Russia (of Russian men: only 10.8%)

More obesity information from the the CDC (USA), and International Obesity Task Force (PDFs)

Both are tragic issues, neither should be over-looked.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:14 PM on September 23, 2009

I don't see why artists should need to do this, as they are not trying to promote any kind of image

But artists use their work to advertise their work. If a photographer makes a flyer or business card with their work on it, thats an advertisement. And their art. Both.

And the idea that artists arent' trying to promote an image seems ridiculous to me. Among other examples, a lot of the "thin models" controversy applies to plenty of art in addition to advertising.

Trying to draw the exact line between art and advertising is exactly the same kind of mess that happens with political speech and contribution/campaign restrictions.
posted by wildcrdj at 6:51 PM on September 23, 2009

Also seems that there's plenty of advertising / art hybrids that are hard to classify. A lot of fashion photography would fall in here --- something like Richard Avedon. That seems to be considered art by a lot of people, yet has clearly commercial ties.
posted by wildcrdj at 7:08 PM on September 23, 2009

If you are going to use American free speech as the basis of your critique of this French proposal, then you should at least acknowledge that in America commercial speech is not as protected as other forms of speech, such as political speech.

I'm not going to be politically correct and apply French standards, especially when I think they are wrongheaded. As for acknowledging that commercial speech is not as protected as political speech, I am under the impression that it is almost as protected (which has a lot to do with the trouble getting meaningful campaign finance reform).

But that's a bit of a red herring from where I stand. A lot of folks react to a notion of giant, land-raping megacorporations in this kind of context, but really, this would apply to small copy shops, art studios and party fliers, who don't rape much land, I might add.

Even more to the point, I object to government interceding between myself and supposedly damaging acts of expression. This can be a very slippery slope. I regard something like freedom of expression as something you only violate when a given kind of speech is obviously and highly destructive. This doesn't meet either of those standards. I would propose that people who would so frivolously criminalize certain expressions don't have much real respect for free speech.

For those of you who like the idea of warning labels, that gets a big "meh" out of me. Protecting the public from gross abuses is a valid function of government, but let's not give the government full 100% responsibility for keeping us utterly protected from every little thing. At some point, private citizens have a certain burden to act responsibly, and teach their children well. When the government steps in too much, then we effectively reduce the need for private responsibility. Is this really a good thing? In my mind, freedom carries certain burdens of responsibility. It is no accident that removal of freedom and removal of responsibility go hand-in-hand; the French approach to this issue practically highlights it.

I'm sorry if I am coming off sounding conservative, but some of you mefi folks really bring that out of me. Trust me, on other forums on the interwebs, I am accused of being an America-hating red commie. I guess I react to unbridled political orthodoxy by being something of a devil's advocate, which is not to say that I don't believe what I'm saying. Rather, when I hear a lot of arguments that lack balance, I try to stand up for what's being left out of the conversation.
posted by Edgewise at 12:44 PM on September 24, 2009

Labels provide nothing more than warning. Cigarette packages and ads say all sorts of terrible (true) things, but people still smoke.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:18 PM on September 24, 2009

Edgewise, I just don't see the danger in requiring disclaimers on potentially dangerous products. This does not impinge on the underlying rationale for almost any theory of free speech I am aware of. Furthermore, if the government has the power to ban a product, why would it not have the ability to require a disclaimer? As I said previously, I don't think there is a need here to require a disclaimer, but the claim you are making is broader than that.

Back in the early 1900s, "cures" for opium addiction were widely advertised, but these "cures" contained opiates. Do you really think it is a dangerous slippery slope to require a product that is marketed as curing opium addiction to say somewhere on its packaging that "This product contains opium?"
posted by Falconetti at 5:26 PM on September 24, 2009

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