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Lawmakers Push for Truth in Ads

Capps Visits Girls Inc. to Talk Photoshop and Body Image


Photoshop falls into the category of nouns so widely used they become verbs. And in the advertising world, images of the female body are often photoshopped, eliminating imperfections and creating tiny waistlines. At times, these false depictions have prompted uproars on Twitter and in the blogosphere, calling on advertisers to embrace real bodies. But now lawmakers are looking to curb such practices with legislation.

A bill that would require the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to study the use of digitally enhanced body shapes and facial features in advertisements was introduced this spring by Representative Lois Capps with Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican. The measure would not enact regulation, but it would prompt the FTC to draft recommendations about how to reduce the use of digital manipulation in advertisements — not editorial content. Research increasingly highlights the negative consequences of “unrealistic depictions of beauty” that youth face every day, Capps said.

Last week, Capps visited Girls Inc. in Carpinteria and met with a group of girls, ages 5-10, who talked about differences between the real world and ever-present media depictions after pinning magazine clippings of celebrities and models on a cork board. Capps spoke to the girls about differences in body types, a discussion that goes hand in hand with their Media Literacy program. When asked if they knew what Photoshop was, almost every girl in the room raised her hand.

Leading the charge for the legislation is former executive Seth Matlins, who built his career at the intersection of Hollywood and Madison Avenue, as he put it, before he quit to launch a campaign to scrutinize the industry he spent decades mastering. After having kids, he said he started to see the world through the eyes of his little girl. His new mission became to convince ad agencies to refrain from altering bodies and faces in ads, or at least include a disclaimer when they do. “I felt compelled to do what I could to take those false barriers out of her way,” he said. “[Life] is hard enough without them.”

Research shows about 53 percent of 13-year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies, Matlins said. And by the time they are 17 years old, the figure escalates to 78 percent. “This is the tobacco of our generation,” he said.

In early August, ModCloth, an online retailer, became the first to sign the Truth in Advertising Heroes Pledge. “Portraying women authentically should be the norm in the industry, not the exception,” Chief Marketing Officer Nancy Ramamurthi said in an email. “Our customers have always told us they want to see others like them in advertising, and we want to make that a reality.”

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