ED Prevention & Labeling Retouched Photos, is it Effective?

Mass media publications and advertisements have long portrayed unrealistic and unattainable body types. This tendency has worsened over time, as the women in magazines continue to become less representative of the average woman. One recent study found that the average body weight of female centerfolds in Playboy Magazine has significantly decreased over the past 40 years [1].

Impact of Photoshop on Body Image

The beauty and wellness industries begin by using models whose body types do not represent the average woman, but they do not stop there. Even with perfect hair, makeup, and clothes, photoshop plays a key role in solidifying the unattainable image. Almost all media images will undergo some form of digital alteration, and 94 percent of magazines will then take this “thin ideal” and place it on their cover [2,3].

The glorification of this unrealistic archetype has become unhealthy for consumers, who often internalize this image and attempt to live up to it without realizing that what they are attempting to achieve does not exist.

There are attempts to regulate the image that magazines and advertisers put out. In 2009, The French National Assembly proposed a bill that would make it illegal to print digitally altered images without a disclaimer or warning label [3]. The U.K. has also been working toward a similar ban that would, additionally, make any kind of digital enhancement illegal for content created to target those under 16 years of age [3].

Research and Statistics Behind Labeling Retouched Photos

Researchers have reported that the practice of labelling digitally altered images has been successful. One 2001 study found that highlighting the different procedures that go into altering an image into the “ideal” was “effective in combatting negative body image [3].” The authors of this study noted that social comparison, or the tendency to evaluate oneself by comparing to others, was reduced when readers knew that the image they were looking at was manufactured.

Man Editing Photos With Photoshop

More recently, a 2012 study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology found that those that viewed images with warning labels did not experience the “usually obtained negative effects of exposure to thin ideal images” and reported less body dissatisfaction than those that saw the same images without warning labels [3].

A 2015 study found the same results and determined that internalization, or, “the extent to which an individual regards the societal norms of size and appearance as appropriate standards for his/her own appearance,” plays a huge role [4]. When consumers realize that the image they are viewing is not real or realistics, they internalize less, leading to lower feelings of body dissatisfaction.

Further, one study found that advertisements were found to be just as effective with thin and average-sized models and that lower body dissatisfaction leads to greater product and brand recall of fashion advertisements [3]. As such, advertisers could portray an image more representative of the average woman without any negative impact to their brand.

Whether regulations are passed requiring labels or magazines begin using average-sized models, it is clear that one must consume mass media content with an awareness of what they are seeing. Don’t forget that much of what is displayed in magazines and advertisements is not real or attainable. You will not look like those women, and that is okay! You are beautiful just the way you are.

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.About the Author: Margot Rittenhouse is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.


[1] Owen, P. R., Laurel-Seller, E. (2000). Weight and shape ideals: Thin is dangerously in. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 30, 979-990.
[2] Bennett, J. (2008). Picture perfect. Newsweek. Retrieved June 9, 2017 from http://www.newsweek.com/backlash-against-magazine-airbrushing-89805
[3] Slater, A. et al. (2012). Reality check: an experimental investigation of the addition of warning labels to fashion magazine images on women’s mood and body dissatisfaction. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 31:2, 105-122.
[4] Rollero, C. (2015). ‘I know you are not real:’ salience of photo retouching reduces the negative effects of media exposure via internalization. Studia Psychologia, 57, 195-202.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published July 24, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on
July 24, 2017.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

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