Recognizing & Combating the Negative Affects of Photo Manipulation When photos in print media are manipulated to look better, they project an unrealistic image that many attempt to achieve and ultimately harm themselves. BY ERIK FISHER, PH.D.
Creating a false reality through photo manipulation can have harmful ramifications.
Have you ever noticed how Elmo always looks a little better in print: a little thinner, a little more buff and cut in the chest and abs? It’s the digital airbrush. Well, not really, but almost every picture you come across in print has been manipulated in some form, and the images your kids see can influence the way they see themselves and believe it or not, the issue of how ads are manipulated affects us all—especially our kids.
Body image issues—that are precursors to eating disorders—develop earlier than you think. In my dissertation 20 years ago, I looked at how kids from sixth grade through college were comparing various body images through media and found that in both boys and girls there were very defined ways of comparing their bodies to what they saw as acceptable in the media. I firmly believe body image awareness begins in the preschool years, and the ability for it to morph into problematic issues from anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and other related issues are significant.
There are some out there taking aim. Recently, the British Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) banned make-up ads showing movie star Julia Roberts and fashion model Christy Turlington in ads that used excessive digital manipulation. The agency claimed the product they were representing was indeed false advertising and pulled the ads from various print publications.
What’s The Big Fuss?
Your kids are inundated with images every day, and the degree to which these images are valid representations of the human form will subtly and obviously effect how they view the world and themselves as they grow up. Some of you may feel that banning ads such as those in Britain is absolutely overblown and a violation of rights. While this was seen as a truth in advertising issue, it is a psychological health issue as well. To many kids and adults, they may not think twice about these ads. To others, they may bring up intense feelings of inadequacy and self-hatred. The fact that we view these images as acceptable is a sign of our numbness to the alternate realities created by the media and advertising.
During my research, I remember feeling that society would grow beyond this obsession with our bodies and appearance. I taught classes on the negative effects of airbrushing, and the degree of eating disorders in the modeling industry, and I taught about the excessive pursuit of the male stereotype in body builders. I had believed that we would educate our kids and ourselves about how to feel better from the inside out, but instead, the problems have become worse, in some ways, and not only do young women have to look fit and thin, but even older women are still focused on the same pursuit of physical perfection at the cost of their self-esteem. Just look at the rate of plastic surgeries on everything from facelifts to calf implants, and the age range on these procedures is widening in both directions.
Jump on the Bandwagon, Guys
Men and boys are not immune to these issues. Their physique is just focused more on muscular aspects. Realize how the images that they see sell a muscular body that is often unachievable through reasonable means. Even men are going under the knife for various plastic procedures, including pectoral implants.
Imagine if we took the time, energy and funds we spend on the way we look outside and focused it on improving our inner beauty? Don’t stay numb to these cultural phenomena that are influencing our kids. Let’s get real.
Here are questions to pay attention to if you feel concerned about your family and their body image:
1. Be aware of you and your spouse's body image issues. Do you talk about your body and how you feel about it in front of them? 2. Do you notice your kids talking about how they look and/or are they preoccupied with their appearance or specific body features? 3. Are their friends focused on their body and/or do they make comments about others' appearance? 4. Are you and/or any of your kids obsessed with dieting and/or exercise?
These are just a few questions to look at these issues in your family. Often parents, without realizing it, feed their children's issues, no pun intended. Talk to them, and if you don't feel equipped to do so, get some help to talk about it before it goes too far.
Erik Fisher, PhD, aka Dr. E…, is a licensed psychologist and author of two books whose work has been featured NBC, CBS, FOX and CNN. Visit him at www.DrEPresents.com to learn more about his new show, Off The Couch with Dr. E… .