Magazine: Airbrushing and Ethics

Airbrushing is a general term that refers to touching up a photograph to remove imperfections or to enhance the image. Digital photography has made it extraordinarily easy to retouch photos. In fact, if you buy a digital camera and related software, it is likely that the software contains retouching tools that  eliminate red-eye or make an image thinner or thicker.

The ethical issue involved here is one of deception. Do readers have a right to know when photos have been digitally altered? The fashion magazine industry would argue that there is nothing wrong with airbrushing. After the Faith Hill controversy, a spokesperson for Redbook asserted that the retouching it did on her photo was “completely in line with the industry standard.” This admission suggests that deception is the industry standard and everybody does it. Of course, the fact that everybody does it does not make it right.

Another defense is that fashion photography should never expected to tell the truth. Fashion is a part fantasy and part art. Or as one fashion executive put it, “They are not really photographs. They are images.”

Other ask, What’s the big deal? So cover girls (and guys) are not as perfect as they are pictured. Where is the harm? Well, the harm may be to young girl’s self-images. Several studies have found that women feel worse about their own body image after looking at fashion magazines. Further, these images might create unreal expectations. One survey found that almost half of third-grade girls wanted to be thinner, a wish brought on perhaps by hundreds of exposures to air-brushed models.

For its part, the America Society of Media Photographers makes its position clear. From its Code of Ethics: “Disclose any alteration and manipulation of content or meaning in editorial feature or illustrative photographs and require the publisher to disclose that distortion or any further alteration.”

Source: Dominick, J. R. (2011). The Dynamics of Mass Communication, Media in Transition (Edition 11th). New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

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