March 4, 2021

Israel’s Photoshop Law Exposes the Body Image Fantasy

By Bethany Wolfe Barnett

From Brave Girls Want

From Brave Girls Want

Two years after Israel passed a Photoshop law designed to ensure models maintain healthy weights and to promote editorial transparency in fashion advertising, the law is gaining notice again.

At the start of the year, as people focused on New Year’s resolutions for health and weight loss, Israel’s law received attention on social media, prompting discussion about Photoshop’s effect on our minds and bodies. This attention came on the heels of actresses, such as Keira Knightley, posing topless to show the real size of her breasts and others objecting to their Photoshopped images. The fashion magazine, Marie Claire, reports in a blog that they will be printing a photo of model Cindy Crawford without the benefit of a Photoshop retouch next month. The photo itself, revealing beauty, but not perfection, is circulating the Internet this week.

As consumers, we encounter digital manipulation everywhere. Bodies and faces are stretched, contorted, and smoothed over into an ideal. Already thin models are often slimmed down to points of unnaturalness.

Israel’s law makes us wonder: have we gone too far with images of women’s beauty? Do consumers no longer know what bodies look like, without the doctoring of Photoshop? Of course, we know that our thighs touch but that’s not what we see in the magazines. In print we are told that breasts are large and bodies are stick-thin. What we forget, however, is that these images are constructed to sell both clothing and a fantasy lifestyle. Israel’s law may help to puncture that balloon. The law may point out what is falsified about the images, and help us, consumers, realize what is enhanced.

The Israeli Photoshop law is part of a wider movement of body acceptance. Online clothing retailer ModCloth signed the Heroes Pledge for Advertisers, promising “not to change the shape, size, proportion, color and/or remove/enhance the physical features, of the people in our ads in post-production.” The no-Photoshop policy is also present in the women’s lifestyle magazine Verily. The Verily motto is “less of who you should be, more of who you are.” Their Photoshop policy recognizes that perceived imperfections – be they crow’s feet, birthmarks, stretch marks or softer bodies – are part of what makes a woman beautiful. This Photoshop movement celebrates a model’s natural beauty rather than changing her body structure into something it is not.

Photoshop itself isn’t evil. It is a tool to enhance photographs, to help the photographer achieve the best possible image. We would not demand that photographers stop using proper lighting, shooting the best pose, or using professional makeup artists. And even if we stop enhancing body parts altogether, we may still debate the merits of covering a scar, red eye or a bruise. Where is the line? Will we welcome the changes or have trouble letting go of the fantasy?

Overall, we applaud Israel for taking a stand in this international discussion. Other countries have indicated that they will follow suit. In 2014, the Truth in Advertising Act was introduced in the U.S. Congress. Campaigners have called for similar laws in Australia, Britain and France as well.

This conversation is one that we need to have. While we recognize that many fashion magazines and advertisements make heavy use of photo editing, we still compare ourselves to the manipulated images. We know, but cannot always find distance from the fantasy the images provide. Talking about what is fit, healthy and realistic are discussions that we all need to have, regardless of age or gender. When we look in the mirror and see our bodies, however they appear, we must recognize that they are real, fleshy and whole – not airbrushed and edited to oblivion. Whether individual publications and corporations lead the charge, or it becomes the purview of governments, there is a call for change in the air, one to prevent eating disorders, protect the citizens of the world and reacquaint ourselves with the reality of our bodies.

Bethany Wolfe Barnett is the HBI communications coordinator.


  1. ruth housman says:

    How do we frame what we present to others? It seems that we have access to a toolbox of ever increasing options these days, in terms of how we present “reality”. For a long time, without these new tools like Adobe photoshop, photographers have been air touching photos, tinting them, collaging them, doing wild and wonderful things, in changing reality, in creating and augmenting also the fantasy, we want to see, that also involves our own bodies. We are looking, those of us getting older, for “wrinkle free”, because the signs of aging, for example, are hard to take, when we don’t feel that old, when we want to see ourselves as we were in that mirror, even if it comes to making the mirror lie for us. We have botox, and we have “beau talks”, as in looking for beauty, in so many places. Cosmetic surgeons do very well. Those who have sadly lost their hair to cancer, have accessed some amazing tattoo or henna artists, who create for them truly beautiful “crowns of glory”. Where do we stop, and Why should we stop? The down side is anorexia, and the true “skinny” on this has to do with how society represents what is beautiful, not just in glossy ads, not just by altering our images, but in a context that speaks everywhere, about aging, ageism, invisibility, and what we discard, as sadly, often that wrinkle in time, creates major disjunction with a society bent on Youth. I believe life is this delicate dance that involves the poles as in the extremes, also of course our burlesque pole dancers, but that the BAL or balancing act, also a word that is about Dance, and playing ball, has to do with a give and take, a true dialogue, that goes everywhere, on what matters, what is truly at the root of important for a society. What “weight” do we give to this body issue, to what is “bawdy”, to how we seem geared to be lemmings in following a party line. Those hurt deeply, are not just the old, but the teens, those entering a scene in which what is seen, is so confusing, in terms of values, in terms of worth.

    • bwolfe says:

      That’s a primary reason why the law was put into effect, to protect teens. Eating disorders has one of the highest mortality rates amongst mental illnesses, especially among the young.

      The law was also created to protect models as they try to get thinner and thinner for a competitive edge.

      Thank you for your comment!

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