June 29, 2011 -- In the age of digital manipulation, when images are often "doctored" by editors with the precision of surgeons, the most powerful medical organization in America weighs in to say that rampant Photoshopping sends an unhealthy message to America's youth.
The American Medical Association has urged advertisers, especially those in teen-oriented magazines, to work with child and adolescent health agencies to develop guidelines that set some Photoshopping boundaries.
"Photoshopping, especially as it's related to children and adolescents, gives them an unrealistic expectation of what they might expect to look like as they grow up," said Jeremy Lazarus, AMA's president-elect. "So there are adverse health consequences as a result of that."
Several studies have linked exposure to manipulated pictures to eating disorders and other health problems. The danger is that young people measure themselves against body types that can only be attained with the help of photo-editing software, psychologists say.
"We often forget, because of the bombardment of these images, that Americans don't look like this," said David Sarwer, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. "They are these idealized images of beauty where everything is perfect, and there are no blemishes and no wrinkles and no cellulite."
Even Kate Middleton's picture-perfect wedding apparently wasn't perfect enough for Italian magazine Grazia, which edited her waist to make it tinier. In one 2009 Ralph Lauren ad, the Photoshopping was so severe it made the model's head bigger than her waist.
In the aftermath of the controversy over that ad, Lauren released a statement apologizing for the retouching.
"We have addressed the problem and going forward will take every precaution to ensure that the caliber of our artwork represents our brand appropriately," he said.
Precautions that Sarwer hopes will transform into a new normal for the industry.
"It's fantastic that the AMA has stepped out and made this statement," said Sarwer. "I truly hope that not only do other professional and medical societies echo and share in this statement and in this belief, I also hope obviously that the magazine publishers in our country and around the world also recognize that they do have a responsibility to their viewers and to the purchasers of their magazines."