Why France Might Put Warning Labels on Airbrushed Photos

Like many Western countries, France requires health warnings on tobacco and alcohol and similar labels on processed food containing genetically modified ingredients. France’s regulators are also notoriously tough on marketing campaigns that make false product claims. Now some French legislators want to take consumer protection to an unprecedented level, requiring that advertisements, product labels and even campaign posters carry a warning when they feature a photograph that’s been digitally enhanced.

The drive against airbrushed photos is being headed by conservative parliamentarian Valérie Boyer, who says the widespread use of digital technology to alter images is feeding the public a steady visual diet of falsified people, places and products. This artificial reality leads people to expect perfection from themselves and the world in an impossible way, she says. “When writers take a news item or real event and considerably embellish it, they are required to alert readers by calling the work fiction, a novel or a story based on dramatized facts. Why should it be any different for photographs?” Boyer asks. “Rules on food labeling let consumers know the origins of the contents and the presence of things like additives and preservatives. What’s wrong with … informing them when photographs have also been modified from their original form?”

Advertisers would argue that doing so undermines the allure of perfectly photographed people and places in marketing campaigns, which, in many cases, is what sells. A svelte model with perfect skin, for example, is likely to make you want to eat high-fiber cereal more than a model with visible imperfections. Perhaps, says Boyer, but she believes that passing enhanced imagery off as the real thing is misleading. Her proposed legislation would require doctored photos meant for public distribution to carry the warning “Photograph retouched to modify the physical appearance of a person.” Anyone violating the rule could be fined about $55,000. Since she presented her draft to parliamentary committees in September, Boyer has been joined by more than 50 other legislators who want to see it introduced as formal legislation and voted on in the coming months.

Boyer’s effort is not only motivated by a fear that consumers are being taken for a ride. She also feels the idealized beauty in such photos is giving people false expectations of how the world should look — and how they should look as well. Because digitally enhanced photos are often used in mass-marketing campaigns for everything from soft drinks to luxury cars to travel packages, Boyer says the images are gradually leading to a standardization of what is considered beautiful — and by extension, what isn’t.

“It’s creating parallel worlds: one in which everything in ads and photos is gorgeous, slim, chic and what we aspire to, and our daily reality of imperfection, normality and frustration that we can’t be like those other people who — literally — don’t exist,” she says.

The advertising and marketing industries would clearly be the most affected by Boyer’s proposed law. But her draft also calls for warnings on art photography, press releases and even political posters that have been similarly digitally enhanced. The French media have had fun with the possibility of warnings being placed on political ads, recalling the 2007 vacation photograph of a shirtless President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris Match magazine in which his bulging love handles were erased to give him a hunkier form. Boyer — a member of Sarkozy’s party — meets such sniggering with a swipe of her own.

“President Sarkozy was dragged through the mud about that by media that routinely alter photographs without anyone knowing about it, and by politicians who don’t hesitate to have their own pictures modified to remove wrinkles, bags or hanging skin,” she says.

Boyer has also authored a pending law awaiting upper house approval that calls for prison terms and fines for people who encourage and promote anorexia, like those who run so-called “pro-ana” websites and blogs. However, she says her new proposal was written less out of concern that perfect figures in doctored photos were driving women to develop eating disorders and more out of a fear that enhanced images were giving the public an intentionally fabricated picture of reality.

If Boyer’s proposal does happen to pass in Parliament, how likely is it that the warnings will gain acceptance in France? In a country where beauty is revered, it’s hard to say how people will feel about defacing it with a large black and white warning label.



Oct. 05, 2009 Time

One Response to Why France Might Put Warning Labels on Airbrushed Photos

  1. victor matete vmatete@gmail.com

    STRATEGIC PLAN FOR KETCA – NOW AND NEVER
    By: Professor P.A.Odhiambo
    Chairman, KETCA

    All over the world, and over the years, the war against tobacco has never been an easy task. For every effort made towards tobacco control, there has been daring counter-maneuvers from the tobacco industry. The industry itself also has limitless initiatives of its own meant to preempt and fore-stall any control efforts.

    The historical dimensions and the arena of the control efforts and counter-maneuvers are littered with diluted regulations, blocked channels of enforcement, threats upon threats of far-fetched consequences of tobacco control, as well as betrayal to see anti-tobacco lobbies break up and break down, or turned against one another. Success in tobacco control comes slow and often-times painfully.

    It so happens that the tobacco industry does more than manufacture and market its products. They also engage in both research and trickeries (read cooked research) to ensure perpetuation of its lethal trade. Indeed, trading in tobacco is lethal to humans, the environment and the economy of nations, particularly developing nations from where tobacco multinationals repatriate their ill-gotten profits.

    Undertaking tobacco control, therefore, requires more than routine programming. It must start with creation of an enabling environment as it provide for in an enacted legislation.

    Kenya has a TOBACCO CONTROL ACT of parliament. This is a major step in creating the much-needed enabling environment.

    But that is not all. After the enactment of the law, anti-tobacco activists and various arms of the Government face the stupendous task of implementing the law as stipulated, and provided for, in the Act.

    The challenges of implementation are another level that must be approached very systematically. Any organization worth its salt cannot undertake any of its intentioned activities and actions without planning strategically. Organizations that purport to undertake tobacco control require superlatively planned strategies if they hope to achieve their objectives.

    With Kenya’s Tobacco Control Act in place with a committed core of corporate membership, KETCA recognized its own vantage position in moving Kenya and Kenyans forward on the path of effective tobacco control. Consequently it made a timely move to evolve its own STRATEGIC PLAN to ensure that its over-all efforts in tobacco control bear fruit. With its own experience and lessons learned since its inception and registration, this is a most opportune moment to develop and adopt its strategic plan.

    What follows in the pages of this plan document, therefore, are deemed to be truly strategic, timely, appropriate, relevant and (correctly) targeted (START) for the take-off and actual start of the implementation of this particular Strategic Plan.

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