Busted...For Photoshopping

Shoplifting might get you thrown in the clink overnight. Offering a cop a joint might mean a hefty fine and mandatory drug education classes. Robbing a bank may land you in jail for a few years. And now, if French lawmakers have their way, altering a pic of a model to make her look thinner could be punishable with a fine of 37,500 euros ($54,930), or up to 50 percent of the original cost of the advertisement.

According to Reuters, “French politicians want to stamp a ‘health warning’ on photographs of models that are altered in order to make them more appealing” as part of an anti-eating disorder campaign. The law was proposed to fight the global impact which twisted, impossible-to-attain images of women's bodies as portrayed by the media have on women’s body images. Under this proposed law, any enhanced photo (like this or these) would be accompanied by a line reading: "Photograph retouched to modify the physical appearance of a person."

I like to think this has something to do with my recent vacation in Paris.

If this warning concept sounds familiar, it may remind you of the current warnings that run on cigarette packages in the U.S., such as:

SURGEON GENERAL'S WARNING: Quitting Smoking Now Greatly Reduces Serious Risks to Your Health.


SURGEON GENERAL'S WARNING: Smoking By Pregnant Women May Result in Fetal Injury, Premature Birth, And Low Birth Weight. 

The thought is that by placing a warning on altered pictures, it will open readers’ eyes to the digital manipulation that has taken place, thereby removing some of the mental toll caused by constantly staring at “perfect” bodies.

"These images can make people believe in a reality that often does not exist," said French parliamentarian Valerie Boyer, a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party. She added that the proposed law should apply to not only editors and graphic designers but to press photographs, political campaigns, art photography and images on packaging.

One French airbrushing brouhaha which has erupted in the news lately: Digitally slimmed photographs of Sarkozy appeared in a magazine two years ago, in which his love handles were reduced.

My thoughts: I LOVE the idea and applaud le idea (hey, my French is coming in handy!) If the law passes, I think it would have a fabulous initial impact on women. But I wonder if, like cigarette ads, the warnings will soon start to fade into the background. Look, everyone in France smokes. Everyone. This, despite the fact that a full one-third of the front of cigarette boxes there carry a loud warning such as Fumer peut entraîner une mort lente et douloureuse (Smoking can result in a slow and painful death.)

Also, and I say this as someone who is actually really in favor of these warnings, I fear that by the time people see the altered image, the damage will already have been done. A written warning won’t necessarily negate the emotional effect of a photo. Actions speak louder than words and, similarly, a picture can often carry a stronger message than a sentence.

That said, I’m all for the law and would vote via absentee ballot if allowed. I just think this needs to be viewed as a solid first step, versus a one-stop solution.

Check out Jezebel’s "Photoshop Of Horrors" for examples of the types of images that would likely need to carry this new warning.

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