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False Advertisements of the Self

I just heard about a Jezebel post on Redbook’s photoshopped transformation of Faith Hill. The blogger called the retouching one more example of the “‘cover lie’ of a medium that has made its mark by invalidating women’s strengths, hopes and dreams with an endless parade of stories on how to be thinner, sexier, [and] trendier. . . .” We’re facing an epidemic of faked photos, setting ever higher standards of appearance for those unlucky enough to be seduced by the media’s all-consuming images.

We presently accept misleading photos of frozen dinners, and perhaps food fakery may be written off as an example of puffery. But I’d prefer to see rules requiring any cover image of a to-be-cooked product to be generated under videotaped conditions reasonably approximating how it would be prepared at an ordinary home. Similarly, given the cultural importance of cover images and other prominent features on stars, perhaps readers should be entitled to see the source photo that was retouched in order to create a cover image. Such a standard might even reduce the market for paparazzi’s “candid shots.”

Admittedly, photography is more an art of lighting, composition, and development than it is a science of objective representation. But I am not calling for a “neutral photograph” standard akin to passport regs that ban smiles from identification photos. I just want the consumers of mass media to understand just how far magazines are departing from a WYSIWIG standard. And if a right of publicity gives celebrities extraordinary power over commercial depictions of them, perhaps they should also be responsible for avoiding false advertisements of themselves.

X-Posted at Concurring Opinions.