Baby Steps Away From Barbie

In July 2011 the United Kingdom’s Advertising Standards Authority banned cosmetics ads from L’Oreal/Lancome featuring Julia Roberts and Maybelline featuring Christy Turlington because the use of Photoshop caused the images to be misleading about the advertised product.  In December 2011 America’s National Advertising Division banned Proctor & Gamble’s CoverGirl mascara ad because of its misleading photo created by Photoshop.  It was a great baby step forward, but there is a lot of work to do in regards to Photoshopping ads.

Although there have been several examples of obvious Photoshopping like the Ralph Lauren ad in October 2009 in which the model’s head was bigger than her hips, Photoshopping goes on all the time in less glaringly obvious ways.  In August 2010 the website for Ann Taylor accidentally posted the photo on the left until the photoshopped image on the right replaced it.

Photo from

Another less glaringly obvious photoshopped image is of Faith Hill on the July 2007 cover of the magazine Redbook.  Her arm, back, and waist have been slimmed down, and wrinkles have been erased.

Photo from

The following link is to a short video about photoshopping that makes me laugh and shudder at the same time.  The video comically spoofs photoshopping while making the point that most of the images we see are not real.

Although the photoshopped images are not real, they present images of women who have “obtained” the perfect body, best typified by the Barbie doll.  If Barbie was a human she would be 5’9”, weigh 110 pounds, and have an 18 inch waist, 36 inch breasts, and 33 inch hips (Durham, 2008, 95-96).

Cosmetic surgery is on the rise throughout the world and most people seeking cosmetic surgery are women attempting to attain the Barbie body.  (There are, of course, several factors in the decision to undergo cosmetic surgery; however, the constant bombardment of society with Barbie-like images as the ideal beauty plays a large role.)  According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, in 2010 the total number of cosmetic procedures conducted in America was 13,117,063 for a total cost of approximately $10.1 billion.

According to the Webster’s dictionary, mutilation is defined as “the act of maiming, crippling, cutting up, or altering radically so as to damage seriously essential parts of the body”.  The act of cosmetic surgery itself can be seen as mutilation of the body.  Proponents of cosmetic surgery shudder at the idea of cosmetic surgery as mutilation and instead often describe it as empowering.  However,

[a]s more and more cosmetic procedures are presented as ‘empowering choices’ that we’d be silly not to at least consider–breast implants which can cause chronic pain and disease, injections to deaden the nerves in our feet so we can keep wearing those high heeled shoes, surgery to make our vulvas resemble that of a famous porn star, permanent makeup tattooed onto our faces, liposuction or stripping of varicose veins which can lead to chronic nerve pain – the greater is the pressure on us to conform, and the smaller the space in which we get to be content with ourselves the way we are” (Winter, 2004, 14).

I have heard and read arguments against banning photoshopped images.  Several of these arguments claim that consumers of the images realize they are not completely realistic and that there is nothing wrong with companies marketing their products in the most alluring manner as possible.  I disagree with those arguments.  Photoshopping is essentially cutting out unwanted parts and is, in a sense, mutilating the body of the photographed person.  As can been seen in the above photographs the women are beautiful even without the nonrealistic alterations conducted by photoshopping.  The constant bombardment of photoshopped images causes both men and women to idealize a body type that is physically impossible to attain in the real world.

Even though I know that the images are extensively photoshopped, I still criticize my own body in light of the ideals that are aggressively displayed in the media.  I understand the importance of exercising and eating right in order to take care of my body.  I know that the ideal portrayed in the media is physically impossible.  But what keeps me from stopping on the treadmill when my lungs are bursting, my face is bright red, and I’m drenched with sweat is the hope that I will fit into those jeans again.  I don’t think I’m the only one who has this dichotomous way of thinking.  So while I am thrilled that the advertising watchdogs are taking the baby step of banning misleading photoshopped images in cosmetic ads, I hope that advertisements begin to show real women instead of photoshopped shadows of women.   I realize that will take a very long time.  Meanwhile, I will continue to take my own baby steps towards better internalization of my knowledge about the impossibility of the Barbie body and acceptance of my own body.

Works Cited

Durham, M. Gigi. 2008. The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It. New York: Overlook Publishing.

Kite, Lindsay and Lexie Kite. 2011. Photoshopping: Altering Images and Our Minds!. 30 November.

Winter, Amy. 2004. Feminism and the Politics of Appearance. Off Our Backs. Vol. 34 No. 11-12: 14

—by DG


3 thoughts on “Baby Steps Away From Barbie

  1. CL says:

    Many of you have probably already seen the Dove beauty commercial but it is so good. What bothers me is that the women who are in these ads are most likely aware that their pictures are being distorted. They are allowing themselves to be a lie – a lie that harms so many of their fellow women.

  2. Victoria Fox says:

    I always think I’m going to get used to these “before and after” photoshop pictures, but they still surprise me. And I pay serious attention to issues regarding women’s bodies. What does that say about our ability to distinguish reality from media?

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