The bane of today’s society: Photoshop.

Nicola Moors investigates whether the media damages the self-esteem of the public through Photoshopped images.

Photo: pinkcotton/Flickr

’What’s important is to remember is that people should be judged on the type of person they are, not for how they look,’ says Rachael Johnston, a recovering anorexic from Warrington, Cheshire. In a country where an estimated 1.6 million people suffer from an eating disorder (National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence); these are perhaps the wisest of words.

In today’s society, too high a priority is placed on looks, and often women are told that an unobtainable body image is ‘perfect’. Everywhere we look, we are being told by magazines and advertisements that our face is too wrinkly, our thighs aren’t slim enough and our breasts aren’t big enough. Last year 10,003 women had their breasts enlarged while 3,070 had liposuction (a 6.2% and 6% rise respectively from 2010 despite the recession). In fact, during 2011, over 43,000 men and women had cosmetic surgery showing the societal pressure for people to look slim.

If this pressure wasn’t enough, advertisements heavily Photoshop the celebrities and models featured in them – often to CGI extremes, and sometimes until they are barely recognisable. Last year the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned two make-up adverts because the images of Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington had both been airbrushed in a way that ‘misled’ consumers. While most people realise that advertisements are usually airbrushed, the younger generations may not.

According to MIND, the leading mental health charity for England and Wales, young people in the age group 14-25 will be most at risk of developing an eating disorder however there have been cases of Anorexia Nervosa (also known as anorexia) in children as young as six.

This is Rachael Johnston’s argument for her e-petition calling for the government to ban all airbrushed images in the UK that are aimed at the under the age of 16.  It makes sense – teenagers going through puberty are paranoid enough about their body image without the photoshopped images of already-beautiful men and women being not only pushed, but shoved, into their minds.

‘Fuelled’ by images of beautiful airbrushed celebrities and models, even cutting out pictures of her idol Victoria Beckham, Rachael ‘couldn’t see reality’ and her weight managed to plummet down to 4.5 stone with doctors giving her just 48 hours to live.

Rachael is still receiving treatment for her seven year battle against anorexia, and said, ‘When I was at my worst, I didn’t believe that the images were airbrushed – even now I still look at images and wish I was like the person in them.

‘Although I don’t think that pictures can take the full blame – they may not affect everyone as everyone is different – but I do think that they may fuel eating disorders and low self-esteem.

‘Even if my petition doesn’t reach the 100,000 signatures it needs to be debated, it is still raising awareness which is so important.’

Another online petition has raised the profile of the dangers of Photoshop in America. 14-year old Julia Bluhm, from Maine, launched an online petition with urging Seventeen magazine to use just one unaltered image per issue in order to ‘give girls images of real girls’.

After her petition went viral, Julia gained over 84,000 signatures and hand-delivered it to the executive editor of Seventeen magazine, Joanna Saltz. Eventually, the magazine’s editor, Ann Shoket, used her August editor’s letter to vow not to digitally change the body size or face of the girls featured in its issues, although she said that Photoshop would still be used to remove errant strands of hair or to tidy up creases in clothes.

Rachael says that the change in Seventeen magazine’s use of photoshop is ‘a great idea’ and that she wishes that the UK magazines ‘would follow in their footsteps’.

‘If UK magazines are determined to use photoshopped images then they should put a logo near the photo to warn readers that the image has been altered. They put cancer warnings on cigarettes, why not warnings on low self-esteem on magazines?’

Obviously not everyone agrees that magazines should ban airbrushed images as they are not to blame for the level of eating disorders in the UK – it could argued that if we were to ban airbrushing in magazines, then eating disorder sufferers would only find other ‘triggers’ to further their illness.

One such person is Carole Malone, a journalist and commentator, who said during a BBC interview, ‘You can’t ban pictures of beautiful women in case it may affect a handful of teenagers. Most people who don’t understand that it is a fantasy are the people who have a problem.

‘It’s why women wear make-up – we want to look better than nature intended.’

Well, if magazines are fantasies then this is one dream that we need to wake up from.

There are plenty of airbrushing controversies recently where clothing and beauty brands have digitally altered their models into unrecognisable CGI special-effects. While accidentally removing a hand could be considered slightly amusing (yes, this has been done before), slimming down the waist of arguably England’s most famous and slimmest woman, Kate Middleton, on the cover of a glossy magazine is hardly giving the right message to women – and men – across the country.

Fortunately there are some companies that realise the damage of using such certain body types in their advertising campaigns. In 2004, skin care brand Dove launched a ‘real beauty’ campaign where the models used in their advertisements were outside the ‘norms’ of stick-thin women. But the make-up firm Bare Minerals has gone one step further. For their campaign, they used a blind casting process to choose their five ‘inspirational’ models – Lauren, Andrea, Keri, Darlene and Melanie – who have not been photoshopped in any way, and yet their wrinkles make them even more beautiful and more relatable.

Surely that’s what advertisements and magazines should be aiming for – models and celebrities that are relatable to men and women everywhere?

There are many symptoms of eating disorders, if you are worried about the eating habits of a friend or yourself, then get into touch with one of the following:

  • The University Health Service runs an eating disorders clinic. Ask your GP to refer you. Make an appointment on 0114 222 2100
  • The University Counselling Service is available to everyone registered with the university. Contact them on 0114 222 4134 or email
  • South Yorkshire Eating Disorders Association (affiliated with BEAT) – a support service for anybody affected by eating disorders – run a helpline every Tuesday and Thursday 10am to 5pm. Call the helpline on 0114 272 8855.
  • BEAT (the national eating disorders association): call their helpline on 0845 634 1414


To sign Rachael’s petition to ban airbrushing aimed at children under the age of 16, go to




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