Looking So Good It Hurts: New Bill Would Let FTC Regulate Photoshop

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor
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Looking too good could literally become a crime under newly proposed federal legislation, which would give the Federal Trade Commission power to regulate Photoshop image editing software use in advertising and other media.

The Truth in Advertising Act of 2014 or “Anti-Photoshop Act” was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year by Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen along with Democrats Lois Capps of California and Theodore Deutch of Florida. If enacted, the bill will empower the FTC to regulate and reduce the use of Photoshopped images in media.

“The Truth in Advertising Act has already sparked more awareness of the need to address the unrealistic body image often promulgated by advertisers,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement, adding she’s “hopeful that this bill will get the hearing it deserves.”

Federal Trade Commission officials would also be charged with reporting to Congress on the use of Photoshopped pictures “altered to change the physical characteristics of bodies and faces” of people appearing in “advertising and other media,” according to the bill.

The commission would also have to develop a plan to reduce the use of altered photographs and blueprint a mechanism for regulating digital picture editing across industry media.

As International Business Times put it, “making a model look too thin, or her skin too flawless, may soon be a violation of federal standards.”

Organizations like the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and the Associated Disorders and the National Eating Disorders Association have been lobbying for such federal intervention for years, and former Creative Artists Agency senior marketing executive Seth Matlins has launched an online petition labeling “heavily” Photoshopped ads as “weapons of mass perfection,” with casualties. The petition has more than 34,000 signatures as of Thursday.

“Really, what are we talking about here?” AdAge writer Simon Dumenco wrote after attending a “truth in advertising” conference. “FTC regulations that somehow say, ‘Thou shall not create a thigh gap where one does not exist’? Or ‘Thou shall not smooth out wrinkles’?”

Neither the bill nor its proponents have addressed exactly how the regulatory agency will navigate the deep technical nuances of the advanced photo-editing software, which has a steep learning curve for new users and sports regular updates from developer Adobe.

The logistics of enforcement also have yet to be spelled out. As IBI points out, Congress attempted similar enforcement in the media industry over “obnoxiously loud commercials” in 2010.

“More than three years later, the law seems to be having little effect, as pretty much anyone with a TV can attest.”

The bill states the FTC will look to “stakeholders and experts” from business, consumer-advocacy and mental health organizations for input and feedback on regulation proposals.

Adobe has so far chosen to remain neutral in the discussion, stating in an email to IBI that one of the “core values at Adobe” is to conduct the company “in a responsible, socially conscious manner.”

If passed, research and recommendations from the FTC would be expected within 18 months.

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