Norway considers disclaimers on retouched ads

Norway’s equality minister is pushing for advertisers to begin disclosing when their billboards have been retouched. The goal is to create “warning labels” that will help consumers, and particularly young people, distinguished between digitally altered images and unaltered ones.

Making the connection between unrealistic images of women’s bodies in advertising and poor body image in young women, equality minister Audun Lysbakken called for a dialogue between the advertising industry and the government to create new standards around this issue.

Lysbakken said hundreds of thousands of young girls endured eating disorders while living with a distorted self-image obtained partly by hopeless comparisons with “cleaned-up” beauty ads. Women’s rights groups in North America and in Europe have long allied with psychologists and sociologists against the phenomenon.

Norway is not the only country to consider such a measure. In 2009, the UK’s Liberal Democrats called for a ban on photoshopping or retouching pictures or advertising material aimed at consumers under 16, and for a law requiring advertisers to disclose when they have used airbrushing or photoshop. Earlier this year, a L’Oreal ad and a Maybelline ad were banned in the UK for being excessively retouched.

In 2009, French MP Valerie Boyer called for a wideranging law that would require a “bold printed notice” informing consumers when images been digitally altered. It would apply not just to billboards and makeup ads, but to photos used in political campaigns and on packaging. The cost for violating the law would be up to fifty percent of the cost of the publicity campaign, a hefty fine.

“These photos can lead people to believe in a reality that does not actually exist, and have a detrimental effect on adolescents. “Many young people, particularly girls, do not know the difference between the virtual and reality, and can develop complexes from a very young age,” she said.

Boyer also made an appeal to consumer protection, likening digital enhancement to false advertising.

I”m of the opinion that media literacy is a crucial tool for understanding how our world works, akin to a basic understanding of statistics or of science. These are the terms in which our world is created for us and explained to us, and we need to be able to make sense of those terms. When it comes to young women and body image, I feel particularly strongly that media literacy can help steel consumers against the negative effects of the daily barrage of unattainable physical perfection. However, media literacy isn’t enough – young women, studies show, aspire to look like photoshopped models even when they know that photoshop has been used. So perhaps warning labels are a good idea, but they’re only part of a bigger solution.

So what do you think, readers? Would you want a Photoshop warning label on American advertising?

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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Join the Conversation

  • Sam Lindsay-Levine

    I think that in the current age it’s not very clear what it means for an image to have been digitally altered. I think even if I snap a photo of myself and upload it straight to Facebook, my camera does some amount of processing to change light levels, reduce red-eye, etc.

    Even beyond that, what about cropping, light level altering, adding text, and so forth?

    It seems to me that without a crystal-clear definition, you will just see literally every advertisement ever have a “these images have been digitally altered” warning at the bottom and everyone will immediately start ignoring them, and I don’t think there is any such tenable definition.

    I agree with the desire behind the proposal, but the proposal seems fundamentally, maybe even philosophically, unworkable.

    • Steven Olson

      You make a really good point, one that I had not considered (but in hind sight is very obvious). I think a good definition would have to be no digital altering to any body part of the person being photographed (excluding eyes, as I think red eye reduction is probably an acceptable form of altering).

      But maybe I am still missing something?

  • Caitlin

    I would love for there to be a website listed on the ad where you can go look at the original, untouched photograph. I know I’m never going to get my way with this, but I know my self esteem improved much more when comparing photoshopped photos to their originals as compared to just knowing a picture is photoshopped. I didn’t realize the extent to which they photoshopped until seeing the before and afters.

  • Elisa

    Putting photoshop disclaimers on fashion ads may not be the full comprehensive solution, but it is a great step in raising awareness of the false reality presented in the media. The retouching of a woman’s body is, in my opinion, a severe distortion of her form, no matter how dramatic the photoshopping actually is. Such distortion presented as truth is wrong, and contributes greatly to a sort of societal body dysmorphia, especially among the youth. Education is the real solution, and I feel that disclaimers are a small step in that direction.

  • Kristen

    While I most definitely agree with the motivation behind this sort of law (especially considering the image included in this post) I agree with other posters that stricter definitions are needed. I am a graphic designer in the advertising industry and nearly everything we do is put through Photoshop at some point. This week alone I Photoshopped liqour bottles and an anesthesiology device. Not all Photoshopping is evil, its when its taken to extremes that alters reality in a way that may be deceptive.

  • Andrea

    I love Norway — and that they are actually talking about this. I’m pretty sure that something workable can come out of this.

  • Andrew

    So is Norway going to make this a law?

    Because if the US did, then the fashion companies would’ve sued and then a judge would’ve ruled in favor of the fashion companies’ 1st amendment rights…of course aided by corporate personhood. Sad that corporations get to enjoy being people more than the women whose images are digitally modded do.