The XX Factor

Curbing Digitally Altered Photographs of Women Means Better Images of Women.

Last week, a law was introduced in France’s National Assembly that, if passed, would force advertisers and magazine editors to print disclaimers on images of women that had been digitally altered, according to the article ” A Move to Curb Digitally Altered Photos in Ads ,” published in Monday’s New York Times . (The bill’s champion, Valerie Boyer, succeeded in shuttering “pro-ana” websites last year.)

The article also explains that earlier this month in Britain, Jo Swinson, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party, introduced a proposal that would permit Parliament to force Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority, which combats misleading claims, to create a numbering system to be used on printed advertisements: one, the lowest number, would indicate “altered lighting,” whereas the highest number, four, would signify “digital cosmetic surgery.” Swinson claims that this system would discourage art directors from digitally enhancing images of women and would alert women to digital enhancements on those images that had in fact been altered.

Although I am wary of any law that limits the implements in the artists’ toolbox, I rather like what the inevitable “rawer photography” would mean for the aesthetics of ads and magazine editorials. The post-production miracles of Pascal Dangin -the Michelangelo of Photoshop?-have no doubt come at the expense of new ideas in image making. I mean, how boring and bland have glossy magazines and advertisements become since the explosions of both cosmetic surgery and digital cosmetic surgery, and since celebrity managers can demand digital modifications, often by the hand of Dangin, in their “press” contracts? For a long time I’ve been hoping for a shift from the mainstream airbrushed-half-naked chick-(minus four ribs)-lying-next-to-a-$2,500-mass-produced-“luxury”-purse spread.

The digital toolbox, while enjoining hundreds of millions of people to dabble in art, has made the average art director lazy. It’s easier to do “digital cosmetic surgery” on a so-so image than it is to conceive of something altogether stunning or new. The disclaimer law, if applied vigorously-and I’d rather that it needn’t be applied at all-would encourage new aesthetics and approaches to depicting femininity, reality-based and fantastical. And then perhaps women would once again see the art in advertising, instead of just a catalogue of tricked-out body parts.