Airbrushing: ASA give it the brush-off

The ever-contentious subject of airbrushing made numerous headlines again today.

It came in light of a campaign aimed at forcing the media to be open about its use of airbrushing – requesting airbrushed images of celebrities be labelled – by Girlguiding UK.

And they’ve received support from the equalities minister, Lynne Featherstone MP, who wrote a blog post praising the organisation’s petition. In the blog, Featherstone warned that it was becoming impossible for young people to avoid unrealistic images and praised Girlguiding UK’s work in raising awareness of the problem: “I have sent them (Girlguiding UK) a message of support – and was pleased to see Lib Dem MP Jo Swinson talking about the importance of transparency and honesty in advertising,”.

Ultimately, they want David Cameron to introduce compulsory labelling so people can tell the difference between airbrushed and natural images.

Of course, one can see their point. But would this realistically make a difference? Advertisers are always going to use airbrushed images of perfection since it sells. And a small label to flag what we already know is not going to change the inadequacy it may evoke in its audience.

An interesting piece on the topic came from the Press Association’s Tom Morgan, writing in The Independent. Among other things Morgan looked at notorious airbrushing-related incidents in which celebrities have objected to their airbrushing. Like that of Kate Winslet, who in 2003 complained about an unrealistically slimmed down image of herself, saying of the image: ‘I do not look like that, and more importantly, I don’t desire to look like that’. And more recently in the case of Keira Knightley – following controversy over an airbrushed poster for the film ‘King Arthur’ in 2004, Knightley refused to be airbrushed in any publicity pictures for the film ‘The Duchess’.

The Advertising Standards Authority’s response, for the most part, shirked any responsibility, describing airbrushing as a “accepted creative practice”.

They continue: “It is our role as the advertising watchdog to remove any ad that goes too far and uses any technique in a way that is misleading or irresponsible. The ASA receives only a small handful of complaints about airbrushing in ads. Although this suggests it is not an issue of concern to the majority of consumers, we take the complaints seriously and can and will act where necessary to have problem ads withdrawn.”

There’s no question that airbrushing creates unrealistic images (mainly of women) that just don’t match reality. But realistically, no amount of outcry is going to change the fact that if un-touched images don’t sell, advertisers just won’t use them.

It’s a tough one. What do you think?

Gemma Carey, Bluewood Training Ltd,

Share this article