Do We Really Need a Law Dictating the Ethics of Photoshop?

An MP in the UK is proposing a bill that is sure to impact celebs who depend on photoshop.

The Daily Mail recently reported that an MP in the UK has put forward a photoshop law that could ban celebrities secretly photoshopping their images. If passed, the bill would mean celebrities would have to label images that are digitally altered when those images are posted to social media. It’s unclear whether the bill will pass, but it does bring up the debate about ethics and responsibility. And although the focus will be on celebrities, responsibility also falls on photographers and photo editors. One has to ask if we have a duty of care to the wider public?

Is Photoshop Unethical?

Photoshop wasn’t used in the editing of this image

Photoshop has become an integral part of celeb culture. The use of the editing tool is widely accepted, as photographers and photo editors manipulate images to fit certain body types. But, this isn’t free of consequence.

The average person (women who tend to read celeb/gossip magazines in particular), won’t always be aware when a photo has been digitally manipulated. For the consumer, Kim Kardashian’s curves are really that perfect, and an Instagram model really has flawless skin. What happens next? The consumer looks in the mirror and asks themselves, “Why don’t I look like that?”

“While I’m against heavy photoshopping, I’m not comfortable with a group of men in suits telling us what we can and can’t do.”

We live in the best era to talk about mental health. A negative body image has been known to lead to depression and a host of other mental health issues. Whether we want to accept it or not, the photo industry has done its part to diminish the confidence of normal people around the world. We have been part of selling a lie. It’s about time the industry holds its hands up and takes responsibility.

But is government interference the only solution?

Police Ourselves? Or Will Photoshop Win?

Photoshop wasn’t used in the editing of this image @callmemh_

The law proposed by the MP in the UK isn’t new. In 2017 France introduced the same bill, threatening to fine brands and individuals $44,000 if they didn’t comply. And before that, Israel also implemented the same law.

The problem here, however, is it’s extremely difficult to track. Unless social media giants get on board on a global scale, it’s impossible to fully identify each and every case. Pretty much all commercial, portrait, and celeb images have been manipulated in some way or another. Cracking down on them all won’t be easy.

And we also have to ask how much we want the government interfering in our industry. Is it fair for a small selection of elected individuals to tell us how to do our work? While I’m against heavy photoshopping, I’m not comfortable with a group of men in suits telling us what we can and can’t do.

A better, and maybe utopian approach, would surely be to change the culture within?

Stand Up to Brands and Publications About Photoshop

Photoshop wasn’t used in the editing of this image

Much like the government, a small selection of powerful people have created the unrealistic body standards we see today. Rich owners of brands and publications spread the culture, and we, the photo industry, accept it because we want to get paid.

But we can drive change by standing up to those in power. Why should we make a woman look thinner? Surely sound posing skills are enough to get the best out of a subject? More so, what message does it send to the women who are photoshopped? By modifying their body it’s sending the message that they, as they are, are not good enough. But this, as I say, is utopian. Money talks, and it makes it hard to drive change.

“The natural form is beautiful and if we accept it we can achieve better body confidence, which is far more attractive and appealing than a photoshopped image that tells a lie.”

Instead, it sadly requires central government to once again police us in order to keep us safe. And on this topic, I do believe it’s important. Whenever I do a shoot, I’m tired of listening to the requests of my subjects, asking me to “fix them in photoshop.” It’s not their fault. They believe a lie to be true and unfortunately feel inadequate compared to the celebrities and IG models that they idolize.

The World Should Follow Suit About Photoshop

Should this law pass in the UK, and governments find a way to monitor it successfully, I feel other large nations should follow suit.

It’s 2020; the time for creating unrealistic body types should be over, along with all other toxic expectations put on people, especially women. Instead, let’s celebrate the reality of the human form, while we promote healthy attitudes towards body type. There’s nothing wrong with flesh and all that comes with it. The natural form is beautiful, and if we accept it we can achieve better body confidence, which is far more attractive and appealing than a photoshopped image that tells a lie.