science confirms size diversity is even more important than we thought

A study investigating the effect of Photoshop "warning" labels has found them completely ineffective, to the shock of women nowhere.

by Hannah Ongley
21 April 2016, 6:06pm

As every female-identifying person in the first world knows, being constantly bombarded with images of #flawless women has a crippling effect on body satisfaction. Recently brands and advertisers have been proposing two disparate solutions to the problem: diversifying the range of body types seen as acceptable, or including a Photoshop disclaimer on the flawless bodies shilling everything from bikinis to dehumidifiers. Science has now confirmed what common sense and everyday lived experiences indicate: that women's bodies are not packets of cigarettes to slap a "warning" on and be done with. In fact disclaimers or "subvertisements" have literally no effect on body positivity. 

A team of psychologists from Chapman University tested the effects of such disclaimers on 2,288 women with an average age of 35. Some women were shown unaltered advertisements that featured slender women. Other women were exposed to these same images but had a disclaimer label in red stating "WARNING, this photo has been Photoshopped." A third set of women were shown the images with different messages such as "Photoshop made me ripped" or a thought bubble coming out of a model's head stating, "I'm thinking about that last cheeseburger I ate... 5 years ago." One disclaimer included the words, "Why don't you show that she is a person with a face and personality instead of presenting her as a sexualized body part" on an image focusing on a woman's butt.

The results showed that the women exposed to the disclaimers and witty subvertisements did not report higher body satisfaction than the women exposed to unaltered images. David Frederick, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Chapman University and lead author on the study, confirmed this in summary. Though, somewhat bafflingly, he proposed therapy and media literacy programs as more obvious alternatives than throwing up a few plus-size bodies on billboards. 

"There is no existing research that has examined whether viewing images that have been subvertised improves body image, reduces social comparison, or reduces a desire to be thin," he said. "We found that simply viewing subvertised images was not effective. Instead, research shows that other approaches, such as media literacy programs and individual therapy appear to be more effective interventions. Even if viewing the actual subvertisements does not benefit most women, the act of creating them may be a positive experience for women experiencing body dissatisfaction."

It would have been interesting to see a breakdown of the women shown flawless but Photoshop-free bodies and the women shown similar but Photoshopped bodies. Advertisers are frequently given a clap on the back for hiring Gisele Bündchen types to front unaltered campaigns, when this arguably just suggests that the perfect body is totally attainable if you go to the gym three times a day and eat a raw vegan diet on vacation. One thing is more crystal: subway posters are a hell of a lot cheaper than mass psychotherapy fees.  


Text Hannah Ongley

Body Positivity
diversity in fashion
size diversity