back to article Adobe tries to rub out LibDem airbrush claims

Adobe has hit back at demands from Lib Dem MP Jo Swinson for a ban on airbrushing models to make them appear more "beautiful" in advertisements aimed at children. The sort of thing that Miss Swinson is having a pop at is illustrated by this well-known YouTube clip, in which a handsome young woman is first "beautified" using …


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  1. disgruntled yank


    Back around 15 or 20 years ago, Esquire Magazine put Michelle Pfeiffer on the cover with the legend "The Woman Who Needs Nothing." Not long after, Harpers, it said as a service to the women of America, published the itemized retoucher's bill for the photograph.

  2. Matt 58

    Hold On

    What has this got to do with Adobe? might as well finger the national gris and power generators for supplying the power that runs the computers that run photoshop. while agree with her piont its not Adobes problem.

  3. dunncha

    Its not really the tools which are the problem here

    I blame Tomb Raider

    How could a slim athletic girl like carry off such assets without a least a serious support bra......

    I'll get me coat......

  4. Pete 2 Silver badge

    while they're at it ...

    ... why not ban cosmetics, diets, implants, designer clothes and hair colouring, too.

    As a casual observer, it seems to me that the people least able to deal with these "improvements" are the cut-off-from-reality, idealists who, errr, did NOT grow up with all this technology. The people they assume are "victims", who are oh-so impressionable that they feel driven to look like "the girl in the picture" are in fact the most cynical, world-wise and critical individuals you will ever have the misfortune to meet. They can spot a photoshopped image a mile off and dismiss it as fake at a glance (while also appreciating the artistry that went into the manipulation).

    in fact, it can have an empowering effect - as you could take the most dumpy, spotty kid on the block and "photoshop" away all the imperfections - without them having to diet, trowel on the slap or spend £200 on a hair-do.

  5. Jamie Kitson

    Why Stop At Kids?

    Shouldn't this be about what is right rather than what is feasible? My reaction to this was why stop at kids' adverts, let's ban airbrushing in adverts outright, not just in beauty related ads, but all ads, I should think that food adverts would especially (not) benefit.

  6. Simon B


    Natural beauty by airbrushing? I call it FALSE ADVERTISING ... sue the bastards

  7. Waggers

    how long did it take... to come up with this sentence?

    "But Adobe's products undoubtedly allow picture editors unprecedented latitude in touching up models. "

  8. Tom Paine

    Up to a point, Lord Copper

    Adobe certainly do have a point, and of course post-production can't and shouldn't be banned. However Titian and the other rennaissance masters were produced far, far more realistic representations of typical female body shapes. It's not hard to contrast any depiction of women from "Déjeuner sur l'herbe" backwards with the typical examples of female beauty presented in the mass media today. And whilst it's true that men's body-images are increasingly getting battered by unrealistic images of rippling, buffed and ripped hunks, the fact remains that anorexia and other eating disorders, and the other forms of self-harm (cutting & burning in particular) are still much more prevalent in women than men (although the rate in men is growing.) Therefore the Lib Dem MP has a point, albeit an entirely unexceptional and unoriginal one, when she points that that mass media representations of women put unrealistic expectations in the minds of many girls and young women, and that there are some horrible and occasionally fatal consequences of that. And that it sucks.

    Further reading:

  9. Dennis O'Neill

    Eye of the beholder

    Two things about this story.

    First, that some eejit thinks that man's objectification of female beauty only began with Photoshop shows a very disturbing ignorance of history. People have been altering portraits in order to 'improve' them ever since man invented paint.

    Which leads neatly on to point two. That The Reg, of all people, think the works of Titian, can be deemed 'NSFW.'

    FFS is all that can be said about that.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mandatory tutorials?

    How about making it mandatory for mags that use airbrushed images to include a tutorial showing how it's done? With a different subject every month? "Add sparkles to your eyes with Photoshop CS4!" Some gals could pick up a thing or two.

  11. jake Silver badge

    Two comments.

    First, the YouTube model looks better without makeup & photoshop "enhancements", at least in my opinion. I have never found plastic to be attractive.

    Second, the fact that an Italian Renaissance master's work needs to be labeled NSFW probably says more about society than the rest of the article ... which may be the point, but then I'm not awake enough to see it (5:40AM here, need more coffee ...).

  12. Anonymous Coward

    Apple and orange?

    Where do you draw the line between cause and symptom? The circle has to be broken somewhere. Photo editing and Photoshop won't die because of a limit on the airbrushing of models.

    Technology might not be fully to blame here, but its progress has allowed the degree of photo manipulation to go further than before and the image of unreality to be further and further out of reach ... arguably causing people to want to go to further and further lengths to achieve the still unobtainable.

    There is a considerable difference between smoothing someones skin and ajusting their neck length/shoulder width/eye size, etc. This debate isn't black and white and, in my humble opinion, is a debate which is well worth having.

  13. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

    It is said ...

    The only people who need make up and perfume are those who are ugly and smell.

    Awaiting my 'good slapping' from the resident dominatrix.

    But all joking aside, except for conformity and indoctrination, I don't see why so many are locked into the beauty industry ideals, the "I feel naked without my face on", mentality. It is simply being drummed into women ( and to an extent men ) that they must conform to an ideal so much that they actually believe it, even defend it.

    Give me a real woman as intended; hair and all if they wish. Far better than someone (something?) covered in layers of plaster and unable to escape conformity and what others tell them they must do.

  14. Anonymous Hero

    These are good for a larf

    It's the mysterious extra limbs that leave me in tears.

  15. Robert Ramsay

    food advertising

    A friend of mine does a lot of food photography for magazines etc. and he said "You wouldn't want to eat the stuff I photograph" because of all the things they do to it to get it ready.

    And I'm still laughing about Titian being NSFW. Or did you include that just to annoy the National Gallery?

  16. Anonymous Coward

    where's the comment

    "touching up a model" - oh err

    Mine's the one with photographer on the back scribbled out and "professional model retoucher" pencilled in.

  17. CABVolunteer

    Wrong solution for poor self-image

    The references to Titian and other artists is hardly appropriate - how many damsels and/or their swains every got to see a Titian or similar portrait in their lifetime? Surely, one of the problems is the relentless frequency of images of "perfect" role models.

    Anyway, my solution would be to address the problem from the opposite direction - ban mirrors, then we wouldn't know just how far short we each fall from "perfection"!

  18. Baying Lynch Mob
    Thumb Down


    ``we encourage the advertising community to apply good judgement and use these tools responsibly,''

    That's a nice idea, but they're advertisers, and they'll do whatever they can get away with if it maximizes profits. If there's no legal stick to beat them with for distorting the truth, why's it in their interests to police themselves and behave responsibly?

    Adobe are right that specifically banning "airbrushing" (I can't find the MP's exact wording from the small amount summarised in the Reg/Grauniad articles) doesn't address all the different kinds of image manipulation - but that doesn't mean that leaving things as they are is the right course of action either.

  19. MarcF
    Paris Hilton

    How much did they pay you?

    "But Adobe's products undoubtedly allow picture editors unprecedented latitude in _touching up models_." (emphasis added)

    Well if this isn't a plug for Adobe's products, I don't know what is.

    Now where can I get me some of this unprecedented latitude?

    Ah Paris, there you are.

  20. Andrew Barr

    Will the MP show us the way

    I take it from now on that Jo Swinson will not be wearing any make up or doing her hair before any PR photos or public outings, as this would just be the old fashioned way of "airbrushing".

    Troll icon because this is what she looks like without makeup on!!

  21. OkKTY8KK5U

    I don't see as much of a blame-the-tools argument here

    Having read the article, I don't see a direct shot across Adobe's bow, exactly. I do see the usual "think of the children" idiocy, which seems pretty much par for the course. And that seems to be the real problem - we know that advertising is basically intended to evade what miniscule firewalling the human brain has and induce you to part with your money, oftentimes by making you feel miserable (or, in any event, inadequate, empty, and needy). Swinson isn't totally incorrect, but it's just a tiny slice of the real problem.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Good for Women's Self-Esteem

    As people become more savvy, women will increasingly feel free to dismiss impossibly-perfect models as "merely photoshopped" rather than seeing them as a realistic standard that they fall short of. So women growing up today, familiar with digital manipulation, will probably feel less pressure and have better self-esteem than previous generations who were less familiar with the retoucher's skills.

    Men, of course, have known how to protect their self-esteem for decades. Any man better looking/better groomed/better dressed than you is obviously gay, and and man driving a better car than yours is obviously over-compensating.

  23. Rod MacLean

    Lash enhancement

    There are two adverts currently on TV, both for lash enhancement which have small print at the bottom. One of them says "Lashes may not be enhanced to the degree shown" and the other says quite bluntly that the woman in the ads is not even using their product!

    Now, I watched my flatmate when these ads were on and afterwards asked her if she thought the products were good. She said she did and was thinking about buying one of them. I then asked her if she had seen the small print and she admitted she hadn't been paying attention. She was horrified when I told her that one of them says that the lashes in the ad were not enhanced with the product being advertised!

    How much worse must it be when there is no small print at all?

    (Personally I think anyone who pays any attention to propaganda, sorry adverts is an idiot anyway but that's another story)

  24. Glen Turner 666

    Image enhancement is old, a world flooded with artificial images is new

    Think about it for a moment and you suddenly realise that in a typical day you see more touched-up faces in adverts than you see real faces. Your argument "through the ages" misses the essential point -- Titian's paintings were not displayed on nearly every vertical surface in his society. You would see more advertising images of people in one day than Titian's lifetime output of one hundred paintings.

    It's simply unrealistic to expect people not to use the faces and bodies they see the most as a yardstick for their own expectations.

    Since people are not photoshoped in real life, they can never measure up. At some stages of life we feel a real need to measure up. With teenage years of females topping that list.

    So yeah, the MP has a point. It's well time advertisers took some responsibility for minimising the harm they do. We expect this of industry when they spill something toxic; there's no reason for the white collar industries to be especially exempt.

  25. Anonymous Coward

    @dunncha - Its not really the tools

    Erm, I can only tell you that it IS possible and that not everyone looks like your grandma.

  26. Hollerith 1


    The Photoshop tool is called that because it is based on the old graphic artist's tool, yes, the airbrush, which which I and many generations back sprayed away wrinkles, spots, baggy eyelids, you name it. What planet are these people on? Retouching has been around for as long as advertising has existed. We all love false perfection.

  27. Pete 2 Silver badge

    @Glen Turner 666

    > a world flooded with artificial images is new

    Not that new.

    Every studio-shot TV programme is full of participants who have spent hours in "makeup" before the camera goes on. On the few occasions where there's an outside shot, with the presenter "au natural", the difference between them and the perfect example of the makeup artist's art in the studio is stark (but welcome).

    An article a year or two ago commented that HDTV was meeting some resistance from the vainer members of the (ooops, I nearly said "profession"), TV clique as their facial hair, pimples and imperfect teeth were now more prominent.

    Maybe a better use of this lady's time would be to campaign for actors and presenters on TV to appear as they really are.

  28. Adam Williamson 1

    Been there, read that

    If you want to take a short cut right to the end of this debate, read Ted Chiang's short story "Liking What You See: A Documentary", from the collection "Stories of Your Life and Others". The entire thing's worth reading, but this one in particular was 20 years ahead of this discussion, seven years ago :)

  29. This post has been deleted by its author

  30. not.known@this.address

    Ban Photoshop - why?

    I can see the point behind banning the use of airbrushing in advertising, but since when has Photoshop (or any other digital image manipulation app) been used solely for that?

    There are far more important things for the Lib Dems to be worrying about than this - like the state of the Benefits system, the various "charters to snoop", the MPs' expenses claims and the poor state of the armed forces for starters.

    What's up, did someone call her fat or something?

  31. Hans Mustermann

    Renaissance women really were insecure

    "but as far as we know, there is little evidence of the renaissance obsession with a particular form of female perfection leading to outbreaks of mass insecurity."

    You mean other than that they put belladona drops in their eyes to look more like in the paintings? Or that they later ingested dangerous levels of Arsenic to look as pale as was fashionable at the time? Or that they later squeezed their internal organs via a corset, in at least one case down to a 14 inch circumference waist?

    I don't know, man... If anyone is at the point of putting deadly poison in their eyes (risking permanent blindness, btw) or in their food or squeezing themselves to the point of needing a "fainting room" everywhere... I'd say they're pretty darned insecure.

  32. raving angry loony

    What the other guy said

    Yeah, it's got nothing to do with "beauty standards". It's got everything to do with false advertising. If their products require a photo retouching session (either with Photoshop or the old fashioned before-Photoshop way) to attain what they are claiming their product will do, THAT'S false advertising.

    That's what the bastards should be nailed for. Where's Trading Standards when you need them?

  33. Anonymous Coward

    Re: Jake

    "First, the YouTube model looks better without makeup & photoshop "enhancements", at least in my opinion. I have never found plastic to be attractive."

    While withholding comment on the woman in question, I'd say in general I agree with you. That's the thing I am still trying to figure out. Most guys couldn't give a damn about the crap women do to "pretty-up", yet they do it anyway.

    I think most women dress up to improve their perceived beauty and thus social status with other women. I'm not even sure how that factors into the debate. I guess the take away lesson is this: At least there is one problem with the world guys aren't responsible for =)

  34. Chris C

    I hate people

    Am I the only one here who thinks this is a complete non-problem? If "children" have such a problem with self-esteem and these "airbrushed models" really are convincing them to look a certain way, then maybe education would be a better idea. I'm not "perfect" and I never will be, but I've never been traumatized or even disappointed in myself because of an advertisement or because of the image of another person (in reality or a picture).

    Here's just a short list of non-natural things people do or wear, thereby covering their "natural beauty": hair bands/clips/barrettes/pins, any hairdo other than straight (or curly if your hair is naturally curly), wigs for people who lose their hair, cosmetics, jewelry (including wedding rings), braces (to "correct" your teeth), dental work (fillings, caps, crowns, implants, etc), eye surgery (muscle surgery or LASIK), shaving (any part of the body, including men's faces), and visiting tanning salons (or using a "spray-on tan"). And those are only some of the non-controversial things. Then we can get into things such as tattoos, piercings, breast enlargement or reduction, botox, face lifts, etc. Oh, and let's not forget clothing. People aren't born wearing clothes, so clothing is not natural. And for a perfect example of accepted non-natural clothing, look at all the shoes in a woman's closet. Look at all those high heels which change a woman's height and the shape of her legs. Completely non-natural, but we accept that. Hell, women love it! And don't get me started on brassieres and how they artificially lift a woman's breasts, thus creating a fake image which is impossible to attain naturally (especially push-up bras).

    Has anybody thought that maybe, just maybe, the entertainment industry doesn't airbrush its models in order to influence society, but rather they airbrush the models because that's what sells more? Now, try to keep an open mind, and ask yourself "why does it sell more?" The answer: because that's what people want to see. The industry isn't telling us we need to look this way; we are telling the industry that this is what we want to see (probably because we can see realistic images anywhere, so we want to see something "better").

    Look, I know we have our problems. And I know that young women do attempt to emulate models they see in entertainment. But that's not a problem with entertainment, that's a psychological problem that needs to be addressed through education (and, in some cases, therapy). Also, note how it's mostly women affected. Most men are overweight and/or not in shape, despite the fact that all male models you see are quick fit and trim.

    I'm so sick of this anti-everything society we live in. Live your own damn life, and have a strong enough backbone to be secure and comfortable in who you are.

  35. Steve Roper

    What really scares me

    is that there are commenters right here in this thread (and by extension a fair number of people) who *actually agree* with this crazy bitch's point of view.

    HELLLOOOO!!! Did the word FREEDOM suddenly cease to have any fucking meaning while you retards were asleep?!?

    Do you seriously support a law that dictates what an artist can and cannot draw? That's the end of the slippery slope we've been on for over a decade now - a society that imposes any ban on artistic depiction is a totalitarian dictatorship, plain and simple. Where does this end? A ban on any form of artwork depicting women who look prettier than the real thing? What about all the graphics and fanart for fantasy and sci-fi shows and themes? Do you realise how much art depends on depicting the better-than-real? That's what *fantasy* means, dickheads. Oh, please.

    My job as a web developer includes creating art for the websites we design. Some of our clients send us a picture of their receptionist or office hottie to put on their header or home page and ask us to 'improve' on it - meaning modifictions such as airburshing blemishes, erasing stray hairs, enlarging eyes/pupils, narrowing cheekbones, strengthening chins, and suchlike. I also create 3D models of women, of such form that no real woman could hope to match. As a result I've created many pictures of impossibly beautiful women both for work and for my own artistic hobby.

    Am I now to be prohibited from doing this simply because some feminist bint wants to shore up a few weak egos? Do I feel inferior when I see a picture of some six-pack-ripped stud when I'm a balding pot-bellied 43-year-old? No, because I enjoy my life the way it is and I don't need perfection - in fact perfection in reality would be unutterably boring. But striving for it in art is the basis for all artistic creation - I think, 'my next chick picture is going to be perfect' - and I put in the effort to make it that way.

    So anyone who feels that these obviously impossible images are a put down on them needs to take a good long look at themselves. It's not the pictures that are undermining your self-esteem, because NOBODY looks like that. What's undermining your self-esteem is your own jealousy, not of impossibly beautiful pictures, but of the real girls in your circle who might be the ones who get the guys. Don't get stuck into us artists just because you have a complex resulting from your perceptions of your prettier-than-you friend.

  36. MnM
    Thumb Up

    @Chris C

    You're not the only one. Wrapping the populace in cotton wool will not reverse any airbrush-induced cultural damage. (Swinson: "It's part of our culture now but it's a very damaging culture. It's not even as though these airbrushed images are attainable – it's not how they look.")

    Lib dems - why? Don't you start banning everything too.

  37. RightPaddock

    Nanny State Needs A Permanent Holiday

    Burqa's are so yesterday, now Photoshop's in the frame as the root cause of the never ending woes of the female gender.

    It seems that the Taliban have not only taken over the TUC who want to ban high heels, they've now acquired the Lib-Dems too. I wonder if Ms Swinson takes her orders from Brother Mullah Omah or Comrade Ayman al-Zawahiri.

  38. Mike Taylor

    Titian, NSFW?

    Labeling that picture as NSFW has made me very angry indeed. In what absurdly repressed culture is that piece of art not suitable for anyone to look at? If my kids (6 and 9) can look at it and intelligently debate the story being told, I don't see who is likely to get their knickers in a twist over it.

    Agh, I can barely express a coherent thought, but I'd love to know who that label is aimed at.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Mike Taylor

    Working for the man, I'd say it's aimed at Employees of companies looking for any excuse to lighten the load a little.

    AC because my employer is one of the above.

  40. Ad Fundum


    What's the difference between PhotoShop and ordinary cosmetics when it comes to false advertising? Wonderbras and ordinary bras? Wearing a belt on your jeans that holds in that extra quarter of an inch? Hairspray and hair grips? Flash photography, diffusers and reflectors?

    These are all ways of altering your appearance. All of them will change the way that God intended you to look, for want of a better phrase. So if you're going to sue someone for using PhotoShop, are you going to sue them for putting on a bit of lippy and wearing an underwired bra? Where do you stop?

  41. Baying Lynch Mob

    @Steve Roper

    ``Do you seriously support a law that dictates what an artist can and cannot draw? ''

    Did you read the article? This isn't about restricting art, which is meant to be creative. It's specifically about adverts, which claim to be portraying reality.

  42. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    There are two ways to approach this issue...

    You could ban Photoshop (and The Gimp!), and thus protect children from being misled in this area...

    or you could educate children beter, and give them the tools to prevent being misled in EVERY area....

    But, you're politicians, aren't you...? You DEPEND on being able to mislead people... so better education isn't really on the agenda, is it?

  43. Adam Williamson 1

    steve roper

    No-one is saying anything about art. It's about extending the regulation of advertising, which is already heavily regulated - it's hardly an area of extensive artistic freedoms.

    chris c: there's a fundamental difference there. Changing your appearance in all those ways _changes your real appearance_. If you get a complicated hairdo...your hair actually looks like that.

    Touching up a photograph creates an appearance that _never really existed_, and that's an entirely different thing. I'm not necessarily on either side of this argument, but there's an obvious flaw in your reasoning.

  44. Mr Larrington

    @Baying Lynch Mob

    Adverts portraying reality? Next you'll be telling me that there really /are/ technically-adept Russian-accented meerkats out there.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ohhhhhhh woe is me bullshit

    I'm a victim, I am a victim....... I AM a victim and it's all YOUR fault.

    My self esteem is based upon MY belief that I am inadequate, because of the "standards" that you set...

    "Oh fucking WOE is ME."

    If there is ever a reason to disregard "another feminist troll" then this is it.

    Me thinks, "If you buy into the bullshit - and then choose to go along with it - well who is responsible for that?"

    Stupid LOSER MP and her snivelling girly feminist constituents.

  46. Anonymous Coward

    We don't know what we're looking at

    Next time you see your object of desire on your favourite digital platform, be it internet, DVD, Blu-ray or whatever, remember that it might not be real.

    Because not all retouching is the obvious harsh plastic orange sheen you may find in gentlemen's lifestyle magazines. Colours changed, blemishes removed or even left in to fool us with authenticity, re-shapes performed to the subtlest degree.

    Reality is still a perception but at least it is not the second hand reality - someone else's - purveyed by digital media.

    In a world where digital media is an abundant commodity, real human contact is ever more valuable. Go to the theatre, concert, exhibition or some other event.

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