UK lawmaker: influencers should label manipulated photos of their bodies

Originally published at: UK lawmaker: influencers should label manipulated photos of their bodies | Boing Boing




Photos have been manipulated almost since photography was invented. Wartime US civil war photographers would pose the dead, WWII photographers would recreate famous moments (think of the photo of the Marines raising the flag), etc.

The article mentions the bill is unlikely to pass, but if it does, they will have to define what, exactly, needs to be done to an image to qualify for the label. In the end it will be easier to slap the label on every image and call it good. Then the real causes of the problem can continue to be ignored.


Better to just work on the assumption that every selfie posted by a celebrity or “influencer” has been shooped and/or reflects a very unhealthy exercise, diet, or cosmetic surgery regimen.


This won’t include notices like “Warning: subject is sucking in their stomach, and has cleverly chosen an angle and lighting that flatters them.”


I’m not sure that’s quite the defense you think it is? There is posing people for pictures, or even manipulating the picture for artistic reasons… and then there is willfully using images to mislead people.

Given that influencers manipulating their images can have real world negative consequences for their followers, I don’t know that they are on the “artistic” side of this argument…


I agree there but in modern times, with mobile phones, all photos are manipulated in software. Early cameraphones had a hard quality problem with optics. The typical “myspace face” selfie had a distorted forehead, nose, and lips due to the short focal length which we taught ourselves to ignore. Now my phone, even before I ask it to bokeh it up or put a filter on already manipulates and distorts this optical image in software. There’s no such thing as an unmanipulated image. It’s going to be difficult to legislate.


True enough, but that’s not willfull manipulation of an image. And then there is obvious manipulation (say, making one look weird or have a different hair or eye color, etc) and non-obvious manipulation (airbrushing in a “natural” way that can plausibly be unmanipulated). And then there is lying about that airbrushing.

Young, vulnerable women are being led to believe that they can have “perfect” bodies by some of these influencers… whether that’s something that lawmakers should be passing laws about, I’m not sure about that. Because you’re right that there is some problematic issues at play. But maybe we should think a bit harder about the pressure we put on women, especially tween and teen girls, to look a particular way.


I have really no problem with legislating about influencers, advertising, and body image particularly for the benefit of women (tbf while it is an issue for men these days it just makes the young men I know work out more and drink less so it hasn’t exactly been a bad thing. All the kids I know are swole!) I just wonder is focusing on manipulation really the best thing? I don’t think we can stop manipulation and even if we did body modifications and self starving would still give unrealistic expectations and pressure.

There’s also the problem that online advertising is currently resistant to much regulation and legislation which is something I’d like to see changed. Like we don’t allow advertising just before referendums and elections so bang on cue we are bombarded with dark money (US conservative) youtube ads when nobody else can do it.


True, manipulation might not be the best target, maybe more of a focus on truth in advertising?

I do think we also have to acknowledge that the influencers here aren’t necessarily the ones who are the real problem, either, even if they are contributing to the problem… many influencers are young people themselves and caught up in the same thing they’re followers are…

And I do think that young men can also get caught up in this drive for physical perfection too… And the problem there is that if young men do end up with body image issues, they are more likely to shove it down and hide it, because it’s not only “evidence of imperfection” it’s also “unmanly” to boot.

I do think that labeling willfully manipulated bodies on images would help people to better understand that an image has been changed to make the subject look more perfect, and that real people don’t look that way…

it also strikes me that in general, we’re all so used to images and expecting them to reveal some truth, that we often forget that almost no image is unmanipulated in some way. At the same time we condemn fashion magazines or influencers, we celebrate photojournalists who also influence their image in some way, sometimes by how they frame images, sometimes in more deceptive ways… wasn’t there a thread not too long ago, about the National Geographic cover of that young woman from Afghanistan in the 80s? She’s now in Italy, as a refugee, but I seem to remember that people were discussing the photographer and how he influenced that shot a bit… Maybe it’s time to rid ourselves of the general notion of “truth” in photography, and accept the concept that there is always some kind of manipulation happening over and above the software itself?

Thorny issues here…


I really recommend Believing is Seeing by Errol Morris. He takes a bunch of well known photographs as case studies and interrogates them as texts. It leaves you with a lot to think on. Rather than answers unfortunately!
Good review here:


Good old Errol!


Literally every single image professionally shot and published is manipulated in some way. Adjusting color, contrast, brightness, and levels at the most basic - smoothing out skin, lines, blemishes in the middle - and outright deleting pounds of flesh at the worst.

So - which one gets a label? Because “manipulated” could be applied to nearly every published image.


So in other words, carry on as usual?

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While they’re at it, parliament should also enact a law that requires MPs to label any untrue statement they make.


But again, there is manipulation that is aimed at things like color correction, cropping, making things look more realistic, and then there is making human beings look super-human and the impact that has on young people. There is a difference. Propaganda (manipulation that is being used to promote a particular narrative) is very different than the less problematic types of manipulation.

The differences matter, and it’s incredibly disheartening when something that we know is harmful to children (girls, especially) is being dismissed as an actual problem. :woman_shrugging: Young girls and young women are disproportionately impacted by these issues, which is probably why there are so many people eager to dismiss it as real. Because what better way to control young women than to constantly erode their sense of self and self-confidence…


There is a difference. Which is why I pointed out three base levels of manipulation. The first category I would agree wouldn’t need a label. The third category would be worthy of a label. But the second category, and those just toeing the line of the third? It is similar to traditional make up methods. Even lacking filters and digital manipulation, there are some amazing make up artists out there that are creating some very unrealistic looks where the before and after doesn’t look like the same person, including changing the shape of their face.

So the problem is - if you are crafting laws how do you categorize what is and is not worthy of a label? Who will it apply to? Advertisers like Prada and Maybelline? Glamour mags like Vogue? Everyone on TikTok and Instagram, or just those who are getting paid? Is that anyone using a filter, or someone who has dedicated editing after the fact? Is it a follower count that makes you an influencer, or the fact you got some free kit to show off or paid to promote something? Would official advertisements and images for commercial use with a label matter when there are millions of non-commercial use images using filters and perpetuating the same unrealistic beauty standards? Would the prevalence of warning labels change the fact that people still yearn for an unrealistic standard, even if they know it is fake?

The problem I have is: They don’t even know! They are putting the cart before the horse. Per the article:

If the bill is passed, the Advertising Standards Authority, the UK’s independent advertising regulator, would develop specific guidelines on how the disclaimer would look, where it would be placed, what qualifies as “edited” and what a “commercial purpose” is.

So this could look like anything. To me it smacks of feel good legislation they could pat each other on the back for passing, that will end up accomplishing nothing.

I completely agree that the culture around presenting unrealistic beauty standards is harmful. I don’t like it at all. I am glad my kid is more into learning Latin and watching Doctor Who than obsessing about looking like someone on instagram. I still worry about it as she grows up into an adult.

The problem is: how do you effectively regulate something like that? IMO, this is a social issue that has international reach that I don’t think can be legislated away. It will take some sort of change in the paradigm of multiple cultures. I am not trying to dismiss this as being the actual problem. It is! I am not trying to be overly cynical. But it is such a complicated one that from a pragmatic view, I just do not know how one can expect something like this to have a positive effect.

Maybe if someone sat down, wrote out the actual guidelines and explained how it would work, then I would agree that it would have a positive change. Right now it feels like an effort to pass a law so they can dust off their hands and declare, “Problem solved!”

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i have made it a point through the years that every photo i take is not altered in any way other than changes in shutter speed and f-stop settings. i make no adjustments even for color correction or color timing. the main tools in my toolbox are patience and persistence. for outdoor shots if i don’t like the lighting i either wait for better light or i adjust my camera settings to compensate optically as best i can and make do with what i am presented with.

i don’t insist that everyone do it that way but that is the way i work and i’m generally pleased with what i can get using my aesthetic constraints–