Are Magazines Ruining Your Health?

(Originally posted at EmpowHer)

This week’s French Elle magazine had me thinking about the long debated issue of retouching photos and how it might affect women’s health.

The magazine features Monica Bellucci and several other female celebrities photographed without any makeup or retouching work. Last month, French public health officials, in an effort to prevent normalizing eating disorders, proposed that magazines state the extent to which their photos are retouched. An op-ed video by Jesse Epstein in the NY Times argued why this may be valuable: retouching and piecing together images of models negatively changes our standards of beauty and perceptions of health. A quick glance at retouching examples on the internet shows how standards of beauty or perfection are manipulated by photographers and artists in order to sell a particular message.

The studies that show the prevalence of body image issues among young women are plentiful. A 1997 Garner survey found that 89% of female respondents wanted to lose weight. A 1980 survey found that young girls are more influenced and affected by cultural standards of body images than boys. And a 1999 study found that 70% of the 550 young working class women surveyed believed that images in magazines influenced their notion of the ideal body shape. Unhealthy body image could lead to unhealthy dieting, overeating and other eating disorders, which could lead to larger mental and physical health issues. Women who are not comfortable in their own skin may be unsatisfied in their romantic, personal and sexual relationships.

Like nutritional information on the side of food packages, I think there could be value in letting readers know to what extent pictures have been reconfigured. Readers would be constantly reminded of the work that goes into creating particular images for marketing and advertising purposes. Perhaps it would be a step towards being open about the relationship between women’s health, body image and media representation.

Still, there is much more work to be done in providing proper education about beauty and health standards for women, especially among young adolescents. Access to healthcare, proper health education, maintaining a healthy diet and focusing on one’s well being will be bigger steps to reinforcing positive body image for all women.

I leave you with a clip of Susie Orbach, who was interviewed on The Colbert Report about her new book, “Bodies.”

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