A heavily retouched Oil of Olay ad featuring 60 year-old Twiggy, considered one of the worlds first supermodels, has been banned in the UK. The ad was deemed misleading in that it made it look like you could achieve plastic surgery-quality results from a cream in a jar. UK ad regulatory agency the Advertising Standards Authority didn’t deem that it was damaging to women, though. The ad came out in July so this ban isn’t going to do much other than send the message to advertisers that it’s unacceptable.
When people talk about unrealistic beauty standards and the media’s effect on women’s body image, it’s usually not long before Twiggy’s name comes up, even 43 years after the ultrathin model first made a splash — and for that matter, more than 15 years since Kate Moss famously reinvigorated the “waif look” and wrought “heroin chic” upon the world. Even if today’s girls have only heard about Twiggy from their grandmas, their self-esteem is still thought to be warped by the legacy of her 91-lb., 16-year-old body. And now, the 60-year-old model is being blamed for making their grandmas feel just as bad.
More precisely, Procter and Gamble is being blamed for Photoshopping the hell out of her face in an advertisement for an Olay eye cream, erasing crows’ feet and under-eye bags with the flick of a mouse rather than diligent long-term application of the cream in question. The U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority has banned the ad, on grounds that “the post-production re-touching of this ad, specifically in the eye area, could give consumers a misleading impression of the effect the product could achieve.” But interestingly, the ASA rejected the idea that such images might harm women, beyond fleecing them out of a few bucks.
“We considered that consumers were likely to expect a degree of glamour in images for beauty products and would therefore expect Twiggy to have been professionally styled and made-up for the photo shoot, and to have been photographed professionally,” it said. “We concluded that, in the context of an ad that featured a mature model likely to appeal to women of an older age group, the image was unlikely to have a negative impact on perceptions of body image among the target audience and was not socially irresponsible.” (Not surprisingly, that’s pretty much what Procter and Gamble is saying as well.) But actually, says Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson, who’s launched a campaign against out-of-control retouching, “Experts have already proved that airbrushing contributes to a host of problems in women and young girls such as depression and eating disorders.”
In November, leading authorities on body image sent a paper to U.K. advertising authorities (available as a Word document here) outlining the relevant research. Over 100 published studies have documented “a detrimental effect of idealised media images” on girls and women — and increasingly, boys and men.
[From Salon thanks to Trillion for the tip]
I really don’t get how this image “not socially irresponsible” and isn’t likely “to have a negative impact on perceptions of body image.” A 60 year-old woman was photoshopped to look 20 years younger. Just because older women are the target audience doesn’t mean they’re not susceptible to false images of perfection. If anything this ad would promote plastic surgery, botox and fillers to women wanting to achieve whatever Twiggy is using for that smooth tight skin. Even when you know an image is retouched it still can affect the way you see yourself and want to look.
There’s a similar older-woman-Photoshopped younger controversy over Meryl Streep’s upcoming spread in Vanity Fair. The Frisky points out that the online photos of Meryl are heavily altered to remove all signs of crows feet and slightly saggy skin.
From what I can figure out in about five minutes of research the Federal Trade Commission is responsible for truth in advertising in the United States. They seem to be primarily concerned with consumer protection and fraud and from what I can tell have not weighed in on any photo retouching issues. The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority is an independent organization with the ability to set ad guidelines and they must have some power if they’re able to ban ads like this. They also condemned an ad for L’Oréal mascara featuring Penelope Cruz wearing fake eyelashes. Future versions of the ad were asked to include a disclaimer. I would love to see an easily readable disclaimer for hair care product ads, particularly on television. You see these models and actresses with gorgeous hair and it’s usually all extensions. It’s not like we don’t already know this, but it’s only fair that we be reminded.
Twiggy is shown in the undated candids on 6/4/09, 7/24/09 and 9/22/09. Credit: WENN.com. Note: She may have lost weight since the header image on the left was taken, but it wasn’t enough to make her look like the ad, which is from July before the photos below (all but the header image) were taken.