Federal Bill Could Limit Deceptive Advertising

By Stephanie Ritenbaugh
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) In an effort to prevent persistent unrealistic body images, several political leaders are pushing to pass the “The Truth in Advertising Act of 2016 (H.R. 4445)” which would direct the Federal Trade Commission to develop regulations on altering images.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Photoshopping in ads and other images is so commonplace that it’s more noteworthy when skin isn’t airbrushed, limbs aren’t stretched and waists and aren’t shrunk. And it’s hilarious when it goes wrong, as an online search of Photoshop Disasters will attest.

But critics say persistent images of inhuman body standards can be mentally and emotionally damaging, especially when directed at young people, when such body types are impossible to attain in real life.

Now, an effort to stop deceptive photoshopping in ads — practices already adopted by two apparel companies with Pittsburgh roots — may get a push forward with a federal bill.

The Truth in Advertising Act of 2016 (H.R. 4445) would direct the Federal Trade Commission, which enforces laws on deceptive ads, to develop regulations on altering images.

The bill was introduced in February by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., Lois Capps, D-Calif., and Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and currently lists 13 co-sponsors.

As advertisers alter models’ size, proportions and skin color, the images “can create distorted and unrealistic expectations and understandings of appropriate and healthy weight and body image,” the bill states.

“Decades of academic evidence links exposure to such altered images with emotional, mental and physical health issues, including depression, anxiety, and eating disorders,” the bill continues.

ModCloth, a web-native lifestyle retailer founded in Pittsburgh, went to Washington, D.C., in June to lobby for the legislation.

“Portraying women in an honest and realistic way is essential to fulfilling our brand purpose of empowering women to be the best version of themselves,” wrote ModCloth Co-founder and CCO Susan Gregg Koger in a blog post dated June 16.

“It demonstrates to young women that measurements are a fact, not a judgement. We want to lend our voice and the support of the ModCloth community to this movement to stop the extreme and harmful photoshopping of women in advertisements.”

Such a stance is old hat for ModCloth. The online vintage retailer, which says it has never materially altered models’ bodies, signed an anti-photoshopping pledge in 2014. The company also uses “our own community members” in ads to represent “authentic” women, the company said.

Meanwhile, South Side-based American Eagle’s lingerie brand Aerie swore off airbrushing years ago. In 2014, the teen retailer launched its “AerieREAL” campaign, featuring attractive, unpolished models, complete with the occasional visible tattoo.

Jen Foyle, Aerie global brand president, said the effort has ceased to be a campaign and become part of the company’s mindset. And customers have caught on.

“Our customers have been responding and engaging positively to our brand message since we launched the #AerieREAL campaign and we have seen a positive impact in sales,” Ms. Foyle wrote in an email.

Recently, the company signed model Iskra Lawrence to serve as its “AerieREAL Role Model.”

Ms. Lawrence, an English model, is ” a champion for body positivity, confidence and self-acceptance,” Ms. Foyle said. Ms. Lawrence is also the managing editor of Runway Riot, a glamour and lifestyle website for women of all shapes and sizes.

The Truth in Advertising bill represents a new component of the conversation on body positivity, Ms. Foyle said. “What is most important is that brands, advertisers and retail companies are working together to ensure we are fostering an environment that lets everyone feel comfortable in their own skin.”

The bill notes that the FTC plays an important role in the issue. “Despite the shift in modern advertising to rely primarily on imagery, the Federal Trade Commission continues to focus on linguistic elements of advertising, even as some advertisers use unfair or deceptive images to promote their products to customers.”

The FTC hasn’t made significant revisions to its policies on deceptive visual imagery in ads “since at least 1983, well before the digital revolution in modern advertising,” according to the bill.

Rep. Ros-Lehtinen said, “The Truth in Advertising Act is an important step in helping address the photoshopped ads that lead young women and men to pursue an unrealistic body. The manipulated images give young people an altered view of how they should look instead of emphasizing healthy body types. This act encourages all stakeholders to come together and find a solution that helps everyone from the advertiser to the consumer.”

The bill was referred to the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade.

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