A ban on airbrushing?

Jameela Jamil (“The Good Place”) wants to ban airbrushing in magazines and advertisements, warning BBC readers that, “If you buy the products airbrushing is used to advertise, you won’t look like the person in the photograph.”

“If this comes as a surprise to you, please exercise caution before stepping out of doors or in front of a mirror,” I reply in my new op-ed in southern California newspapers. “Here in the land of liberty, fortunately, we recognize that to ban display of someone’s airbrushed image even if they’re fine with the idea would constitute a trifecta of coercion, stomping on personal autonomy, freedom to contract with others, and freedom of the press.” Read it here.

P.S. Review of General Psychology paper on media and body image here, and related.


  • In a free society there are always things that will cause harm. It’s unavoidable, and that’s that/ Yes, magazine images do cause some girls/women to have body-image issues. And yes, porn is an awful influence on our kids. Yes, McRibs are bad for you—but I don’t want to live in a country where McRibs are banned.

    We are human–and imperfect, and when you give imperfect people freedom, some ill is going to result. So, in order to cure those ills, other imperfect people decide they want to be busybodies with a gun (I.e., the power of the state).

    No thanks.

  • Would this ban extend to photo shopping, as well?

    Air brushing is old technology. A trouble with attempting to regulate aesthetics through regulating technology, is that the technology keeps changing.

  • We have big slippery slope problems here. Some object to pretty models because that is unrealistic. Lots of ads do use average looking people, but ban the pretty ones? Who decides what is “too pretty”? Do we ban nice lighting? How about the implication that double-mint gum will make you happy? All advertising is deception. caveat emptor. In most cases, if I buy a product and it is not as tasty, fun, or pleasing as claimed, I am out a few bucks and I don’t buy it again. The market is always a discovery process. But it is even worse than that because some people swear BY Taco Bell and I swear AT Taco Bell. Not everyone agrees on what is “good” or useful. Maybe I want the cheapest bedside radio even if sound is terrible because I just want the time and an alarm. Should that be forbidden? In the controversy over Subway 12″ subs, I always knew they were not 12″–who couldn’t tell? but so what? I have always been happy with what I paid for there.

  • The next logical step would be to ban makeup, too.

    And flattering clothes. We should all wear grey pajamas, all the time.

    I can’t believe ideas this obvious haven’t been tried already.

  • This issue goes deeper than the freedoms of expression and contract. It is really about fraudulent advertising. I see no reason not to make rules about that. Bright line rules are preferable to the alternative, which is letting juries in each case decide whether the ad is deceptive enough to amount to fraud or not.

    • Casual claims that photographic touch-up is fraud seem to me quite estranged from actual legal definitions of fraud, which have a long history and are not easy to make. For example, a claim of fraud must surmount a threshold of materiality, which would dispose of most of the gripes here, and must go to the terms of the bargain, which means a complaint about prettifying a model would have a harder slog than, say, a complaint that a product itself was misrepresented. A claim of fraud is also ordinarily defeated by disclosure of the supposedly concealed fact, yet Jamil & Co. refuse to entertain disclosure as a fully adequate cure (I would recommend doing it as a click-through disclaimer: “I recognize and accept that photos on this site from any and all advertisers may include airbrushing of human subjects,” thanks bye.)

    • If touched up human models near (otherwise accurately portrayed) products constitutes fraud, then what about entirely animated characters? Is Chester Cheetah dangerously fraudulent? Did people think those frogs were actually selling Budweiser, or that drinking it would let them talk with frogs? Surely you won’t look like a chihuahua while eating Taco Bell, so by your theory and Jamil’s, would that constitute false advertising?

      Those examples are ridiculous (and also illustrative of how long it has been since I paid attention to TV ads), but what about motion capture? If, say, Audi managed to get Andy Serkis to advertise their cars, would Gollum driving an A8 be fraudulent advertising? The motion capture, after all, would mean that he was as heavily “touched up” as is possible for an actor or model to be, without getting rid of the human entirely.