Hate the way advertisers Photoshop women’s bodies? So does the Rep. who proposed this anti-Photoshop act.


(Annie Leibovitz/Vogue)

Photoshop is one of the Internet’s eternal hate-issues. It’s ubiquitous. It’s ridiculous. It causes problems. But, because it helps people make money, it’s probably not going anywhere.

That hasn’t stopped sharp-eyed, anti-Photoshop activists from launching online petitions and boycotts, joining blogs that are devoted to ending the visual distortions the program helps promote. And on the Hill this month — far away from the places on the Internet where some outspoken lady-bloggers first brought attention to this issue — a trio of representatives has been quietly working toward a more official type of action.

It’s called the “Truth in Advertising Act,” and it was introduced in late March by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Lois Capps (D-CA) and Ted Deutch (D-PA) — with vocal support from organizations like the Eating Disorders Coalition and the Brave Girls Alliance. The bill has bipartisan support, which is a good sign in these polarizing times — but its aims are pretty modest.

Counter to the breathless headline Jezebel ran last night (“Congresswomen introduce bill to regulate overzealous Photoshopping”!!), the act doesn’t propose any actual action. It just calls for the Federal Trade Commission to prepare a report on the use of altered images “in advertising and other media for the promotion of commercial products.” So to be clear, this only applies to ads — not, say, editorial or artistic work, such as the Lena Dunham/Vogue “scandal.” And there’s no actual regulation proposed — they’re just asking for some preliminary research and recommendations, deliverable within the next 18 months.

That leaves a number of big so-what questions: like, what are the chances this bill actually passes? And what’s the practical value of a report, if it does?

The honest answer: There might not be much. Keith Fernandez, a spokesperson for Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, said the bill is under consideration at the Energy and Commerce Committee, but it’s unclear what action the committee will take, if any, and whether the bill will make it to the House floor. Even if it did, the FTC report would only propose recommendations. Actual regulation would be a much harder sell. And it certainly doesn’t help that productivity in the House of Representatives is expected to dry up as midterm elections approach.

“The Truth in Advertising Act has already sparked more awareness of the need to address the unrealistic body image often promulgated by advertisers,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement, adding that she is “hopeful that this bill will get the hearing it deserves.”

Awareness is something, I suppose. But it’s probably not the something many Photoshop-haters were hoping for.

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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Caitlin Dewey | April 18