Adobe has hit back at demands from Lib Dem MP Jo Swinson for a ban on airbrushing models to make them appear more "beautiful" in advertisements aimed at children.
The sort of thing that Miss Swinson is having a pop at is illustrated by this well-known YouTube clip, in which a handsome young woman is first "beautified" using the traditional cosmetic arts – and then further "touched up" via digital enhancement.
The obvious political point is slightly undermined by the fact that it is a professionally produced piece of work, created by the "Campaign for Real Beauty" mounted for cosmetics brand, Dove.
But Adobe's products undoubtedly allow picture editors unprecedented latitude in touching up models. Arguably, Miss Swinson’s campaign would spell the end for Photoshop and all similar products.
A spokeswoman for Adobe responded seriously by pointing out that digital "airbrushing" is now an integral part of the production process and that calls for a ban were "infeasible and reflect an incomplete understanding of modern photographic methods".
She went on: "Attempting to 'ban' any particular editing technique would ignore all of the legitimate uses. Instead, we encourage the advertising community to apply good judgement and use these tools responsibly, and we are glad that the increasingly broad availability of digital imaging tools makes it possible for even children to understand that the photos they see in magazines may easily have been manipulated."
El Reg hesitates to throw its weight behind Adobe – but in this instance, it might just have a point.
Miss Swinson raised the issue of young girls with issues of self-esteem, which she claimed to be a direct consequence of altering images. She said: "It's part of our culture now but it's a very damaging culture. It's not even as though these airbrushed images are attainable – it's not how they look."
Image enhancement has been going on as long as images have been commercially available. In pre-computer days, graphic designers and illustrators used a range of techniques - including manually enhancing desirables features and removing unwanted ones – to make their models appear more attractive. (Russia's Communist Party did the same)
Throughout the ages, artists, from Leonardo Da Vinci to Georges Seurat, deemed that ideal beauty could only be found in pictures built around the ratio known as the Golden Mean (or section), and modified their works accordingly.
Created at a time when disease and malnutrition were rife, the works of artists such as Titian (NSFW) were likely unrealistic: but as far as we know, there is little evidence of the renaissance obsession with a particular form of female perfection leading to outbreaks of mass insecurity.
It may therefore be that Miss Swinson is attacking symptom rather than cause. Society has always held up ideals – for men as well as women. The key difference today is more about conformity: a deep-rooted belief that individuals can and should aim to achieve ideals, and a failure to insulate children, as once they might have been, from that mindset. ®