Is it a Thigh Gap or Photoshop

by g_smith on February 10, 2015 - 4:17pm

To Photoshop or not is a moral dilemma that many professionals in the marketing industry face. It’s expected of them and according to Dan Strasser, handing in an untouched photo to a client would elicit a negative reaction (1). Particularly in fashion and beauty, the majority of images are retouched before consumers see them. Unfortunately, this can negatively impact consumers. A study done by the University of Wisconsin-Madison “found that women who saw images of very thin actresses and models experienced a negative effect on their body image” (1).

This moral dilemma can be summed up in one situation. A marketer is in charge of a huge marketing campaign for a high fashion brand.  She knows that if she’s successful and the client is happy with her work then she will get a promotion. The client has told her that in the past they’ve always used Photoshop on the campaign pictures and they expect her to do the same. When she receives the campaign photos back from the photographer, she’s faced with the dilemma of whether to Photoshop or not. On one hand she doesn’t want to promote an unrealistic body image by Photoshopping the model, especially when the ad has a young female target audience, but she also doesn’t want to lose her job or promotion. The teleological ethical theory is being applied because it’s trying to predict the consequences that each option will have. Option A (Photoshop) could lead to an unrealistic body image among young girls that will damage their self-esteem and Option B (No Photoshop) could lead to a lost promotion and maybe even job. According to Teleology, the marketer should choose which option will bring the most good to the person or group they think is most important. The Utilitarinism approach says that your decision should be based on which option will bring the greatest good to the greatest number. So the end goal or summum bonum is ultimate happiness for everyone.

Following Teleology and Utilitarianism, I think the marketer should use Photoshop but only make small adjustments like removing awkward-looking shadows, correcting skin discoloration, making lighting changes…etc but not make any drastic changes to the model’s body. That way, the photo is retouched and looks better but does not create a new and completely unrealistic body for the model. This might seem egoist at first but it’s important to mention that if the marketer refused to Photoshop, it’s most likely that the client would just hire someone else to do it. That might sound like an excuse but retouching is something that has deep roots in the marketing industry and one executive taking a stance against it will not cause any drastic changes in the industry. Therefore, the proposed solution lets the marketer control how much retouching will be done whereas another marketer might have no moral dilemmas about this and make the model go from a size 2 to size 00. The solution brings the most good to the greatest number because the client is happy with their retouched image but it’s not so drastically photoshopped that it creates a negative effect on the body image among the ad’s viewers and the marketer gets a promotion. Unfortunately, a common flaw in Teleology is that it’s impossible to actually know whether the predicted outcome of the solution will come true but you can only hope that the predictions are correct.

Susan Krashinsky. “What’s Behind the Culture of Photoshop in Advertising”. The Globe and Mail. Globe and Mail., 22 Mar. 2013. Web. 10 Feb. 2015.


I agree with your opinion on how photo shop is a bad influence for a girl’s body image and how these images of very thin models and actresses can affect a girl’s self-esteem. I think that this is a huge problem that needs to be resolved and companies need to realize how their campaigns are affecting girls and women. When I read the article provided at the end of your text, I realized that what these companies are doing can be very threatening for our body image. I then researched the subject to see if any measures have taking place in order to stop this Photoshop. Although I believe that this problem will never really disappear, I fell upon an article that explains how some photos provoked some body image debate. I’ve provided the link below because I believe that this can be a good addition to your text.

I totally agree with your resolution of the moral dilemma. It satisfies the principle of utilitarianism. It respects the demand of the customer and it also takes in consideration the welfare of the target audience, which might result in a promotion. Thus, creating the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number. It seems like a valid and logical solution. However, the use of photoshop is to enhance the body in order to make the clothes appealing to the public. Therefore, some precision about the client's demand would be necessary in this case. Is the client asking for good quality pictures (which could be achieved through minor photoshop) or is he/she asking for emphasis on the model and the outfits (which will be hard to obtain through minor photoshop). Your resolution would be elligible for the first option, but it would probably not satisfy the second depending on the specific demand of the client. Therefore, we should focus on changing the mentality of girls and do prevention campaigns that will teach them since their young age that ads are illusions rather than reality. Then, advertising companies can photoshop if they wish, but the audience will be conscious and it would not affect them as much.

I think your solution is logical because it satisfies multiple moral systems such as teleology, utilitarianism and rationalism. You bring up an interesting dillemma when you point out the fact that the photo will probably be edited anyways, whether or not the marketer decides to cooperate with her boss against her own beliefs or not. This shows that the outcome of the way the picture will appear to the public is predictable; therefore, it comes down to whether or not her job will be lost, so she decides to edit the picture. On the other hand of these rationalist moral systems, she could have chosen to deal with this choice as a deontologist. This moral is based on religious morals and values, and its defining guidelines are basically derived from the 10 commandments. Following this system, she would choose not to edit the picture because it is immoral, and she would probably get fired. Here, the outcome does not affect her choice to be moral. The intention to do good is what counts. In essence, editing the picture contributes to exposing a continuous lie to society, and this would go against deontology. Since the issue of Photoshop is so controversial because of increasing rates of depression and eating disorders among young girls, I would have to say that refusing to expose a false image is the right choice. Of course, it is only the right choice from a deontological point of view.

It is nice to see the different outlooks that go alongside the moral dilemma. Also the points that you argued where good in the way of the utilitarian’s outlook on the situation and how the utilitarian would look at the dilemma. But from another view point it is possible to look from the side of Deontological ethics (Kantianism), and how a believer of Deontology might look at the moral dilemma. A Deontologist may look at the dilemma and state that humans should be treated as a means rather than an end, and that it is immoral to Photoshop the pictures that are taken. The Deontologist may state that because of the fact that a person should never lie and tell the truth, and that editing the photograph is immoral and using the unaltered photo is the only choice.

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