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Vogue Paris, December 2016

French fashion magazines must now declare retouched images

The new legislation also requires models to have approval from a doctor before they are able to work

While it may not be a secret that brands and magazines use editing software to alter images, it usually isn’t clear to readers how images have been retouched. Until now, that is – legislation in France means that magazines there will have to mark which images have been retouched. “Exposing young people to normative and unrealistic images of bodies leads to a sense of self-depreciation and poor self-esteem,” commented French minister of social affairs and health Marisol Touraine on the matter.

The law was actually passed in 2015, but is now coming into effect. It’s a two pronged attack – firstly, in order to work in France, models must have a note from a doctor proving that they are healthy. While a previous draft of the bill tried to introduce a minimum BMI, this was later dropped. The law states that agencies found to be violating it could face large fines of up to €75,000 and even jail time.

The second part of the legislation (to be in implemented from October 1st) means that any images that have been Photoshopped will need to be labelled to indicate that this is the case. Those in breach could face fines of up to €37,500. It isn’t the first of its kind, with Israel putting a similar law in place in 2015 that doesn’t just relate to magazines and images created within the country but also extends to advertising displayed in Israel – even if it was created elsewhere.

The law comes at a time where retouching of images in fashion media is still a big talking point. While many touch-ups aren’t overly invasive, some fashion and beauty ads alter images to a point where those featured look unimaginably perfect. The common use of Photoshop also means there is negative attention drawn to images that are unretouched; they are often seen as flawed or bad when leaked. 

“Interestingly (for the moment) the law only currently relates to fashion media – magazines in other industries that likely use Photoshop will not be held to the same scrutiny”

Remember when Jezebel offered $10,000 for the unretouched images of Lena Dunham’s shoot for Vogue? Thanks to the reward, the images were live on the site within hours, with criticisms in the comments reading, “this is gross” and “can we stop pretending this girl is beautiful?”. It is a terrifyingly regular occurrence with Mariah Carey and Lady Gaga among those targeted, the latter when unretouched photos of her in the SS14 campaign for Versace were released.

Unsurprisingly, celebrities often condemn obviously Photoshopped, images especially when they are published without their consent. Lorde, Nicki Minaj and Zendaya are among some of those who have been very outspoken on social media when such photos have been published of them, and have been quick to dispel any impossible body standards young fans might be subjected to when viewing the images.

Even now, it is still unclear what steps magazines will have to take to stay in line with the regulations, which leads consideration to whether or not the legislation will have a real effect. It also begs the question if it will be the case that each image will need to be marked as retouched, or if publications will be able to give one warning that the issue contains images that have been altered. Interestingly (for the moment) the law only currently relates to fashion media – magazines in other industries that likely use Photoshop will not be held to the same scrutiny, which seems questionable. Fashion is far from the only force in the world with a power to impact how people view body image.

It should be noted that Italy had similar laws in place banning underweight models from working, but recent appearances of some questionably thin models have people wondering if it is still in effect. Only time will tell if the regulations are upheld to a high enough standard to bring about change in the industry.