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Masters of the Airbrush

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Kudos to the British and their Advertising Standards Agency. Recently they banned makeup ads from über-star Julia Roberts and über-model Christy Turlington due to excessive use of digital manipulation. The claim was that this was basically false advertising for the product they were pitching with their photos. You may be wondering why am I talking about this on a family blog? Because this issue of how ads are manipulated affects us all, especially our kids.

Have you ever noticed how Elmo always looks a little better in print—a little thinner, a little more buff and cut in the chest and abs? It’s the digital airbrush. Well, not really, but almost every picture you may see in print has been manipulated in some form, and the images that your kids see influence the way they see themselves.

Issues with body image, that are precursors to eating disorders, develop earlier than you think. In my dissertation twenty years ago, I looked at how kids from sixth grade through college were comparing various body sites, and found that in both boys and girls, there were already very defined ways that they were comparing their bodies, even in sixth grade. I firmly believe that body image awareness begins in the preschool years, and the ability for it to morph into problematic issues from anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and other related issues is significant.

Catch the Wave
Your kids are inundated with images every day, and the degree to which these images are valid representations of the human form will subtly and obviously affect how they view the world and themselves as they grow up. Some of you may feel that banning ads, such as those in Britain, is absolutely overblown and a violation of rights. While this was seen as a truth in advertising issue, it is a psychological health issue as well. To many kids and adults, they may not think twice about these ads. To others, they may bring up intense feelings of inadequacy and self-hatred. The fact that we accept these images as acceptable is a sign of our numbness to the alternate realities that are created by the media and advertising.

I remember when doing my graduate research that I felt that surely in twenty years, our society would grow beyond this obsession with our bodies and appearance. I was teaching about airbrushing, and the degree of eating disorders in the modeling industry, and I taught about the excessive pursuit of the male stereotype in body builders. I had believed that we would educate our kids and ourselves about how to feel better from the inside out, but instead, the problems have become worse in some ways, and not only do young women have to look fit and thin, but even older women are still focused on the same pursuit of physical perfection at the cost of their self-esteem. Just look at the rate of plastic surgeries on everything from facelifts to calf implants, and the age range on these procedures is widening.

Jump on the Bandwagon, Guys
Men and boys are not immune to these issues. Their physique is just focused more on muscular aspects. Realize how the images that they see sell a muscular body that is often unachievable through reasonable means. Even men are going under the knife for various plastic procedures, including pectoral implants.

Imagine if we took the time, energy, and funds we spend on the way we look outside and focused it on improving our inner beauty? Don’t stay numb to these cultural phenomena that are influencing our kids. Let’s get real.



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