We all know that the models in magazines represent unrealistic images of women. And, most of us know that most of the pictures in those magazines are also unreal - they have been edited, altered, and digitally finessed to remove blemishes, inches, and pounds. Yet, these unrealistic and unreal images continue to influence the self-image and self-esteem of women around the world.
One solution that has been suggested is to require magazines and advertisers to include disclaimers with the photos either indicating that photos have been altered or providing specific details about how the photos have been altered. Such disclaimers, it is thought, should remind women that the images in the photo are not real, and therefore should not be considered valid comparison targets.
While this a promising idea, given that people only make comparisons with similar and relevant others, recent research suggests that this solution may not be enough. In a series of studies published in the journal Body Image, Marika Tiggemann and her colleagues tested whether disclaimers could neutralize the negative effects of altered photos.
In their first study, women students looked at glossy magazine pictures. In one condition, the pictures included products, but no models. In the other three conditions, the pictures included models. In one, the ads included no disclaimer, in another the ads included a generic disclaimer ("Warning: This image has been digitally altered"), and in the final condition, the ads included a specific disclaimer ("Warning: This image has been digitally altered to smooth skintone and slim arms and legs"). After looking through the photos, students were asked how relevant the models were to them and about their body dissatisfaction.