Madison Avenue, take heed: The American Medical Association has weighed in on the controversial and widespread practice of photoshopping models and actresses -- Kate Winslet, Faith Hill and others -- to make them look younger, thinner and/or more voluptuous.
In a vote at its recent annual convention, the nation's largest medical association adopted a new policy to "encourage advertising associations to work with public and private sector organizations" to establish guidelines that would discourage airbrushing or retouching in advertising, "especially those appearing in teen-oriented publications."
"Extremely altered models can create unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image," leading to eating disorders and other child and adolescent health problems, said Barbara McAneney, a physician on the AMA board of trustees.
She cited a notorious 2009 advertisement for Ralph Lauren, where "a model's waist was slimmed so severely, her head appeared to be wider than her waist."
That photo and others like it -- where wrinkles, fleshiness and other marks of what might be considered a normal, even beautiful human face and body are erased to sometimes cartoonish proportions -- caught the attention of younger medical students, who raised the issue at the AMA convention, McAneney said.
"They had had enough," she said. "We must stop exposing impressionable children and teenagers to advertisements portraying models with body types only attainable with the help of photo editing software."
This isn't just about aesthetics, she added. One study found that 53 percent of 13-year-old American girls are unhappy with their bodies, and by the time they turn 17, that number rises to 78 percent. A University of Central Florida study found that almost half of all girls between ages 3 and 6 worried they were fat.
The AMA is only the latest organization to speak out on the issue.
Over the past decade, several organizations have mounted campaigns urging advertisers and magazines to stop photoshopping, including the Dove Self-Esteem Foundation, whose 2006 video showing the computerized transformation of a model's face for a billboard advertisement was widely viewed on YouTube.com.
In 1998, Oprah Winfrey was asked to appear on the cover of Vogue and, she said, she dieted strenuously to be deemed thin enough. In 2009, Vogue editor Anna Wintour defended photoshopping during an interview on CBS's "60 Minutes," saying it makes people "look their best."
"That's one of the things that makes me rather angry, that I don't understand," Wintour said. "That if you look wonderful, does that make you less important? Less powerful? Less serious?"
Conde Nast, which owns Vogue, doesn't seem to have disavowed the practice. On this month's cover of W, a fashion magazine owned by the company, Christina Aguilera appears in a photo that some online commentators claim was thinned and drastically photoshopped.
Jezebel.com, an online website that satirizes celebrity culture, was once out front on the issue, sponsoring a $10,000 contest in 2007 to find an example of the most blatant airbrushing.
The winner? Redbook, which -- judging from before and after photos obtained by Jezebel -- dramatically altered a July 2007 cover photograph of singer Faith Hill. It erased wrinkles and shrank her already-slender left arm's circumference.
At the time, Redbook's editor-in-chief called the retouching "in line with industry standards" and vowed to track down the individual who released the unretouched photographs. No word on whether he or she was ever caught.
Efforts last week to contact the editors at Jezebel.com -- which Conde Nast bought the following year -- were unsuccessful.
Most representatives of magazines and advertisers are reticent about airbrushing. Phone calls requesting interviews with the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the American Association of Advertising Agencies were not returned.