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Truth in advertising

"Everybody knows" that the camera lies, especially in the Photoshop age.

Now there's a guerrilla campaign to re-humanize the glamour shots on advertising posters using printable cold sores.

I wonder how long it'll be before somebody doing this is prosecuted under an anti-terrorism law?



Funny, but not much more mature than drawing a moustache with a marker...


Funny is the whole point.

(If you can laugh at advertisements then they're not making you feel insecure, which is one of the most problematic aspects of the advertising industry -- especially that subset of it which sells beauty products.)


I saw these earlier, and it was remarkable how uncomfortable they made me feel, while simultaneously being funny. They're really quite gross. I wish there was something that was a little closer to the reality of the models while not quite making them look physically ill. Maybe some wrinkle decals, or acne or something.


It would be nice if there were some way to stretch the models' pictures out a little. Remember that not only are these the most emaciated women (well, usually 17-year old girls) that the ad agencies can find, but that they then Photoshop the pictures to make the girls look thinner.


Bruce, it's funny you should mention streching out the models. My in-laws recently got a widecreen HDTV, and because they're fairly tech-illiterate they have it set so that regular broadcasts are stretched to fit the whole screen. Everyone looks about 20% heavier. In many cases this makes actresses look "normal". :)


Prosecuted for glorifying herpes simplex...?


Bruce: One of the better advertisements I've seen recently is the Dove one where they should all the touchups done to the (rather plain-looking) model before she hits the page. It's rather astonishing.

Andrew: what is it with people and stretching out signals on those televisions? Is it really true that the black sidebars will create problems, or is it just habit/tech illiteracy?



Yes, I've seen some "exposes" of the way they retouch models pictures, especially the cover photos of glamor and fashion magazines. One of them pointed out another practice: not only do they slim waists with Photoshop, they also make upper arms appear thinner, emphasizing that "glamorous" women don't have any upper body strength.

And I think I can answer the question you asked Andrew. No, the black sidebars don't create any problems. It turns out that modern color phosphors in CRT screens don't exhibit burnin, so for instance screen savers don't really. Most widescreen TVs are not CRT displays anyway and while plasma displays do have a burnin effect, it happens over the same timescale in which the plasma loses brightness (about 2 years) and loses its picture quality. LCD and most projection technologies have no burnin.

It seems to me that people are often defeated by the apparent complexity of the technology they have to use, and settle for setting it up either with all the defaults, or in ways that require them to do as little as possible later on to adapt them to different inputs. With some TVs this can mean that they won't display an optimal image when they receive some HD formats.


One of my Ex's was studying media and advertising (more in an art sense than anything else). But she also pointed out what the do to a model's legs.

Next time you see a full length model shot - compare the leg:torso ratio. It's usually cleverly disguised (I remember one showing a model bent at the waist) - but you often find that their legs appear to be two to two-and-a-half times the length of their torso...

Of course what should really be happening is that we (as a society) should be trying to say "You can look like this if you want - but it's not the right look. It's just a look".

Never going to happen of course...


I'm not sure, I think some people just feel like they're "wasting" their big screen if they're not using every square inch of it. I've gotten into arguments before with people who insisted that letterbox format for widescreen movies cut off the top and bottom of the film, giving you less...


This is a little off the cold-sore culture jamming topic, but I thought you might be interested to know that the Canadian House of Commons defeated a minority Conservative government's motion last night to continue with some of the current post 9-11 implemented excessive "leeway" to interrogate terrorism suspects. Canadians may be starting to gingerly step back from the brink. Think anyone else will follow?


Andrew G - yeah, I've had the same argument, whereas obviously the opposite is true - 4:3 TV ratio cuts off the sides of the image. This is really off-topic, but does anyone know why some DVD player software (I'm looking at you, Windows Media Player 9+) does not display the correct aspect ratio? It pretends it's doing 16:9 but it actually squeezes everything slightly horizontally. I've seen real DVD players do this, as well.

On-topic, I don't mind retouched photos, unless they're suppose to be factual, like photo-journalism. There was that recent Reuters case with the Beirut bombings. That annoyed me. But adverts and films are fantasy and anything that's done to the image to make it look prettier, IMO, can be accepted. Or does anyone really think that TV commercials are factual?


"Prosecuted for glorifying herpes simplex...?"

Posted by: Dave Hutchinson | February 27, 2007 11:00 PM

Advocacy of biological warfare, using STD'sv (!!!) to attack Our Pure Wimminfolk.



At least for me the issue isn't truth or accuracy, it's the image that the commercials are trying to instill in the minds of the viewers. This isn't a rational discussion, it's emotional propaganda on a non-verbal level.

And the problem with the image they're trying to instill is that it is an image of what a woman should look like that few if any women can achieve with their own looks. Even if they do, it's at the cost of damaging their health. And so the women who can't achieve it remain permanently dissatisfied with a part of their lives, and therefore open to the constant suggestions that if they just buy whatever product is currently being marketed their problem will be solved. When it isn't, of course, the dissatisfaction is reinforced. This marketing strategy is as cynical as the marketing of addictive drugs.

It's not good for men either, since they're taught that they should only be attracted to women who look like these images.


Barry - Advocacy of biological warfare, using STD'sv (!!!) to attack Our Pure Wimminfolk. Fiends!


Bruce - I tend to agree with you about marketing being un healthy. Its a cross between psychological warfare and pollution - in my opinion, marketing should not be considered a legitimate business expense as it invariably involves presenting some kind of falsehood, with the goal being a change in behavior that has nothing to do with the wellbeing of the target. We cant ban it, but we can tax it, as we do other harmful forces in society like alcohol and cigatrettes.


Various countries have laws which try to prevent outright lies and misrepresentation in advertising.

I wonder if those laws would apply to the sort of photoshop work that changes a person's shape. A skin blemish can be hidden by makeup. A scantily-clad fashion model's shape ought to at least be as real as that, attainable in reality on the day of the photo shoot.

Skinny is not necessarily unhealthy, but health issues might be better distinguished from lies.

Somebody such as Twiggy; she's still around, and apparently healthy. I don't know if they did any retouching on her photographs, but they didn't reshape her body.


Bruce - I agree with your general point, mostly. But I still think there is a chicken-and-egg situation that is difficult to resolve. Is the inner mental image of the "ideal" woman (in a physical sense) created in our minds solely by marketing or is there a genetic/biological basis for attraction, and does marketing not simply reflect the ultimate extension of that innate desire? This will sound crass, but there are lots of ways of being ugly - there are only a few ways of being beautiful. Perhaps the objection should be that advertising (particularly cosmetics, but most other industries as well) places priority on physical attractiveness above all the other ways of being a successful human being, and the way it draws attention to the fact that most people are not ideally attractive, and preys upon that in a cynical manner. But at the same time it's not the fault of advertising companies and photographers and models that beauty is rated so highly in our minds. Would we prefer to see average or below-average models in the pages of our magazines, if all they're doing is acting as a clothes-rack or a jewellery display case? I know the socially acceptable response is to say "Of course that would be fine" but is that the truth?


Colin: is there a genetic basis for beauty? Of course there is: there's been a lot of research into this. One aspect is that we (both men and women) are hardwired to recognize and be attracted by symmetrical features, to be attracted by features similar to those we first learned face and feature recognition from, etc. Within those constraints, though, there's a large environmental component in what we consider beauty. One of the things that makes me think that the marketing image of beauty is off is that the last 50 years are the first time in a long while, and certainly one of the few times in history, in which the image of beauty has been this thin, and this dysfunctional.

What I was trying to say about the marketing of beauty is not that there is too much emphasis on it (though there is) but that the image they are portraying is unhealthy for the target audience and that it is in fact marketed just as addictive drugs are marketed. This is the fault of the marketing companies. So the problem is not that there are beautiful women in advertising copy, but that marketing has hijacked the definition of that beauty.


Re: "Everybody knows" that the camera lies.

[gravelly voice on]

Everybody Knows by Leonard Cohen

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed Everybody knows that the war is over Everybody knows the good guys lost Everybody knows the fight was fixed The poor stay poor, the rich get rich That's how it goes Everybody knows...

[gravelly voice off]


There's another effect that may need to be factored in to the thinner and thinner business.

In general, people look plumper in photographs (even without stretching to fit a widescreen display) than they do in real life. I suspect that there may be a bit of an arms race here, with each "generation" of models expected to look as thin in the pictures as their predecessors did in RL. Ugh.

The fashion models are already so thin that even with the indoctrination Bruce speaks of, many men do not find them attractive. But the race to one-dimensionality continues.



Race to extremes are hardly new in a evolutionary sense, whats new is that the media amplifies these races by giving technological advantages to those in front of the camera.

What this means is that acresses and models, and the people who use these women to gain commercial advantage, can always beat real women in these competitions, using (especially) photoshop, lighting, professional make-up artists, etc etc.

We (real people) can fight back, by removing some of the financial incentives for using these techniques (i.e. by removing their essentially tax-exempt status).

Exteme and artificial notions of beauty benefit no real people anywhere, and in fact harms them, especially children. We need a war on fake. A war on artifice. For the children.


As far as those skinny fashion models go, there's a practical reason for why fashion designers began using models with flat chests and skinny hips.


Back in the 1950s, when "celeb" fashion desingers started getting popular, a lot of the new designers were pretty much just artists with no real fashion design experience. They could draw Really Spiffy Outfits, but didn't know anything about the practical aspects of putting together real clothes for women.

So they hired skinny models. Anyone can slap together a shirt or a dress for someone if they don't have to deal with curves. This became really noticeable in the 1960s and 70s, with girls like Twiggy, and stuck as a habit until today. It was reinforced through the camera effects of adding weight to anyone, so those thin models didn't look quite so alien in the photos of the events.

You can tell the really good designers nowadays, because they're the ones who actually hire models with breasts and hips.

The funny thing is that it's such a habit for all fashion-minded folks, that when a gal with a good curvy figure (like Beyonce Knowles) graces the cover of Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue, there are complaints because she's "fat." Yet 90% of the guys in the audience are in a very different frame of mind...


Cripes, I never even thought of that, cirby. That's brilliant.


Similarly, the Size Zero phenomenon is debunked quite trivially. Very simply, any given couturier has a customer base dominated by women not far from their lifetime earnings peak, who have got used to size X.

As all social classes are getting fatter, the couturier has a problem. The customers will be proverbially horrified by the news that they have gone up a size or three. On the other hand, the next size down means dropping enough years that the potential customers can't afford your stuff yet.

Simple solution: add a new size at the bottom of the scale, so everyone moves up a notch. All you need to do is change the labels and tell the sales staff. And everyone's happy. True, it's not particularly intellectually pure. But it works. It's like IEEE754 for fat rich women and overpaid not-tailors.


Alex, I'm not sure how you're using 754 in that analogy. Do you mean there's a fashion overflow protection?


It's an example of a fix that makes things work, at the cost of a little intellectual impurity. And yes, an overflow protection is a neat way to put it.


So we could have dress sizes of NotANumber? We going to have to go to fractions soon anyway, might as well bite the bullet and use floats.


Somone mentioned something about Beyonce on the cover of SI, Peeps, we have to keep in mind that this games is a game played out between women. Theyre the ones demanding the size 0 models - theyre the ones who buy the clothes, shoes, magazines full of ads, etc etc.


damien: you've reminded me of an old article I remember reading somewhere that compared standards of beauty. Whereas women tended to name off Nicole Kidman, who is tall, thin, and fine-boned...whereas men tended towards someone like Angelina Jolie, who is (relatively speaking) far curvier and (especially at the time) more classically "sexy". Kidman barely rated.

As mentioned upthread, women seem to be inclined towards comparing themselves with other women that men aren't even necessarily that attracted to!

One thing that I wonder about- where do gay men fit into this? Foolish stereotypes aside, gay designers aren't exactly rare. Do they tend to hew towards a standard of feminine beauty that differs from their hetero counterparts?



Interesting; I personally find Kidman more beautiful than Jolie, not based on figure (Kidman is way too thin for my tastes) but because Kidman's face is an absolutely classic heart-shape. Guess this just emphasizes that sexiness is not the same as beauty.


You've all probably seen this already, but in case you haven't here's the Jamie Lee Curtis shoot for More magazine on the subject.


Demosthenes: At the risk of being crass, I wouldnt kick either of them out of bed for farting. They're both incredible beauties, Angelina is hardly a heffer, and Kidman is hardly size 0.


I posted yesterday -28 March- I wonder why it hasn't been posted. Do I need to repost?

Rick York


Rick: yes. I'm not monitoring this thread (I should have closed it due to age) and your posting probably got spam trapped in amidst the storm of comment spam I'm currently getting bombed with.



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on February 27, 2007 1:31 PM.

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