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Advertising, Marketing & Promotions:
5th Edition: Trends in Marketing Communications Law

Fashion & Beauty >> Photo Retouching: Changing Expectations for Fashion and Beauty Advertising

May 24, 2018

From smoothing skin to whittling waists, the practice of retouching beauty and fashion photographs has come under increased scrutiny, and 2017 was no exception. With female equality and empowerment at the forefront of the national conversation, retailers responded with their own policies on photo retouching. These policies, coupled with legislation enacted in France in 2017 mandating the disclosure of certain body shape retouching, make the landscape for fashion and beauty advertisers even more complex.

CVS Pharmacy (CVS) announced that beginning April 2018 it will no longer retouch beauty images it creates for its stores, websites, social media outlets and other marketing. Although CVS may continue to feature retouched photographs from brands, images that have been "materially altered" will be labeled as "digitally modified." CVS is partnering with brands to develop specific guidelines, but believes that "material alterations" include changing or enhancing a person’s shape, size, proportion, skin or eye color, wrinkles or other key characteristics. As a result, brands may need to decide whether to develop unaltered imagery specifically for CVS, or to add a label designating their images as "digitally modified," which may impact public perception. Even brands that do not sell products at CVS will likely monitor the development of the CVS guidelines, as they may shape industry standards in the future.

Perhaps signaling a larger trend, CVS framed its decision both as a response to the larger conversation of body authenticity and celebrating different types of beauty, but also as an issue of public health and corporate social responsibility, noting that the connection between unrealistic body images and negative health effects on girls and young women has been well established. Similarly, clothing retailer ASOS stopped retouching photographs of models wearing swimsuits; American Eagle lingerie brand Aerie barred using retouched images in all advertising campaigns; and Getty Images banned photos modified to change a model’s body shape. Getty’s decision followed the enactment of a new law that went into effect in France in October 2017, requiring any commercial photograph of a model digitally retouched to look thinner or thicker to be labeled as "photo retouched."

Moving forward, fashion and beauty brands must consider their approach to photo retouching, taking into account global legal compliance, newly evolving third-party policies and consumer perceptions in an era of increased awareness and activism. Marketers and their agencies should seek legal counsel to manage these issues and develop procedures to navigate this rapidly evolving landscape.

Key Takeaways:

  • Fashion and beauty marketers producing campaigns internationally must remember that laws such as those in France may apply to photo retouching, and seek appropriate advice from counsel to ensure compliance.
  • Retailers and brands are developing their own policies on photo retouching, and may expect partners to comply. Marketers and their agencies should consider addressing these issues in their client agreements.
  • Content creators should review their existing photo retouching practices and consider developing internal policies and procedures.