The increasing scrutiny and awareness about the use of Photoshop in depicting girls and women, particularly tween and teen girls, brings to the surface an undeniable dichotomy that is making a real mess of us:
Altered images of girls and women (and men, too) depicting bodies shapes that are unattainable and unhealthy used to sell everything from bikinis to lipgloss, juxtaposed against the historic trend that has shifted the American diet toward highly processed foods with high sugar, fat and salt content.
The result – pictures of skinny young women made even skinnier with Photoshop, presented to an increasingly overweight and under-exercised population.
A video showing the transforming effect airbrushing has on a picture of a young blonde woman illustrates how this process works. (Interestingly, when I saw the video today on YouTube, the commercial preceding the video was for Jergens BB Body Perfecting Body Cream that, among other things, firms and “corrects” imperfections.)
If you haven’t seen the video yet, watch it. It’s illuminating and instructive – images of teen girls and women in advertisements and magazines covers are simply not real. They are false depictions and can be rejected as the standard to which girls and women aspire.
Of course, this video and the recent Target Photoshop story will not change what is real—that images and messages of “perfection” coupled with unsustainable diets, lifestyles and stress levels are pulling people, especially our young, in two contradictory directions.
These two diverging realities, however, may be inching a little closer together, for the benefit of everyone.
In January, American Apparel elected not to use Photoshop on its recent Aerie lingerie campaign. This is a small step in the right direction, and it would be nice to see a growing trend of retailers presenting clothes on unaltered models. If the merchandise is any good, it should stand on it’s own and not require alterations to the models wearing it.
On February 27, the FDA proposed updates to nutrition labels on food packages that would highlight calories, serving sizes and added sugars. This will create better, faster access to information about food, helping families make better dietary choices.
The question remains, how to counteract the latent negative messaging in these images? Answer: Offer your own messages.
One thing we’ve learned from the Target Photoshop story is the pursuit of "perfection" comes at a cost. It certainly has cost Target (and Target has paid more because of proximity to the data breach).
But the cost is most grave for girls and women (and men, too) who struggle physically, mentally and emotionally with making sense of these opposing messages.
No longer will parents wonder if the bottles and sippy cups their precious little ones suck and slurp all day are wreaking havoc on their children’s developing reproductive systems.
The FDA settled the matter in last week’s announcement that U.S. manufacturers of such products may no longer use polycarbonate resins containing bisphenol-A (BPA), which some research indicates may disrupt development of reproductive and nervous systems in babies and children. The FDA issued the ban in response to the American Chemistry Council’s petition that sought the ban because manufacturers had “intentionally and permanently abandoned” BPA’s use.
For baby bottles and sippy cups, parents technically haven’t had to worry safety for years, beginning when manufacturers agreed to stop using BPA at the behest of the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware and New Jersey in October 2008.
What’s in it for consumers? The FDA’s decision is viewed by many as symbolic and expected to have little impact on the marketplace and consumers.
What’s in it for the BPA industry? The bigger, more subtle impact may be seen by chemical manufacturers who hope the ban will limit the collateral damage that has come to BPA with the negative publicity associated with baby bottles and sippy cups.
BPA by the billions. Every year, 2 billion pounds of BPA are manufactured/imported in U.S., and 1 million pounds are released into the environment. BPA is used in manufacturing polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, and nearly every industry in the United States uses it.
People are believed to be exposed primarily through food packaging, which only accounts for less than 5% of total BPA production. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, BPA is a reproductive, developmental and systemic toxicant, and as such there are questions and concerns about potential effects even at low doses or concentrations.
Little change for consumers. The new rule will not necessarily improve safety or impact consumer buying habits for these products. BPA will remain in other food contact materials because the agency supports the safety of BPA for products that hold food. While some see this as a positive step, the basis for the ban was abandoned use, not safety.
The FDA issued the rule because its own regulations allow it to ban a food additive that is no longer in use. Mark Gardner, an attorney at DuVal & Associates whose practice focuses on FDA law, says “The FDA’s job is to protect consumers. If a chemical is no longer used in a certain application, and is even banned in China, then the FDA wants to follow suit. This is a layup for the agency. The PR fallout of not banning it in this case could have been an issue for the agency.
Industry cuts its losses. Why would the ACC seek to ban a chemical it promotes? The ACC is the chemical industry’s largest trade association, and it’s Polcycarbonate/BPA Global Group “promotes the business interests and general welfare of the polycarbonate and bisphenol A (BPA) industry.” The shots that BPA has taken over baby bottles and sippy cups may have caused enough pain for broader BPA industry that the ACC determined it was time to remove the gangrenous limb.
The ACC issued this excerpted news release and statement following the FDA's ban: “Although governments around the world continue to support the safety of BPA in food contact materials, confusion about whether BPA is used in baby bottles and sippy cups had become an unnecessary distraction to consumers, legislators and state regulators . . . . FDA action on this request now provides certainty that BPA is not used to make the baby bottles and sippy cups on store shelves, either today or in the future.”
State legislative and regulatory actions across the country had contributed to confusion about whether baby bottles and sippy cups sold in the United States contain BPA.
Two potential upsides for industry. The BPA industry may benefit in at least two ways from the new ban:
1. States will stop beating the dead horse. First, state legislative bodies will no longer need to pass laws banning BPA now that the FDA has acted. This means no more legislative hearings, no more testimony and scientific evidence about the potential toxicity of BPA and no more media reports involving BPA, babies and baby bottles. A very good thing for the chemical industry.
2. No more need to be “BPA-free.” Second, the ban could ultimately mean an end to the ubiquitous “BPA-free” on every baby bottle and sippy cup sold in the U.S. This, along with an end to the extensive information about BPA by manufacturers at websites may help industry by reducing marketplace saturation suggesting BPA is something to be “free” of.
BPA still has baggage. The baby bottle ban, however, does not end the industry’s challenges. Environmental and health advocacy groups, government regulators and industry will continue to hash out whether BPA should be removed from other food contact materials, including baby formula containers.
What’s more, BPA continues to undergo review and study from governmental agencies, including the EPA, who is studying the effect of BPA on aquatic species, how BPA enters the environment and how to reduce BPA release and exposures.
ACC has devoted considerable resources to inform and educate the public about the safety and necessity of BPA, as can be seen from a quick preview of the ACC-sponsored websites devoted to BPA safety and benefits: http://factsaboutbpa.org, http://www.bisphenol-a.org/index.html, http://www.plasticsinfo.org/.
By removing this singular occurrence of BPA from the consumer consciousness, the ACC might be able to limit the pervasive message that BPA is potentially harming children and more effectively support and promote BPA production and use.
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