Laura Kalbag

Girlguides UK Anti-airbrushing Campaign

I don’t like to say it, but I think the Girlguides UK campaign (#gukforrealimages) call for labelling all airbrushed images of women is unrealistic.

Our girls and young women are demanding action from the Prime Minister to introduce compulsory labelling to distinguish between airbrushed and natural imagesin order to ‘shape a generation of self-confident girls and young women.

(Tell us the truth –; Girls call for honesty over airbrushing. Girlguiding website)

I’m a girl, and I’ve had all the usual confidence issues growing up that are no doubt in-part created by the unhealthy portrayal of women in the media. Many girls (and boys) would certainly benefit from there being more natural body shapes being shown in advertising and the media in general. If it’s going to be aspirational, then it should give people aspirations of realistic, achievable goals.

However, I’m not sure that the lines between air brushing (by which I assume they mean altering the appearance of a model) and post-production are clear enough. I think it is probably near-impossible to find a commercial image out there that hasn’t had some kind of post-production applied. It could be anything from changing the colouring and exposure all the way to placing a model into an artificial environment. In post production the artist is designing the image to suit the advertising campaign in every possible way, this will inevitably mean changes from the very raw basic image shot in a studio. If all the images used in commercial campaigns looked like our holiday snaps, they wouldn’t have the desired effect. Commercial campaigns are designed to make us want to be like the people in the photos, be it richer, slimmer or just happier.

There’s already been labelling in TV ads. All the mascara advertisements now have a ‘enhanced in post production’ label at some point. It’s obvious that nobody could get eyelashes a mile long with a plain old high street mascara so it’s false advertising. Does this labelling work? Do children understand what post production is? Does everybody read the small text on TV adverts? I don’t really think so. It just means nobody’s going to sue the cosmetics companies.

How do the Girlguides propose these images should be labelled? If there’s an image where nothing has been done except the smoothing of a girl’s skin and applying some extra eye makeup, how is that distinguished by a label from an image where they’ve given her somebody else’s breasts, trimmed her waist by six inches, changed the colour of her hair, the colour of her skin and lengthened her eyelashes. Does each image then have to come with a list of everything the digital artist did to perfect the photo? I’d imagine on most campaigns there’d be more label than photo!

Where then do they draw the line at what needs to be labelled? TV adverts, magazines, billboards, clothes catalogues so also clothes store websites, packaging, DVD, CD and book covers. You can see where I’m going with this…

Rather than going guns blazing into a campaign to label as many commercial images as possible ‘fake’, I think it would be far more productive to try to tackle these problems at the root. Why do we aspire to be ridiculously thin? Who are the role models that make us this way? Can we change the attitudes of the influencers, the magazines and advertisers that insist on these bizarre body images being what we should aspire to?

I think it’s great that the Girlguides are drawing attention to these issues but there’s much more to them than dodgy photos and a bit of small print to fix the perceptions of young girls.


  1. richquick
    @laurakalbag as ever I agree with you. Please stand as an MP so I can vote for you!
  2. richquick
    @laurakalbag I do think Photoshopping out wrinkles in an anti-wrinkle cream ad was beyond the pale, though.
  3. Don’t forget, Girl Guiders is a bunch of nut cases ;)

    I’m not kidding, my wife is involved with them and there are some absolute loonies involved in the organisation. I mean… who in their right mind would want to hang out with a bunch of squealing girls for a couple of hours a week?

    As for the image labelling, I think it’s a nice thought, but everything is “airbrushed” these days. It would basically mean putting a compulsory notice on every advertisement, which is quite frankly a waste of time.

    What would be cooler would be to encourage companies NOT to tart up their pics in post-production and announce that fact in the adverts. I think that would gain a lot more respect from purchasers.

  4. Pearly
    @Andy W

    I think really the point is to make people aware how many images really are airbrushed. If people can see groups of images are airbrushed then a response might persuade companies that they could become more popular and save millions of pounds by not airbrushing images and showing the subject in their natural beauty. People would trust and appreciate the company more.

    It’s making the small steps to getting companies to CHOOSE not to airbrush images. To use the phrase “all guns blazing” would be to persuade/ force companies not airbrush. Perhaps once images are labelled then companies could be persuaded.

    I don’t believe it is a waste of time if it can produce a result. It is the images that are part of the reason people especially girls want to be thin etc.

    I do agree though that there would need to be some conditions on which images should be labelled. Perhaps a traffic light system?

    As a girl guide I think it shows we are still being a movement and trying to improve the possibilities for women. :D.