After wishing public diarrhoea upon celebrities such as Cardi B for pushing “detox” teas on Instagram, The Good Place actor Jameela Jamil has turned her disdain towards airbrushing. “I think it’s a disgusting tool that has been weaponised, predominantly against women,” she wrote as part of the BBC’s 100 Women series, calling for it to banned.
While it would be a shame to lose the pleasure of before/after gifs, in which a famous beauty loses her added layers of perfection like a snake shedding its skin, I suspect there will be a time in the near future when it is seen as baffling that airbrushed images, the kind that look more like watercolours than photographs, were ever considered acceptable. Although most of us can tell the difference between the manipulated faces and bodies of adverts – smoother than an egg, shinier than satin – research has shown that being able to do so doesn’t make much difference to women’s self-esteem. One study suggested that its sample of women not only felt bad about themselves for not living up to an image that they knew was altered, but were also critical of it as a result. (It’s #notallwomen, of course, but look at any list of Hollywood’s best-paid actors and it’s apparent that a few stray greys are not quite the same obstacle to success for men.)
Retouching apps are now so common that a social-media feed can look like a collective ad for miracle foundation – the trickle-down effect has clearly happened. But, if it is not already too late, is there a solution? Should we make like the Lib Dems in 2009 and push for airbrushing to be banned for good? In the US, the pharmacy chain CVS introduced a badge-of-honour-style “Beauty Mark” to highlight images in its ads without significant retouching; it plans to phase out airbrushing in all its marketing material by 2020. Bad news for eyebags, but good news for stamping out images so unattainable that even the people who look like that don’t actually look like that.