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Retouched influencer photos may soon come with a warning

In the wake of Norway’s recent legal amendments, the UK is now weighing up whether or not to include transparency warnings on social media posts featuring digitally altered bodies.

Despite a welcome emphasis on authentic platforms like BeReal, social media is still plagued with ultra-curated, digitally enhanced content. In other breaking news, water is still wet.

Numerous studies have highlighted an undoubtable link between the aesthetic side of social media – particularly Instagram – and the mental health struggles of young people.

Take a Gen Zer with low self-esteem, present them with constant recommendations of posts and ads displaying unattainable body standards, and you’ve the perfect storm to create a severe body dysmorphia problem. Who would have thought?

Many claim we’re in an age of body positivity, where we should celebrate our individuality and oppose obvious attempts to perpetuate toxic body trends – especially where digital doctoring is concerned.

As we push for more transparency, however, a big issue is that the growing sophistication of body altering/touch up apps is making distinguishing between reality and artifice much harder.

Taking an active stance to prevent this, Norway has made it a legal requirement for influencers to disclose when digital modification has been used in paid Instagram posts. If photos have been retouched, a ministry-approved label appears below. Good idea, eh?

MPs within the UK’s Health and Social Care Committee are calling on their government to introduce similar laws and have been since 2020. Awaiting a second reading of the bill before the turn of the year, it appears they’re finally making progress.

In addition to social media transparency labels, the committee suggests that further regulatory measures need to be placed on ads for cosmetic services, like dermal fillers or Botox.

If the bill is to be passed, advertisers will be pressed to use a more diverse variety of models, and not to relentlessly push the Barbie doll aesthetic. Ads featuring actors whose bodies have been digitally altered could come with warnings.

Much like video game publishers are obliged to state whether their trailers show ‘actual in-game footage,’ influencers may be legally required to post #ad, #spon, or #paid.

‘If someone has been paid to post a picture on social media which they have edited, or advertisers, broadcasters, or publishers are making money from an edited photograph, they should be honest and upfront about it,’ UK MP, Dr Luke Evans, told the House of Commons last January.

Furthermore, should young people choose to proceed with surgeries (and they no doubt will), it’s proposed that a 48-hour cooling off period be instated so they can weigh up all the implications. It’s hoped that many of those making emotional decisions will reconsider in that time.

Before any procedure takes place, mandatory background checks are also requested for full disclosure on both mental and medical health – as it stands today in the UK, no consultation is even required at many establishments.

Though both sets of stipulations only apply at national level currently, and include just sponsored posts, it is hoped that they can have a wide-reaching impact in curtailing the links between social media and body dysmorphia on a cultural level.

As Dr Evans states: ‘This isn’t about stopping you touching up your wedding photos or removing red eye on a post, it is targeted at those with significant, far-reaching influence and those with commercial intent.’

Hopefully, this will provide the impetus for more countries to begin putting legal frameworks in place. Whether we want to admit it or not, our generation is still obsessed with harmful beauty standards and it cannot stay that way.