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French law requiring labelling of photoshopped images to take effect

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A woman is seen on February 18, 2011 in Montreal, Quebec watching an advertisment of the Canadian fashion brand Jacob. AFP/Clement Sabourin

Starting this Sunday, commercial publications featuring photoshopped images of models will have to be labelled at the risk of a hefty fine.


Starting 1 October, as Paris Fashion Week is in full swing, all commercial images featuring digitally retouched models must now bear the inscription "photographie retouchée", or "retouched photograph". Images published both on the web and in print are concerned.

Failing to comply with the law could result in a 37,500-euro fine.

The "photoshop decree", as it's referred to in France, was part of a larger public health law promoted by former health minister Marisol Touraine, and signed by former president François Hollande in January 2016.

Outlined in the legislation are two articles aimed at the "prevention and early diagnosis of eating disorders", effectively establishing eating disorders as a matter of public health.

The "photoshop decree", or article 19, states that "all commercial images that have been digitally retouched to make models look slimmer, or larger, must be accompanied by the label: 'retouched photograph.'" It effectively shows that the government seeks to treat the issues of eating disorders and body image as matters of public health.

The images we see of both female and male models are often retouched to make certain parts of their body look different. Skin can be made to look perfectly smooth, thighs and waists can be thinned, breasts can be enlarged, hair can be highlighted different shades.

These photoshopped images can set unattainable standards of beauty, and can in turn negatively affect the body image and self-esteem of people who aspire to shapes that are only made possible by computer software.

Some body image advocates and media professionals have supported the law, saying it will help tackle these sensitive issues and help people develop a more critical eye for images they see in the media.

"The digitally retouched label forces people to become more media literate," body image expert Dr. Nicki Karimipour told Vice's Motherboard.

But other experts doubt the law's ability to bring about concrete change in the fashion industry. The same Motherboard article quotes National Eating Disorders Association CEO Claire Mysko as saying it is "unclear at this point whether France's mandate to label retouched advertisements will lead to positive change."