Are airbrush-free photos and "real" women we've seen recently in magazines just a passing fad?
In January this year, Marie Claire used a naked, un-airbrushed image of model Jennifer Hawkins on its cover. Editor Jackie Frank said the image was designed to "promote positive body image" because women could see that even Miss Universe has body flaws.
The backlash was immediate and fierce. The key objection being that Hawkins was an unrealistic role model for most women and her supposed flaws (slightly dimpled thighs and a tiny crease of fat on her waist) were too minor to resonate with "real" women.
But Dr Evonne Miller, a social psychologist and senior lecturer from the Queensland University of Technology, believes the Hawkins cover was a positive step.
"Even though her flaws were dismissed by some as minor, they were there and they made their point," she says. "The good thing is the cover got us talking about the issue."
Marie Claire was not the first with an un-airbrushed front page. Three months before The Australian Women's Weekly ran a retouch-free Sarah Murdoch on its cover. And just last month, French Elle used plus-size model Tara Lynn on the cover of its "curvy issue".
Britney Spears has also bought awareness to the issue by allowing Candies to release the unaltered version complete with cellulite and bruises of her latest shoot for their label.
The ferocity of the discussion around these un-airbrushed initiatives poses the question: do media images impact on body image? Dr Miller says they most definitely do, with research showing a direct connection between the media we consume and how we perceive our own bodies.
Awareness is key
Julie Thompson from the Butterfly Foundation, an organisation for the prevention and treatment of eating disorders, agrees. She says an awareness that digital alteration is happening is the key to stemming the negative effects of the media on body image, particularly for young people.
"Media literate children have better skills and abilities to interpret what it is they are really seeing, particularly when things are being advertised towards them," she says.
This is partly why the federal government has proposed a voluntary code of conduct for magazines. The code requires digitally altered images to be marked as such and also encourages magazines to use more diverse ranges of body shapes, sizes and ethnicities.
Dr Miller believes this diversity is vital for boosting body image. "The average size of an Australian woman is 14 but how often do we see that reflected in a magazine? Rarely."
She's a fan of the code but says it doesn't go far enough. "Magazines need a code like this or else we may see they issue go off the radar."
DOLLY leading the way
Teen magazine DOLLY has voluntarily implemented its own body-image initiative. It's been in place for more than a year long before the government proposal. Its "Re-touch Free Zone" is a stamp used to mark photos in the magazine that have not been digitally altered. In DOLLY 's case, this is every shot they take themselves, including fashion, beauty and real-life features.
The magazine also shoots its fashion on real girls of all shapes and sizes, rather than models. "Teenagers want to see themselves reflected in their magazines," says DOLLY editor Tiffany Dunk. "They're not interested in seeing super-skinny, clear-skinned girls."
Dr Miller applauds DOLLY's policy and Dunk says they've had a massive positive response from their readers. "They've grown to love it so much they would be angry if we took it away," Dunk says.
With the government, experts and the public on the same page about moving away from overly retouched images and a homogenised beauty ideal, it seems airbrush-free photos and "real" women in our magazines are far from a passing fad.
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