French Parliament member Valerie Boyer has proposed that artificially altered physical appearances of people should be stamped with a disclaimer such as: “This photograph has been retouched to change the physical appearance of the person.” Boyer has argued that violators be slammed with a 37,500-euro fine (or 50% of the cost of the advertisement) and possibly even jail time.After the release of a government report which elucidated the harmful effects of portraying digitally enhanced images and advertisements in the media as authentic female beauty, French Parliament member Valerie Boyer is pushing the National Assembly to “make a stand” and “help women” fight anorexia and other psychological diseases triggered by such deceptive and misleading photographs. Earlier on in September of this year, Boyer proposed that artificially altered physical appearances of people should be stamped with a disclaimer such as: “This photograph has been retouched to change the physical appearance of the person.” Boyer has argued that violators be slammed with a 37,500-euro fine (or 50% of the cost of the advertisement) and possibly even jail time.
The role of women in today’s media and advertising is simple: to pose as a point of attraction in the attempt to make a sale and subconsciously lure the viewer into finding the “product” appealing enough to want it. Nobody is saying these advertisements aren’t smart. They are. They manage to fool 99 percent of society. But every time we allow ourselves and our children to be deceived by the airbrushing experts, one can’t help but feel like we are insulting our own intelligence along with our religion. Islam, which has provided us with the Hijab in order to prevent the exploitation and “use” of women, isn’t limited to preventing the exposure of ourselves, but it also extends so far as to not allow us from being influenced in any way by the exploitation of other women. It is perhaps a frightening reminder of the Era of Reappearance when we so gullibly believe such false advertisements to represent true beauty.
We believed it when Miley Cyrus posed with amazing legs in her studio shots, although she honestly admitted on her Twitter page that “my legs don’t look like that in real life”. We believed it when Jessica Alba’s latest wine photo shoot featured her perfect body in a jumpsuit, although she was Photoshopped down by a size and half and significantly toned. We believed it when Beyonce posed without an ounce of fat in sight for her album’s cover, although her pre-airbrushed photos revealed several flabs and a noticeably chubbier face. And we believed it when Keira Knightley’s flat body seemed to sport never-seen-before curves in that stunning Coco Chanel commercial. (Although I don’t quite understand what Photoshopping curves on her body had to do with selling perfume.) The list is endless.
So will this law achieve its purpose, or is this just another quick fix solution to generations of immoral treatment of women? Will fining producers and publishers of a multi-million-dollar industry boost the self-esteem of young women and drastically decrease the number of girls admitted into hospital for eating disorders? Legislation like this shows how low society has sunk when government administrators and national leaders are stooping so low as to imply something along the lines of: “There is nothing wrong with selling women, their beauty, and bodies…but there is something very wrong with selling enhanced images of more attractive women, with greater beauty, and better bodies!”
Any right-minded person would agree that it shouldn’t take a disclaimer for us to realize that images of people have undergone digital surgery. It shouldn’t require government intervention to tell us that looking at overly beautified, artificial people is only causing health problems, psychological issues, and various other complications in our society. Instead, inferiority complexes caused by all-time beauty and self-confidence lows are to be battled with the assistance of more education and greater awareness of healthy bodies and normal, everyday appearances. What is required is for us to understand why and how the media manipulates and exploits female beauty for advertising purposes, and then to increase this awareness particularly among girls and young women who are most likely to be impacted by such image alterations.
Ideally, there needs to be an open communication in families where children can express to their parents how they feel about their physical appearances and sizes. Parents need to listen to their children and not take this issue lightly by brushing it off and saying something along the lines of, “God made you this way, so be quiet and be happy!”
Children aren’t asking who made their appearances; what they are after is how to be happy with the way they look. If we don’t tell them how to find themselves beautiful, then sooner or later someone or something will. And that someone will most likely be their friends who also think that the unrealistic expectations portrayed in the media are the standard of beauty to which they must constantly aspire to reach by any means.
Because we as an Islamic community continue to falter when it comes to perfecting our children’s self-esteem, today we are left with eight-year-old girls on diets and 12-year-old girls shaping their eyebrows and applying heavy eye makeup and looking like 18-year-olds. Muslim girls are putting themselves on display and are taking all sorts of desperate measures in an attempt to beautify themselves in public. There is a clear indication that they too are giving in to social pressures and suffering from psychological issues as a result of being exposed to immodest and false standards of beauty in the media.
Our parents need to develop self-confidence in our children and make our daughters aware that these fake “beautiful” images in the media are not the ideal of feminine beauty. Furthermore, even if there is a person out there who just happens to be so extremely good-looking with an impeccably perfect body, what we need to make our children realize is that 99 percent of people in society do not look that way.
Only when our daughters are confident with their bodies and self-image will they be able to properly practice Hijab. And the reason why Hijab is such a crucial part of a female’s life is because it teaches us to detach our character, personality, and talents from our physical beauty, so that neither is dependent upon the other. By adorning the Hijab, we are declaring that we do not require beauty to become contributing and productive members of society, and our beauty or the lack thereof should not limit us from developing and expressing ourselves as individuals in society.
It is imperative to impart to our daughters and young girls of the community that there is no connection whatsoever between a female’s intellect and character to her outwards appearance and size. When we see Muslim girls depressed and suffering from eating disorders in order to reach such unrealistic standards of beauty, it is a clear indication that we have neglected the divine solution of Hijab, which would have prevented us from ending up in such a scenario to begin with.
The proposed French “disclaimer” law is a ridiculous and unrealistic measure. The first step to seriously tackle this issue requires building up the courage to take it a step back and finally admit that the problem starts not by putting disclaimers on Photoshopped images of models but by standing up and challenging the female exploitation which was condemned by Islam 1400 years ago but which sadly remains so prevalent and inextricably ingrained in the media and Western society today.