Digital manipulation in Advertising and Magazines

Photoshop in advertisement and magazines is nothing new. In fact, a majority of people actually realize that almost all images are manipulated in some fashion. However, even with this knowledge, people often compare themselves to the doctored images and try to achieve an unrealistic standard of beauty. 1


Britney Spears allowed both an untouched and digitally manipulated pictures of her to be shared for an ad campaign.


Jo Swinson claimed that studies demonstrated long term exposure to manipulated images depicting “perfect” people, caused many children and adults to feel stress about their own body image. In one study, she noted that girls aged 5 to 7 wanted to be thinner after playing with unrealistically proportioned dolls like Barbie, but they felt less pressure relating to body image after playing with dolls with a more realistically proportioned body shape.2 This kind of exposure to unrealistic standard expands beyond children’s toys. Advertisements and manipulated images in magazines are everywhere. We are constantly bombarded by images of manufactured beauty. This amount of exposure can clearly whittle down the self-esteem of most people.


A Lancome ad that Jo Swinson brought to the attention of the Advertising Standards Authority. After review, the ad was banned in the UK for being deceptive due to its heavy use of digital manipulation.


Various techniques are used in advertisement and magazine digital editing, from the widening of eyes, to the lengthening of limbs and enlargement of breasts. Many of these techniques are demonstrated in the videos below.

A video from the Dove Beauty Campaign that shows the heavy makeup use and use of digital manipulation techniques to manufacture beauty.


Another video showing heavy usage of digital manipulation to manufacture beauty.


Beauty whitewashing is another technique used in some magazines and advertisements. In some photos, people of color have their skin-lightened using digital manipulation. Famous cases of this involve photos Beyoncé and Gabourey Sidibe.3

An advertisement featuring Beyoncé  and a magazine cover featuring Gabourey Sidibe that have been accused of beauty whitewashing using digital manipulation.


Photoshop is a great tool and editing is an art form in itself. We can make fantasy seem like reality. However, photographers and editors must also consider the ethical issues relating to manipulation, especially when the image is used to sell a product or when setting a standard of beauty. Media ethics is something important to us as Communication students. If anything, it is a good reminder to view most images with a critical eye and understand that not all we see is real.

-A. Joseph



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One response to “Digital manipulation in Advertising and Magazines

  1. Pingback: Media Law & Ethics | Britt Christensen, PhD

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