Researchers set out to see if disclaimers would prevent the negative impact some ads have on body image

By Macaela Mackenzie
Updated: April 19, 2016

You know that most of the ads you see have been seriously photoshopped-not even Miranda Kerr looks that good. And while even your favorite Instagram selfies may have involved blurring a pimple or adding a flattering filter, the next level stuff can make you feel pretty low.

Plenty of studies have shown that continued exposure to unrealistic bodies makes people feel bad about their own. But what would happen if brands and agencies started labeling these ads with disclaimers, calling out exactly what had been done to the image? Researchers at Chapman University wanted to see what would happen if you were reminded that the image you were seeing isn't exactly "real." (Wanna know what is real? These women who prove our body-positive #LoveMyShape movement is so important.)

To put this concept to the test, researchers added specific language to typical female-focused ads and showed them to a group of more than 2,000 women, who were split into three groups.

One group of women was shown unaltered ads that featured modelesque figures, and the second was exposed to the same set of images that had a disclaimer reading "WARNING, this photo has been Photoshopped." The third set of women saw "subvertised" ads, or ads with the same images but with text like "Photoshop made me ripped," or "Why don't you show that she is a person with a face and personality instead of presenting her as a sexualized body part," or "I'm thinking about that last cheeseburger I ate...five years ago." Sounds like something you may have thought to yourself from time to time, right? (We already know celebs like Zendaya and Lena Dunham are fuming over their overly edited images.)

The women then answered questions about their body image, which included everything from how they felt about dieting to how much they compared themselves to the women in the ads they had just seen. Well, here's the bad but not so surprising news: All three groups of women felt a negative impact on their body image regardless of whether they saw ads with a disclaimer or subvertisement.

So if you already know that these images aren't realistic, explicitly calling them out as such doesn't make much of a difference when it comes to their harmful effects on body positivity and the unrealistic expectations or standards of beauty they might set. Instead of trying to change consumers' focus after the fact, the Chapman University researchers say it might be more beneficial to go directly to the source (photographers, ad agencies, brands) and focus on sharing images that reflect the different kinds of real-life bodies you see every day. In the meantime, take part in our #LoveMyShape campaign by sharing an awesomely unaltered image of yourself doing what makes you feel confident and strong and make sure to read Why Fitness Stock Photos Are Failing Us All.



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