Protecting girls from body image problems will be a win for the robots.

Summary: After years of denials about the next industrial revolution (we’re told it’s a field of dreams; the jobs will appear if we need them), we’re unprepared to cope with it. Here’s an example of well-meaning activists seeking to help young women, but might instead make the problem worse — and help push models into unemployment. We’ll face many such complex problems in the next two decades.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

“The wave of the future is coming and there is no fighting it.”
— Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s The Wave of the Future, a Confession of Faith (1940).

Before and after of photoshopped model

Many experts say there’s an epidemic of body image problems among women, boosted by the thin women in advertisements. France, Italy, Spain and Israel have passed laws regulating use of too-thin models. Here’s a petition at Global Democracy to require disclosures for advertisements using airbrushed models.

We all now know that seeing thousands of “perfect” body types in the mass media is having negative affects on young girls and more. Airbrushing as a practice should be discouraged when it transforms otherwise permanent features on models. A “mandatory disclaimer” to state that a model has had her physical body manipulated on a computer is a very simple step in the right direction to addressing the harm that we’re causing.

To see the magnitude of this problem look at this video of a model before and after photoshopping (incredible!):

This brief documentary was produced for the Global Democracy petition campaign, describing how the modern advertising industry works. All those pretty pictures are photoshopped.

The body image game is not just for women these days: “Building a Bigger Action Hero” by Logan Hill in Men’s Journal: “A mere six-pack doesn’t cut it in Hollywood anymore. Today’s male stars need 5 percent body fat, massive pecs, and the much-coveted inguinal crease -– regardless of what it takes to get there.”

Protesting the future: stop the iron horses!

However well intended, these protests about photoshopping models are a sad, hopeless attempt to stop progress. The more pressure they place on the advertising industry to disclose or restrict photoshopping of models, the faster the transition to a new era of purely digital models. They’ll have equally unrealistic body types, but eventuallywill become both cheaper and better. The resulting unemployed models will not thank the activist community.

Pretty models. They work cheap.

That day is not far off. These are from advertisements using CGI bodies merged with heads of live models. It’s still new and so controversial: “Clothing Giant H&M Defends ‘Perfect’ Virtual Models“.

CGI model from H&M advertisement

A hot new model: Audrey Hepburn

The use of CGI in live action advertisements will lag its use in still ads, as the software is mired in the “uncanny valley” first described by Masahiro Mori in 1970 (see Wikipedia for details): CGI people that “look and move almost, but not exactly, like people, it causes a response of revulsion among some observers”. But software engineers will go through the uncanny valley, and then lots of actors will lose their jobs. The CGI actresses will be really thin. Girls vulnerable to body images will have even greater problems in the future.

One technique already in use will become much more common: using digitalized images of past celebrities. Like this using that famous anorexic Audrey Hepburn to advertise Galaxy chocolate:


The next wave of automation will affect a range of jobs broader than we can imagine today. Coping with this will be difficult. Understanding the dynamics, imagining solutions, overcoming the political barriers to implement it — with the obvious solutions often counter-productive.

For More Information

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See these books to better understand what’s coming:

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