Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Online clothing store signs pledge against photo retouching

Ogilvy chronicled how it created a Photoshop tool called “Beautify,” which claimed to give a skin glow effect to models in photographs.

No nipping models in at the waist. No Barbie-inspired thigh gaps. No deleting the curves or folds of skin generally found on the bodies of human women.

That is the promise that one retailer has made – becoming the first company to sign its name to a pledge against excessive use of Photoshop in its advertising.

San Francisco-based online women's clothing shop ModCloth announced on Wednesday that it is has signed the "Heroes Pledge for Advertisers," a promise not to "materially change" the images of people in its advertising.

Story continues below advertisement

The pledge still allows for erasing flyaways in a hairdo, correcting colours in an image that appear off because of lighting, or eliminating distracting shadows. But signatories promise not to change models' shape, skin colour or physical proportions, for example.

The pledge was created by the Brave Girls Alliance, a group advocating for changes in the depiction of women in media. It is one example of the rising pressure on advertisers to change their approach to retouching in their ads.

The alliance was also involved in the creation of the Truth in Advertising Act of 2014, a bipartisan bill introduced in U.S. Congress in March. It proposes that the Federal Trade Commission begin regulating the altering of images in ads.

"The advertising industry either ignores, or for whatever reason seems unaware of the harm they're doing," said Seth Matlins, a former marketing executive and member of the Brave Girls Alliance, who helped create the bill and the Heroes Pledge. "I don't think anybody is doing it purposefully. What we have is neglect and complicity."

The Pledge also dictates that when advertisers do make substantial changes to an image, they should include a "Truth in Advertising" label to disclose it, and avoid running those ads where children under 13 might be exposed to them.

Aside from this kind of external pressure, marketers are also beginning to see the benefits of taking a stance against unrealistic body images. In January, lingerie and loungewear brand Aerie promised not to use Photoshop on the models in its ads or on its website. The response online gave the brand a huge boost of positive publicity.

ModCloth chief marketing officer Nancy Ramamurthi said there was an immediate jump in discussion around the brand on social media on Wednesday, as well as praise for the move.

Story continues below advertisement

"People want to purchase from and be associated with a company and a brand that has integrity, that believes in things that are important," she said.

The company, which was founded in 2002 and has grown to more than $100-million (U.S.) in revenue as of 2012, has always kept its photo retouching to a minimum, she said.

"There's stuff like flyaway hairs; if there's a big birthmark on someone's neck, we cover that up, but there's nothing to materially change the way a person looks," she said.

That includes a plus-sized body. "We see that as a benefit, especially for swimwear, because people want to see how the swimsuit actually fits."

ModCloth and Aerie are relative latecomers compared with Unilever's Dove, which has made "real beauty" the cornerstone of its marketing for more than a decade. One of its most famous ads, "Evolution," showed how digital retouching can create an unrealistic beauty standard. Mr. Matlins has called on Dove to sign the Pledge, creating an online petition that has received more than 4,600 signatures. He says he has received no response.

"Dove is committed to inspiring all women and girls to develop a positive relationship with beauty and as a brand with such a powerful message, we are often asked to support third-party pledges," Rob Candelino, vice-president of marketing at Unilever, said in a statement. "Instead, we are choosing to communicate our position through the work that we do, which to date has helped us reach over 13 million girls with self-esteem programming."

Story continues below advertisement

Report an error Licensing Options

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at