Could This New Law Save a Generation’s Mental Health?
In September of this year, members of parliament in the UK proposed a new law, following in the footsteps of a recent French law. This proposed law states that any image published in any official form of media, or posted by any social media user with over a certain number of followers, must be explicitly labelled as edited if it has undergone any sort of retouching with programs like Facetune or Photoshop. Though the ins and outs of enforcement methods are still in discussion, this law has the capacity to alleviate the current mental health crisis that young people in the UK and, indeed, everywhere are facing.
Nobody, regardless of age or gender, is immune to the insidious emotional impacts of being bombarded with picture-perfect, airbrushed images of models on social media whose beauty can only be described as inhuman. The majority of posts we see from influencers have undergone some sort of digital enhancement and Facetuning before they’re uploaded, thus pinpointing every single ‘flaw’ down to the most minor details and allowing whoever is posting them to be praised as a paragon of beauty and perfection. Sure, this may bring some short-term gratification to the poster when they see the floods of comments complimenting their perfect complexion or unattainable body proportions. However, there reaches a point where those comments turn from just being admiring compliments, and we see the influx of comments from young girls and boys expressing jealousy and loathing of their own body upon seeing the edited posts. This is where the problem lies; every time an influencer photoshops even the smallest aspect of their appearance, a young viewer somewhere starts detesting themselves just a little bit more, slipping just slightly deeper into the pit of low self-esteem, eating disorders, and depressive episodes.
Instagram, magazines, billboards, and just about every other form of media we consume presents false standards of beauty through the use of Facetune. It’s simply unavoidable, and because of this, these standards get ingrained and internalised into our collective consciousness. As one clinical psychologist put it, “[young women] are comparing themselves to fitness models and influencers who spend hours with makeup and Photoshop and stylists. To use an analogy, if your social network was the top 1% of wealth you would feel poor, even if you were in the top 10%.” Over time, the very notion of natural, dare I say “normal”, looking bodies have become something repulsive, something that must be avoided even at the cost of one’s emotional stability and physical health. According to Women’s Health magazine, over one billion social media users regularly utilise filters with built-in perfectors on apps like Instagram, Snapchat, and Tiktok. When you see not only other people, but even yourself, with such heightened standards of societal beauty norms, the second you look at yourself in a mirror or a photo without re-touching means mental trauma is likely to ensue. Body dysmorphia, anorexia, bulimia, and clinical depression are all linked to self-esteem, which drops significantly when you are forced to compare yourselves to people who probably look nothing like the photos they post of themselves, whether that’s a result of cosmetic surgery or Facetune. Currently, only around 12% of images labelled #NoFilter are actually unedited, and these lies and manipulations on the part of social media influencers have wreaked absolute havoc on the health of younger generations ever since the rise of social media.
This new proposed law obviously is not aiming to end image alteration or cosmetic surgery, but rather just enforce the labelling of edited images so viewers know that what they’re seeing is not an accurate representation of reality. This has the potential to be tremendously impactful, as the issue has never really been the fact that people edit images, but rather that they try to pass off edited images as their true appearance. Requiring labels would mean that impressionable social media users would at least know that the things they see are not realistic, helping mitigate the phenomenon of young people striving painfully to achieve an appearance that no human could ever reach. Over time, this law aims to lessen the rising depression rates among teens and ease the impact of self-esteem issues and eating disorders, a leading cause of death. Ideally, we could reach a point where people don’t feel the need to edit their pictures at all, but that’s an incredibly unrealistic goal. Besides, the point of this article isn’t to blame those who do edit their photos; it’s not their fault, after all, that all of the societal rhetoric they’ve been inundated with since birth has led them to believe that their natural appearance is inadequate.