STAFF EDITORIAL: Ralph Lauren ad perpetuates unhealthy beauty stigma

The digitally manipulated Ralph Lauren advertisement of a grotesquely emaciated model is only the latest link in a chain of photoshopped images of women, highlighting America’s unhealthy perception of beauty.

The ad, which only ran in Japan, features a waifish model with Barbie-like arms bent over a waist that is tinier than her head.

The ad featured an altered photo of Filippa Hamilton, who is a size 4, 5-foot-10, 120-pound model — that’s without photo editing.

Hamilton claims she was fired from Ralph Lauren for being too fat after posing, and even said to the New York Daily News she was “shocked to see that super skinny girl with my face. It’s very sad…”

Ralph Lauren issued an apology, but this was merely a way to harness more publicity and sales, instead of addressing digital manipulation.

But this ad is nothing new.

These days, almost every ad has a photo that’s been manipulated, said John Klein, photo editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and lecturer at Marquette.

Consumers are used to these manipulated photos, especially of women on magazine covers: America Ferrera in Glamour, who’s known for her curves but seems to be missing them; Jennifer Aniston in Redbook, whose picture was compiled by taking body parts from other shots of the actress; Katie Couric on a CBS brochure, who mysteriously lost an optic 20 pounds.

Readers assume covers are airbrushed. But why should we have to? Readers should not need to become accustomed to unrealistic portrayals of women. These portrayals spark eating disorders and unattainable desires.

The editor-in-chief of the fitness magazine Self even claimed covers aren’t supposed to reflect reality, following criticisms of Self’s decision to shave pounds off Kelly Clarkston, who appears on September’s cover.

Instead, covers should “inspire women to be their best,” the editor said, according to the Web site Jezebel.

If the cover doesn’t reflect reality, how can we be sure the rest of the magazine reflects reality?

The editor’s decision, in a health magazine promoting fitness and well-being, sends the message that looking impossibly skinny is what women should pursue. In fact, it’s “inspiring” and healthy.

It’s time American consumers say enough to these fake covers. No woman should aspire to look like Ralph Lauren’s model like ads and magazine covers tell us we should.

Many hail Dove’s successful “Real Beauty” campaign as a trend toward celebrating normal women, but the company that owns Dove, Unilever, also owns Axe, which has its own questionable marketing practices.

“We all think it’s not a good thing to be constantly exposed to images we can’t attain, but the reality is to show images to people and have them pick out the ones that are attractive, they’re going to conform to society’s norms,” media ethics professor Erik Ugland said.

Americans need to apply a discriminatory eye to ads and magazine covers, and promote a healthy, normal standard of beauty that is attainable for women — not an anorexic look.