Over the last decade, the rise of selfie culture has pushed the evolution of digital enhancement tools and technologies, which has now lead to a situation where many of the images that people post online are so edited and so glossed up, that they're not even a close comparison to a person's real-world presence.
Which may help with people's self-perception, and communicating the person they want to be online - but the side effect is that it's lead to a generation of people comparing themselves to unrealistic depictions of skin, body shape, facial features, etc.
If you feel ugly, it may well be because you're comparing yourself to a beauty standard that nobody can ever achieve - and that's lead to significant mental health impacts, particularly among younger women.
Which is why this is such a significant announcement. As reported by Vice, last week, legislators in Norway passed new regulations which will require all influencers and advertisers to clearly label all retouched photos, providing more transparency in such depictions.
As per Vice:
"Under the recently passed rules, advertisements where a body’s shape, size, or skin has been retouched - even through a filter before a photo is taken - will need a standardized label designed by the Norwegian Ministry of Children and Family Affairs. Examples of manipulations requiring labeling include enlarged lips, narrowed waists, and exaggerated muscles, but it’s not clear if the same will apply to adjustments of lighting or saturation."
The new law will cover content from influencers and celebrities "if they receive any payment or other benefit” in relation to the post, and will relate to all posts on social media platforms
"Any violations are punishable with escalating fines and, in extreme cases, even imprisonment."
That's a big move, and while Norwegian officials concede that enforcement could be challenging, in terms of detecting such enhancements within the process, the threat of legal action could act as a significant enough deterrent in many cases either way, particular for solo influencers who will be less willing to risk punishment with their posts.
Ideally, that will see these highly influential people posting more realistic depictions of models online, which, in turn, will have a flow-on impact for regular user behaviors, and people feeling more comfortable about their own comparative flaws and imperfections.
The impacts here cannot be overstated - back in 2017, for example, a study published by The Royal Society for Public Health in the UK found Instagram to be "the worst social media network for mental health and wellbeing", with the platform contributing to higher levels of anxiety and depression, among other issues. A key finding of the study was that Instagram significantly contributed to a "compare and despair" attitude in younger people, with users regularly feeling they can't match up to the highlights posted on others' Instagram profiles.
These perfectly sculpted, highly edited depictions of how people look are a major contributor to this, which, as you can see from these examples, heavily skew perceptions.
That's why Google has started to remove beauty retouching tools in its Pixel phones, and why Instagram itself has experimented with hiding Like counts to reduce that comparative pressure element.
Implementing legal disclosure is a significant, and important step in this regard, and while it may not prove to be the ultimate solution, it's a critical area of focus that needs more attention, and it's good to see Norwegian officials taking concrete action to address it.
It'll be interesting, now, to see what the flow-on impacts of this will be, and whether it will stretch back to the platforms themselves to remove beauty retouching tools for users in some regions.
If it comes to that, we may see even stronger action, while the results from Norway will also be closely analyzed by each platform as they assess their own impacts.