The French government is proposing legislation that would require influencers to label content augmented with filters or retouching, as well as ban them from promoting plastic surgery as part of paid partnerships.

In a tweet posted on March 24, France's Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire explained that enacting such a law would help "limit the destructive psychological effects of [filters and retouching] on internet users' self esteem." The country's National Assembly is currently discussing the measure, as well as plans to launch a dedicated team within the Directorate General for Consumer Affairs, Competition and Fraud Prevention to regulate influencers.

This isn't the first time France has sought to increase transparency in media and advertising. In 2017, the country passed a law mandating that images featuring Photoshopped models — specifically, models whose bodies had been altered — be accompanied by a disclaimer reading "retouched photographed."

Six years later, the conversation surrounding retouching and other forms of digital augmentation has reignited, thanks to the cornucopia of face-altering filters that exist on social media (see: TikTok's Bold Glamour filter, which has sparked a deluge of conversation on the havoc these unsettlingly realistic digital effects can wreck on our mental health and self-esteem).

While there's not a lot of research (not yet, at least) indicating that beauty filters such as Bold Glamour negatively impact adults' mental health, it is clear that heavy social media use — and the exposure to manipulated images that inevitably accompanies endless Instagram and TikTok scrolling — is linked to poor body image in adolescent girls.

Still, France's well-intentioned legislation requiring influencers to disclose filters and retouching might not have the intended effect. Data suggests that labeling manipulated photos and videos doesn't actually quell viewers' desire to embody the unrealistic beauty standards peddled in those images — in fact, a 2019 study conducted by the University of Flinders found that exposure to images touting retouching disclaimers increased women’s dissatisfaction with their own bodies.

Basically: Labeling manipulated images doesn't make people feel better about themselves.

So where does that leave us? To begin to break down the preponderance of filters and retouching on social media is to pose a daunting question: Why are people filtering and retouching in the first place? I'm no academic, but I'd say it has something to do with pressure to conform to conventional beauty standards.

Of course, our notions of beauty are so deeply entrenched in culture that to topple them isn't exactly an easy, straightforward feat. Beauty standards and their racist, misogynist trappings are a systemic issue — and France is right to propose legislation aiming to provide a systemic solution for a systemic issue. Unfortunately, research suggests that regulating influencers and their selfies isn't likely to do much good. Back to the drawing board.

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