Effects of Advertising on Body Image and Disordered Eating

Due to major business ethical dilemmas involving organizations such as Enron, Cardon (2016), increase of faulting reporting by the press Carter (2013), and manipulation of photos and video media we find ourselves in what Michael Maslansky in Cardon (2016) calls the post-trust era. An era in which the public and employees believe businesses are not operating in their best interest (Cardon, 2016). Adhering to high ethical standards works to establish trust and repair the broken trust between organizations and their internal and external stakeholders as well protects both sides from harm. The following will discuss the lack of reinforcement of standards, such as the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) code of ethics.  In addition, the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) code of ethics is identified as a starting point for professional ethics along with a suggestion for a revision.

Ethical Standards

The importance of ethical standards especially in creating visual design in new media and marketing cannot be overstated. New media marketing or the use of social media and other online tools to reach audiences (SCOB, n.d ) has become a prominent avenue for quickly and widely spreading advertisements and other marketing efforts online. Once an ill-advised, or unethical, commercial ad, photograph, or tweet (to name a few)  has been disseminated, though it can be taken down, the damage can’t be undone. Taking this into consideration, when an entire industry completely ignores ethical standards damage to the industry and the public are critical.

NNPA Code of Ethics and Lack of Enforcement

For one example, the National Photographers Press Association’s code of ethics states that visual journalist and those that manage visual news productions:

Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects (NPPA,n.d  para. 2).

However, the advertising industry apparently pays no attention to this standard or the damage that it causes. The Youtube video, The Photoshop Effect, explores the claim that 99.9 percent of digital images of celebrities, public relations professionals are not only aware of this unethical practice but most demand it (Diet Health, 2008). Not only does photo manipulation misrepresent subjects by shaving off the fat, erasing wrinkles, enlarging bust and bottoms but it also misleads audiences, particularly young girls and women, into believing they can achieve false physics.

Perhaps there is no legal implication is this scenario, however, the problems created by this type of lack of reinforcement to advertising ethics in new media are damaging to society. Critic and documentarian Jean Kilbourne describe the negative affect these types of advertisements have as creating a “toxic cultural environment” (HSOPH, n.d). This cultural environment, that Kilbourne speaks of, is a place in which an unachievable image of beauty has caused 50% of 3-6-year-olds worry about weight and increased dieting and among women and girls because they believe something is wrong with them (HSOPH, n.d). In addition according to NEDA (n.d), new media marketing plays a major role in contributing to body dissatisfaction among male and females, and the increase in disordered eating among women.

NNPA Code of Ethics Revision

The NNPA Code of Ethics serves as a great starting point for developing a sense of professional standards in new media and marketing as it unaccepting of manipulating media, misleading audiences, avoiding biases and stereotypes among other principles. One way that the code could be improved is to include a principle that calls for professionals to be more transparent when media is altered. For example, advertisements can include disclaimers providing how the media was altered and to what extent. Perhaps, this won’t solve the problem of body image problems or eating disorders, however, audiences will be able to make more informed decisions that could make a positive difference in their self-esteem.


When public trust is at an all-time low because of unethical practices by corporations Cardon (2016), the press Carter (2013),  and advertising DietHealth (2008)  the importance of ethical standards cannot be emphasized enough. The NNPA offers a code of ethics that professionals in new media marketing, especially photographers and media creators should adhere to. However, it is evident that the advertising industry does not enforce the ethical standard of not manipulating photographs that are then deceiving audiences. The lack of reinforcement of ethics in advertising, in regards to photo manipulation, has led the increase in body dissatisfaction in male and females NEDA (n.d) and increased dieting and disordered eating in women (HSOPH, n.d). One suggestion that can improve the NNPA’s code of ethics is encouraged content creators to inform the public when and to what extent photos have been altered. In addition, it would be helpful if other related professions such as public relations stopped demanding the use of manipulation or helped to enforce the new standard by demanding the disclaimers when photos are altered.


Cardon, P.W (2016) Business communications: Developing leaders for a networked world. (2nd ed). New York, NY:McGrawl-Hill

Carter, B. (2013, April 17) The F.B.I. criticizes the news media after several mistaken reports of an Arrest. Nytimes.com. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/18/business/media/fbi-criticizes-false-reports-of-a-bombing-arrest.html?_r=1

DietHealth (2008, July 16) The photoshop effect.retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YP31r70_QNM

Harvard School of Public Health [HSOPH](2015, March 18) Advertising’s toxic effect on eating and body image. Hsph.harvard.edu. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/features/advertisings-toxic-effect-on-eating-and-body-image/

National Eating Disorders Association [NEDA] (nd.) Media body image and eating disorders.   National Eating Disorders Association. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/media-body-image-and-eating-disorders

National Press Photographers Association [NPPA] (n.d) Code of ethics. nppa.org. Retrieved from https://nppa.org/code_of_ethics

Saunders College of Business [SCOB] (n.d) What is new media marketing?http://saunders.rit.edu/ . Retrieved from. http://saunders.rit.edu/programs/undergraduate/new_media_marketing/what-is.php

COVER PHOTO RETRIEVED FROM: http://www.womenshealthmag.co.uk/health/symptom-checker/177/running-on-empty/


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