CVS deserves praise for transparent stand

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CVS deserves praise for transparent stand

By Carolyn Schierhorn - 01/16/2018
CVS provided the imagery above to illustrate how a model’s photo was altered for a previous marketing campaign. The chain said that it will end this practice.

Those of us in the journalism profession have long been aware of the potential ethical minefield of using Photoshop to artificially alter images. This issue came to the fore in late 1997 when Newsweek received much criticism for digitally whitening and straightening the teeth of Bobbi McCaughey, the then-famous mother of septuplets who appeared on a cover, while Time magazine left her teeth unaltered in its own cover image.

But rather than leading to change, the incident has largely been forgotten. In the past two decades, photo-retouching has become a ubiquitous practice — in publications, online and in our daily lives. Parents of school-aged children, for example, know that every year they can pay Lifetouch a few extra dollars to have all blemishes, braces and wayward strands of hair excised from their kids’ school photos. And as any tween or teen with a smart phone knows, it’s extremely easy to use a photo-editing app to doctor a selfie or a sunset.

Instead of improving my own photography skills, I admit that I too often ask our creative director to color-correct my underexposed and otherwise mediocre photos. Rather than mull the journalistic implications of Photoshop, I’ve come to relish the software tool’s convenience.

But CVS Pharmacy’s announcement this week that it will move away from using digitally altered images to sell beauty products was a needed wake-up call for me and, I’m sure, for many others. Not being a connoisseur of cosmetics, I’d never really thought about whether the beautiful models depicted in advertising and marketing materials and on signage and packaging had their “flaws” digitally deleted and even their body shape and skin color modified. This apparently routine practice is having an adverse impact on teens, who increasingly are suffering from eating disorders and depression.

“The connection between the propagation of unrealistic body images and negative health effects, especially in girls and young women, has been established,” said Helena Foulkes, president of CVS Pharmacy and executive vice president of CVS Health, in a press release, noting that CVS’s purpose as a company is “helping people on their path to better health.”

The CVS initiative has two phases. This year, it will stop using “materially altered” images in its own beauty product advertising and marketing communications and will label the unaltered images with a watermark indicating authenticity. Over the next two years, the chain will work withsuppliers to establish similar standards for their brands.

Let’s applaud CVS for this bold move to become more transparent in a product category known more for concealing than revealing. Just like when it stopped carrying cigarettes, the chain deserves kudos for championing consumer health potentially at the expense of sales and profits.

Schierhorn, the managing editor of Store Brands, can be reached at [email protected] 

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