The Gist: People under the age of 18 are 4x more likely to think we should retouch models more in advertising, signaling a problematic trend for both companies and consumers.

CVS, the largest drugstore chain in the country, garnered headlines and praise for its decision to end photoshopping in in-house beauty photography and add watermarks to other brand images within the store that have been digitally altered. The drugstore noted negative sentiment around photoshopping with its consumers and decided to move away from photoshopping within the store.

Would other brands benefit from removing photoshopping marketing?

We wondered what was the general sentiment towards retouching in advertising.

Nearly half of those polled (U.S. residents 13 & up) believe we should be retouching models less. Advertising trends from brands like Aerie, ModCloth, and Dove have affirmed these suspicions. Overall, it seems that consumers are interested in more “authentic” advertising.

However, these responses become thornier when broken down by age.

We’ll preface the above data with this: “I think we should retouch more” is only 3% of the responses overall. It’s not a ton of people but consider the age breakdown. Millennials and Gen Z are much more likely than other age groups to say models should be retouched more. In fact, people under the age of 18 are 4x more likely to think we should retouch models more.

Considering the advertisers that are going all in on non-airbrushed models, this feels like a direct contradiction. Why are younger people more likely to think models should not only be retouched but retouched more?


When you take a peek at the habits of young people, a narrative snaps into focus.

The highest Instagram engagement comes from those who think there could be more retouching of models in advertising.

Why does this matter, and why isn’t it a surprise?

Instagram is a hub for the selfie, the Instagram model, the fitspo accounts for people to engage with. Given the number of flawless makeup looks, gym selfies or #OutfitsOfTheDay, it’s no longer a surprise these Weekly+ users are in favor of photoshopping.

Consider as well, the democratization of photoshopping. FaceTune, Apple’s best selling “paid” app of 2016, makes it easier than ever for any layperson to photoshop their image before posting it on Instagram. With a few simple taps, anyone can be blemish-free and flawless.

Nowadays, it’s not just the cover of Vogue that’s photoshopped. If you part with a few bucks in the app store, you too can achieve perfect images with a few taps. Not only do young people see this more on social media, especially Instagram, but now they can engage with it, creating their own photoshopped images.  

Inevitably with our data, we always ask, “What’s next?” It’s a challenge for us to come down on either side of this argument. Are younger people in favor of photoshopping because they are digitally savvy, or are they in favor of it because of the unhealthy link between social media, retouched models, and personal worth?

While direct cause is to be determined, younger people are more likely to feel sympathetic towards photoshopping models. Be it naivete or the accessibility of filtering to a younger generation; brands should be aware younger shopper embrace this practice, for better or for worse.