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The ethics of airbrushing

16 October 2014

A Cardiff student has won a national essay competition debating the moral case of businesses using the airbrush tool.

Babatunde Onabajo, a BSc Economics student at Cardiff Business School, won in the Undergraduate category of the Institute of Business Ethics (IBE) Student Essay Competition for his essay – 'The Moral Case for ''Ban the Airbrush'' -  which examined the prevalent use of airbrushing in magazines and by retail companies and the ethical debates surrounding its use.

The essay considered whether it is ethical to drastically change the appearance of models through editing software and whether laws should be enforced to ban the airbrush or should businesses be left to self-regulate. It also considered whether a voluntary code of ethics would be the best path for the 'Ban the Airbrush' movement and whether advertisers and magazines should label all images that have been graphically edited.

Babatunde was inspired to write about the issue of airbrushing after a make-up artist published an image about the extent to which she could look like a completely different person simply by applying make-up.

"The publication of this image went viral and led to considerable discussion among the online community, yet the image also tied into the wider practice of airbrushing by businesses. With a mind that enjoys solving ethical dilemmas, I wanted to provide an answer about whether airbrushing is ethical, and if so, under what conditions is it permissible and when does it "go too far," Babatunde said.

"I feel honoured that the IBE has chosen my paper as the winning entry. I feel even more honoured that an organisation with corporate subscribers ranging from Barclays to Deloitte has been kind enough to provide a forum where undergraduates and postgraduates alike are able to discuss business ethics and issues they feel need to be solved. I hope that the initiative has inspired students from business schools around the country that businesses should strive for goals beyond the mere maximisation of profit. I also hope that my paper at least leads to an evaluation, if not a tangible change, on the part of retail companies and other organisations about the extent to which they graphically alter images that present their products," he added.

Babadunte's tutor at Cardiff Business School, Dr Michael Arghyrou, said: "Babatunde's great achievement gives the whole of the Business School community great pride and is testimony to the academic rigour and intellectual motivation to be found in our undergraduate programmes. It is a well-deserved recognition of Babatunde's hard work. I am confident that this important distinction will be followed by other significant achievements, both for Babatunde as well as for other Cardiff students."

The Institute of Business Ethics is a registered charity which promotes high standards of business practice based on ethical values. The essay competition aims to encourage student interest in business ethics and the integration of discussions on corporate responsibility into the core curricula of business schools. The essays were judged and scored based on upon their topicality, clarity of expression, analysis, use of theory and research, and application to practice.

Babatunde was awarded £1,000 thanks to a donation from the Gordon Cook Foundation.

Read Babatunde's winning essay at

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