Photoshopping the World’s Perception of Beauty

Yet another feature I wrote during my time in my PR program.

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 Photoshop is a program used to tweak and edit pictures of any sort in any way you can imagine.  Whether it be to change the colour of an object or “remove” a blemish on someone’s face, the options are virtually limitless.  With no limits to hold them back, however, many organizations have embraced Photoshop in order to establish and maintain a particular standard of beauty, cashing in at the cost of society’s skewed and unrealistic perception of what is considered attractive.

Photos continuously appear on the internet that show exactly what companies do to change the look of the model or models in the photo.  The difference between the original photograph and the resulting photoshopped “masterpiece” can be astounding.

Take the singer Madonna as an example.  There’s a photo of her online where she has sallow skin, wrinkles on her face and an overall realistic look to her that you’d expect when you consider that she’s a real human being.  The photoshopped version of the same photograph, however, has brighter lighting, an added glow to her eyes, and skin that looks so smooth that this woman, who’s in her fifties, looks like she has the complexion of a teenager.

Penelope Cruz has a similar set of pictures where the original photo shows she has dimples, some bangs on her face, shadows in her eyes, a nicely-cut top and the outline of her rib cage is noticeable.  In the photoshopped version, her face is completely smooth, the bangs have disappeared, her hair is lighter and shinier, the top is cut lower, and her rib cage has seemingly collapsed into a smoother transition to her waist.

It’s become such a big issue today that it’s now a bad joke.  Plenty of web pages featuring the best of the worst photoshopped pictures are easy to find on the internet, and recently a parody video appeared on YouTube advertising a fictitious beauty product called “Adobé Fotoshop.”  The video makes fun of photoshopped images, saying things like “one application of Fotoshop can give you results so dramatic they’re almost unreal…istic,” and it even has a model enthusiastically declare that her skin “feels like plastic!”

But why alter people’s images until they no longer truly resemble themselves?  According to Lucy Danziger, editor of Self magazine, retouched images are what women want.  “Heavier models would not sell magazines,” says Danziger. Self itself stated, “we often adjust lighting and colour of photos, altering its images to present the best version of the model to the audience”  and that the photos it chooses are “about inspiring women to be their best.”

Yet according to many professionals, altering photos has done the complete opposite, resulting with many people developing “disordered eating” habits.  “Environment plays a huge role in the onset of disordered eating,” writes Dr. Sarah Ravin, Florida Licensed Psychologist, “such that the majority of people who live in our disordered culture, where thinness is overvalued, dieting is the norm, portion sizes are huge, etc., will develop some degree of disordered eating, regardless of their underlying biology or psychopathology.

“I define disordered eating as a persistent pattern of unhealthy or overly rigid eating behavior – chronic dieting, yo-yo dieting, binge-restrict cycles, eliminating essential nutrients such as fat or carbohydrates, obsession with organic or ‘healthy’ eating – coupled with a preoccupation with food, weight, or body shape.  By this definition, I think well over half of the women in America, and many men as well, are disordered eaters.”

When you consider that’s the result of simply photoshopping real people into unrealistic proportions, one can only imagine what could happen when these “flawless bodies” are no longer considered “picture perfect” by some companies.

Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet recently reported that H&M is using virtual computer-generated human figures to model lingerie and swimsuits on their web site.  The heads of real models are digitally attached to the pre-made figure, giving the image a realistic human appearance.  Despite being denounced for “creating unrealistic physical ideals,” H&M defended their practice by stating their virtual models are not the only images used on their site, but real-life models and still-life pictures are also used.  Even so, their “over-enthusiastic retouching” has sparked quite the controversy.

In recognition of this increase in controversy, however, some companies, such as Canadian retailer Jacob, have announced that they hope to “reverse the trend in digital photo manipulation that has become excessive in our industry.”  In Jacob’s case, they no longer retouch their ads for clothing and lingerie, leaving the model’s body the way nature intended.

Even before the debacle with H&M, companies such as Dove have been advocating healthy body image by using untouched photos of real people in their campaigns.  Since it launched in 2004, their worldwide marketing campaign called Dove Campaign for Real Beauty continues to celebrate the “natural physical variation embodied by all women,” inspiring them to “have the confidence to be comfortable with themselves.”  To this day they have consistently featured women of different shapes and sizes, having found them through various ways including publishing ads and simply approaching someone on the street.

While there have been some steps toward a more realistic portrayal of beauty, society has a ways to go before photoshopping images is no longer considered “standard practice.”  Even so, it’s doubtful that the practice will disappear completely.  Until people collectively show their dissatisfaction, whether by refusing to purchase magazines that are known to use Photoshop or other similar ideas, organizations will continue to believe that the best way to make their product shine is to Photoshop the shine in themselves.

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