Newsstands, commercials, magazine covers, billboards, advertisements. It seems everywhere we look, we are taunted by the standardized ideal of beauty. But are the photo retouchers at fault?
Retouching and airbrushing images is not a new practice by any means. Photographers were altering their final product in the darkroom before photoshop. Photoshop just so happened to make ‘perfecting’ images all the easier. The ease of use may be what caused the downward spiral to abuse. Take Redbook’s cover with Faith Hill, which created quite a stir when it was released. Anything that could be tweaked, was—even if it wasn’t totally necessary. But that brings up the question of what is necessary—which I will come back to.
There is quite a bit of backlash against the practice of photoshopping images. The argument is that magazines and media are deceiving us with this false, unattainable idea of beauty. Young girls are being indoctrinated to believe that this is what they should look like. It is damaging to their self-esteem.
The fact is that even the celebrities they idolize do not look like this. Professional retouchers spend six hours (and up) ‘perfecting’ each image. Skin is buffed, back fat and overhang disappears, thighs are slimmed, eyes are set further apart to give the appearance of youth, teeth are whitened, wrinkles vanish, the list goes on. If you had a constant team of beauty professionals following you around in your everyday life and you somehow managed to find the time to train like a professional athlete, you would not be able to achieve the results photoshop gives.
So should photoshop be banished? Makeup Forever just ran the first ad that claims to be completely untouched. Which is especially amazing considering it is a makeup advertisement. Well that’s great, the model looks pretty and all. But do we not put makeup on in the first place to perfect what nature can’t? We don’t buy magazines or the product they sell to relate (at least not typically). We buy them because of the fantasy. Fantasy sells. Reality doesn’t. These images are selling us something to work towards. It’s good to aim for the stars, but the unhealthy factor comes in when we let it run our lives. Think about if a makeup ad ran this copy, ‘look as great as you do right now, because you’re already perfect’. Well that’s nice of you to say, but I guess won’t be needing your product then. Bottom line, these are businesses, and businesses need to profit.
Another popular argument against photoshopping images is that they are outright deceiving people. This may or may not be true. In our modern day and age, I feel like the majority of people are smart enough to realize that every image they see in media has had some work. Regardless though, I’d like to use myself as an example. I work part-time as a professional photo retoucher. I know the massive amount of work that goes into every photograph. I am well aware of the before and the after. Even with this knowledge, when I look at the final product, I am still a little green. As I said earlier, it’s the fantasy we are idolizing.
Photoshop keeps magazines, makeup companies, photographers, (and me) in business). There is nothing wrong with looking at an image with a small amount of sparkle in your eye. It makes us put extra effort into our own looks. (And hey, any motivation to spend some extra time at the gym or on the track isn’t all bad!) Just like everything else, moderation is key. Accept accountability for your own thoughts and actions. Don’t let those ‘perfected’ images run your universe and destroy you.
by Grace Gulley