Not so long ago, the debate about ‘photoshopping’ was a huge concern in society. But nowadays it seems even average citizens like you and I use photoshopping every day.
“Photoshop has revolutionised the way we see our world. Digital artists can take any picture and create complex imagery, completely changing the art of photo retouching,” says Nhu Vo, a final-year arts student at Melbourne University. While some saw photoshopping as a means of hiding imperfections to increase one’s self-esteem, others saw it as a misrepresentation of an individual or, as haters say, a ‘fake’ person. Photoshopping has major influences on a person’s self-esteem. It has impacted most of us through its use in the media, especially in magazines.
By digitally shrinking women’s waists, slimming down upper arms and enhancing inner thighs, Vo said photoshopping has made society “believe it is normal to be flawless and to have perfect proportions”.
“These flawless images set unachievable standards that women aspire to become”, said Vo. Photoshopping has caused many young women to change their eating habits in order to become ‘skinny’ as this is the ideal body type portrayed in popular fashion magazines.
Digital manipulation encourages people to aim for perfection. But no one is truly flawless.
Why is it then the photoshop debate has quietened? Have we become more accepting of photoshopping?
Editor in Chief of Girlfriend and Total Girl, Claire Starkley said different media outlets are filed under one umbrella, ‘the media’. Similarly, all photoshopping is sometimes placed under one banner when in reality it should be separate because each publication has different standards and practices.
Starkley said when photoshopping is used to alter people into unrealistic versions of themselves, it can negatively impact people who are unable to recognise that alterations have occurred. The key to ensuring photoshopping isn’t negatively impacting on people is to educate people in media literacy to help them recognise when and how photoshopping has been used, she said.
Girlfriend “does a great job of this with reality checks that advise when an image has been supplied [and] already retouched” and normally, their images “have not been retouched at all”, said Starkley. Girlfriend’s ‘Body Image Policy’ suggests a commitment to representing ‘a range of body shapes, looks and ethnicities within its pages’.
Conversely, Total Girl admitted to using Photoshop, however, not for the purpose of changing ‘someone’s body shape, or any permanent natural markings’. Instead it is used for things like concealing cleavage or midriff, ultimately ensuring pictures are ‘age-appropriate’ for a young audience.
Social media platforms like Instagram have further encouraged and eased the use of digitally retouching photos for mainstream society. Author and new Instagrammer, Alison Freer, admits to spending 40 minutes finding items for her photo and confessed she took “at least 25 shots” before finding the ‘insta-perfect’ one. However, all her efforts only gave her 37 likes in the end.
Another instagrammar, @brynnewman, said the truth behind her most popular post “was an anxiety attack”. How far are we willing to go to create the perfect post and why? Do we merely just want to have something to show off or to be proud of?
One company, Rare Digital Art, founded by Elizabeth Moss, retouches photos for brands including H&M, Elle and Vogue. In a 90 second time-lapse video they have illustrated the photoshopping process – right from smoothing out the model’s skin to re-manicuring her nails with the click of a button.
The end result is a far from blemished front page photograph of a perfect model. This video caused people to question whether changing an appearance of a photo creates a world where more people aspire to unrealistic and very unattainable looks.
“When it comes to the subject of young people whose self-image is being negatively impacted by the models they see in magazines, they need to understand that these models have hit the genetic lottery,” said Moss.
“None of the images we see in fashion magazines are in their original state”. We should not criticise celebrities for re-touching photos merely because we expect their photos to be “the world’s view into their real life and what [they] really look like”.
“You wouldn’t’ watch a dramatic film and expect to learn about reality as you would watching a documentary, right?” Similarly, people must adopt this attitude when viewing magazines, said Moss.
Photoshopping has transformed us into people we want to be rather than who we actually are, and we are enhancing versions of ourselves said Vo.
This raises the question – to what extent are photos reliable? Nobody is perfect yet the concept of photoshopping aims to create ‘perfection’ – perfect people, perfect lives which, in the end, is purely unrealistic.