The Photoshop Club

by f


As an avid reader of Jezebel — I justify it as “work research” — I’ve noticed a rash of stories discussing photoshop distortions of the body, or techniques employed by magazine editors and retail campaigns to create an idealized image. I don’t ordinarily notice these images because I don’t purchase fashion magazines or even look at them. I never buy my own clothes. (Not something I should brag about, I’m sure.) I don’t watch television programs that discuss fashion and style. I have as much makeup in my closet as the average straight guy.

(Notice how I just leave it at that. Readers, you’d be surprised at the amount of makeup the average straight guy keeps. As a total aside, my fiance has worn eyeliner and a bra more than once.)

As a result of following this campaign, I have fallen in love with Jezbel’s justification of what they do:

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page here: We’re not picking a fight when we show images that have been crazily Photoshopped, or when we show you before-and-after shots of celebrities. We’re not pulling some tabloidian “see celebrities without makeup!” or “look who has cellulite!” shtick. This is about the fucked-up imagery that is consistently and persistently gracing newsstands as the beauty standard to which we should all aspire.

Jezebel’s coverage of this issue has made me more aware of the distorted reality they discuss. I see the alien-looking thighs and the enhanced lips in the faces that look like they’ve been manipulated beyond recognition. I’ve seen women stripped of their beautiful curves and of lines that just don’t make sense in the context of their bodies. It makes me wonder: are we so at odds with ourselves that we can’t even bring ourselves to look at the mirror?
But remember that every day, a young woman somewhere sees one of these overly polished pictures for the first time…and has no idea that they’re not real. She may very well have no idea that most waists don’t really bend without a roll of flesh, that a 40-year-old woman actually does have some wrinkles, that no mascara will make one’s lashes magically long enough to tickle her eyebrows. What the girl does know is that the pictures show What Is Beautiful. She thinks they are reality. And maybe she doesn’t have someone in her life to point out that this is complete and utter bullshit. So we’ll do that, and we’ll do it over and over again just to make sure that everyone knows what’s up.

Our latent body issues only serve to worsen the effects these photoshopped images have on us. The practice of looking to distorted pictures for inspiration is incredibly prevalent in the pro-ana — people who identify as “pro-anorexia” and consider it a healthy and/or legitimate way of dealing with their bodies — movement. The term for it is thinspiration. This practice of looking up to airbrushed women who have the humanity edited from them contributes to staggering instances of body issues and lack of self-esteem. Anorexia is not a necessary prerequisite for this lack of confidence, but it is an extreme manifestation and an effect of this ridiculous editing of the female form.

Campaigns that shame egregious instances of this practice seem to work. This botched Ralph Lauren attempt to photoshop a model’s waist from existence received a letter of apology from the company. Ann Taylor walked their retouching practices back, even having its employees pose in clothes to give customers an accurate idea of the way they look on more averagely-sized women.

The reason why these practices have continued is that we have not yet used our purchasing power to successfully intimidate this industry that refuses to design for us. However, internet activism is an excellent start. It gives us an opportunity to challenge established wisdom on an even playing field. We can and should push back against campaigns that attempt to demonize the beauty of the natural human body.

5 Comments to “The Photoshop Club”

  1. Excellent post, takes all the words right out of my mouth.

    Every time one of these beyond-fucked-up Photoshop jobs is found, my jaw drops. Often the models no longer look human, like the Ralph Lauren example.

    Who are the people sitting at the computer, making these alterations? I’m sure they feel tremendous pressure to make the photos a certain way. But when you’ve treated hundreds of thousands of images, surely you lose touch with what reality looks like? Or, rather, you start to see the real as fat, bloated, disgusting. It would be very interesting if someone did a piece focusing on them.

    • I read a while ago about a model who had gained weight, so she was no longer a double 0. She actually looked healthy, but still obviously nowhere near fat by ANY standard, yet a reporter who was sitting and watching the runway wrote that she looked bloated. Bloated! I wonder if I can find that article again.

    • It would be. V says she’s seen a documentary where there were photographers who were interviewed about the subject and admitted to all kinds of stupid things when it came to editing images of women. Let’s see if we can hunt these resources down.

  2. I totally agree with you, F! Awesome post, totally awesome! Have you seen the video that goes along with that picture you put up there. It’s amazing. And I’ve seen videos of photographers admitting that the Before and After pictures for weight loss, beauty, and other such ads are often taken the SAME day. One is photoshopped and the other is not. Guess which is which. –; This is something that needs to stop. Giving us a set idea of what beauty is by setting the bar at the unattainable and impossible doesn’t really do any good for us. It doesn’t teach us to strive for what we could be, to strive for the best in ourselves, it teaches us simply to strive for what isn’t possible in the first place and that is a negative thing. Why? Because, people do terrible and unhealthy things to their bodies if they feel they cannot get to that unattainable beauty that we are constantly shown. Some people take extreme measures to get thin (anorexia, bulimia, unhealthy crash diets, etc.) and others just give up all together and eat themselves to death. I honestly feel that overeating IS an eating disorder, and I believe that it is currently being considered to be added to the list, but I’m not sure. It has all the same underlying issues, most of the time, that any other eating disorder has. The only thing that stops it from being one is that it isn’t listed as one. That’s all. And that doesn’t make it not one. Also, people who are under severe stress also find unhealthy ways to deal with it (like cutting or other forms of self-mutilation) and our distorted view of beauty spoon-fed to us by the media setting the beauty bar for us the way that they have contributes to that stress for many women and young girls who just cannot achieve that goal. The ages for girls who have eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia is becoming lower and lower. I knew a girl when I was 10, she must have been 8 at the most, who was convinced she was fat and needed to diet. And she wasn’t even pudgy. At the time it was weird that a girl that young could be worried about it. Now, it’s becoming the norm. People EAT PAPER sometimes to curb their appetites, or drink insane amounts of water. It’s frightening and it does NOT bode well for our people. And now it’s spreading to other countries which didn’t have such an issue with it before. China is now one of the leading countries in instances of plastic surgery to attain a Western ideal of beauty that their Asian bodies are not naturally able to achieve. Great. Just fucking great.

    • Wow, V! I’m glad it resonated with you that way. If you have any additional thoughts, please write them up. I think this is a terrific possible ongoing topic.

      I also hope you find that piece in which the reporter criticised the girl for looking bloated. I think fashion critics also bear a great deal of responsibility for this. I know that the writer Cintra WIlson used all kinds of sizeist language in her NY Times review of JCPenney. I think maybe I’ll post that up when I find it. What’s the point of being shamed for the way you look? It’s only so that these people can justify the fact that they create clothes for a small part of the population.

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