Twenty years ago, when John and Thomas Knoll launched the first photo manipulation program they didn’t imagine it would eventually lead to what Photoshop is today. Aside from enhancing a photo, correcting light and color, Photoshop is also excessively used in altering people’s appearances, which raises a series of questions. First of all, why is it ok to alter a photo of a scenery and not one of a model? The sensitive answer would be because a tree will never look at another tree in a magazine and feel inferior, ugly, fat or develop body image issues and eating disorders. Secondly, what means to excessively photoshop a person? The moment in which a fifty-six year old woman looks twenty-something on the cover of magazines, Photoshop has been taken too far. When models claim they look almost nothing like their reflection in the glossy magazines, a sign of alarm should be raised. In today’s world, when most consumerists know that the pictures they see in magazines are altered and they no longer represent real models, people should ask themselves, is there a point to it anymore?
The most frequent use of Photoshop is in order to sell something: an image, or one of the most common uses, a miracle product. Industries count on the naivety of the people to sell their products through both altered images and false advertising. Girls see pictures of impossibly skinny women next to miracle weight loss products, women see photoshopped pictures of an incredibly young looking Madonna next to anti-aging products and they believe it. Another example which is not related to miracle products is the advertising for the fast food industry. Have you ever received a Big Mac that looked exactly like the one in the pictures? I haven’t. In a world where there are so many laws against theft and treachery, why do we still give these industries the power to trick us into buying products that will never work the way they falsely claim they do?
The first law to protect the consumer against manipulation came into effect in Israel on the first of January 2013. The “Photoshop Law”, as people call it, states that when a picture is altered in any way, the magazine or whatever media outlet publishes it, must clearly mention that it is not the original picture and several modifications have been made in order for it to look like that. That way, less informed people who are not so much aware of what happens in the “backstage” of the fashion and advertising world can think for themselves.
While I am not saying that people don’t generally think for themselves, I believe that they are quite easy to manipulate. Regardless of age or level of education, when it comes to striving to be better or even perfect, people put their hopes in falsely advertised products, which makes them a lot more gullible. From miracle weight loss pills to hair growth solutions, there are products targeted at every gender or age group, leaving none of us safe from manipulation and even possible scams. Unfortunately, there is no way (at least for now and the foreseeable future) that a law could ban photo manipulation, at least when it comes to advertising, completely. However, if more and more countries would adopt the Israel “Photoshop Law”, the mass of the population would be aware of what is really going on in the advertising industry and, consequently, would be harder to manipulate. That would be crucial especially in raising awareness among older people. It’s easy for teenagers to realize that what they see is most likely not going to be what they get when they have access to the internet and can search for reviews, inside stories and real testimonials, but what about the older population, who are the targeted audience of print press, magazines and the television? You will never see a newspaper or a TV show mention a disclaimer before or after promoting a product, confessing that the result pictures are photoshopped and it is most likely that the product will not miraculously fix their bald pates.
Another issue tackled by the “Photoshop Law” is concerning how the excessive manipulation raises unhealthy body image issues especially among young women. The law says that no model with a body mass index lower than 18.5 can walk on the runway. Most models are naturally slimmer than your average woman, but media considers that they should be even skinnier. Women in fashion editorials are photoshopped to perfection and that wouldn’t be a bad thing if girls treated them as what they really are: beautiful pictures. Girls look at the images glossy magazines provide as real and treat unrealistic beauty standards as guidelines to what they should look like. While this beauty standard acts as a motivating factor for some to live a healthier lifestyle, to eat better and to work out more in order to look better, it’s also what causes something as serious and dangerous as eating disorders. One might think that only some people would fall into such vicious circles, but as of recent studies, anorexia is one of the three most common eating disorders which affects teenagers.
In this case, even people who work in the media industry and are aware of how the excessive photoshopping works are still affected and strive to achieve the unrealistic beauty standards. There are dozens of models who have died from starvation, including eighteen year old Eliana Ramos and Anna Carolina Reston aged twenty one. If the media was a person, I would be very interested to know how the fact that such young people put their lives at risk and in some cases,even throw it away, makes it feel. While facing facts, unfortunately, we realize that the media actually is formed by hundreds of people who perpetuate these unhealthy standards while feeling no remorse at all. Last month, Australian magazine “Famous”, put model Kendall Jenner on their cover and claimed she is “too fat for the runway” and that she should “lose eight kilos”. Kendall, who weighs 54 kgs at 178 centimeters, is anything but too fat for the runway, so to make their story more plausible, they intentionally photoshopped cellulite on her thighs.
In a world where most media outlets do nothing but objectify and raise impossible beauty standards for women, it is important that there are laws which try to protect and prevent more unhealthy body issues from appearing, such as the Israel “Photoshop Law”.Excessive photoshopping does not only affect models and young people, unfortunately. There are several editorials and pictorials with older protagonists which at least raised some questions, if not even caused protests.
Madonna’s “Interview Magazine” editorial is one of the few that stayed with me for a long time after seeing it. The article consisted of 16 more or less half naked pictures of the singer, and as Dlisted.com put is best, “Here’s A Whole Lot Of Photoshop That Sort Of Resembles Madonna Courtesy Of Interview Magazine”. The first question that popped in my head, and I bet I am not the only one, is why would you make a beautiful fifty-six year old woman look like an artificial twenty-eight year old? If you take a look at the pictures, you can see that everything is retouched: her skin, her eyes, her body shape, even her hair. There is not a single bit of Madonna that was not retouched and after researching further, this is not an isolated case: all magazines make Madonna look thirty at most. For the ones who realize it’s all Photoshop, the only issue that stands is, why do retouchers still do it? We all know she was born in 1958, we all know that there is no way she could look like that. We have all seen paparazzo photos and we have proof that neither does her skin look that perfect, nor her hair, nor her body. So for us, the question that still stands is: if the illusion is broken, do we need Photoshop anymore?
When editing or manipulating images with the help of Photoshop, people should bare in mind both questions of ethics and aesthetics. Ethics are a set of rules created by man, meant to help him to morally distinguish good from bad, to help men make the right decisions in certain situations. Each workplace has its own sets of rules, the same way each person has his or her own set of moral values. Aesthetics are also a set of principles that deal with the nature of beauty, art and taste. They dictate what is viewed as beautiful, as pleasing to the eyes of the viewer.
In today’s world, there is almost nothing you can’t do when manipulating a photo. An important issue to think about when doing so is, when does the pursuit of aesthetics violate our moral codes, our ethics? When the images we create and promote are in part the cause of so many people’s unhappiness, isn’t that a sign of alarm? Isn’t causing issues as serious as eating disorders and mental illnesses wrong? People need to realize that their greed and well-being is not more important than the health of the ones they lie to and manipulate.
A little bit of Photoshop never hurt anybody. Some color and light correction, removing a few blemishes and imperfections indeed make a photo more beautiful and appealing, but it needs to stop there. With the help of Photoshop, today’s media is able to falsely advertise products, manipulate the masses and create unrealistic body image standards that help fill their bank accounts and crush self esteems. It is high time excessive photoshopping called it a day and for the media to deliver real, unaltered beauty.
Some food for thought. What do you think? Do you agree with excessive photoshopping? Leave me your opinions in the comments! <3