According to Leah Hardy, a former editor at Cosmopolitan magazine, the obsession with thinness has gone so far in that direction that models are often too skinny for the shoots they show up to, and photo editors must try to make them look fuller and healthier.
What happened to us? Photoshop used to be our friend. We used it to cover up our booze-filled Facebook pics with cats, and to superimpose pictures of Avicii over our boyfriends’ faces (Oh weird, was that just me?). It was the rich man’s Instagram, the professional filter that allowed us to reclaim just a little control over how our memories are recorded.
But somewhere between Claire Danes' questionably missing leg and an unrecognizable Kerry Washington, it became Photoshop itself that needed the editing. Society stood all aghast as magazines came forward about removing wrinkles, adding tanner tones and, of course, slimming down their already-fit cover girls. But today, in light of recent admission that Photoshop must now be used to achieve the opposite effect — to bulk up the sickly-skinny who show up for shoots — we’re still left standing with the same dumb, bewildered look on our faces.
Where did it all go wrong? Is this our fault? We have proven unable to stay within a happy medium, and instead pervert Photoshop to both ends of the extremes.
On one hand, Photoshop has been used to distort women’s bodies from beautifully flawed imperfections to uniform testaments of our obsession with Stepford-esque stick figures.
Case in point — Jennifer Lawrence, a perfectly perfect human being who has been an outspoken advocate against body shaming, became a victim of the Photoshop phenomenon when Flare Magazine decided in the editorial stages that her cheekbones had to appear more sunken in and her figure even more hourglass-y. The touch-ups might have been minimal but the message reads loud and clear: Women will continue to be scrutinized for their weight, their shape and their skin. You might be happy with yourself, but society sure isn’t.
Photoshop has proven to be a tool by which the haters can create a false reality for themselves, and for the masses who have sadly grown accustomed to glorifying a nonexistent ideal.
I don’t know if it’s comforting or harrowing to discover that models now — the very genetically gifted whom we females are taught to emulate — have themselves fallen prey to the Photoshop trap. Maybe in seeing the augmented mags, they forgot that the "them" staring up from the pages wasn’t the real "them" to begin with, but rather a concocted (Skinnier! Clearer-skinned!) version based on their original beauty (but after watching this Photoshop time lapse clip, I’m not sure that we need models since robots or inanimate objects would seemingly do the trick).
These models are competing against this manufactured and unreal ideal, losing weight like they have to be literally less-than their Photoshopped selves.
While it’s probably a benefit to impressionable and insecure teenage girls everywhere that magazine editors decided not to glorify these emaciated forms and instead added pounds and curves to their cover photos, it’s disconcerting that even models — people professionally invested in the business of being beautiful — are unable to size up accurately, so to speak, to the expectations of the industry.
If supermodels can’t figure Photoshop out, how can we expect budding women to wade through all this body image bullsh*t?
We do know that when those images surface, we feel a true need to consume and comment. Minutes after Kim Kardashian posted a butt selfie on Instagram (always a good move, I say), followers and media outlets alike were sent into a frenzy, accusing the new mama of "new manipulation" for alleging Photoshopping the post work-out pic.
Image manipulation is a real cause for concern, according to the American Medical Association. AMA Board Member Dr. Barbara McAneny has said that “the appearance of advertisements with extremely altered models can create unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image. In one image, a model's waist was slimmed so severely, her head appeared to be wider than her waist. We must stop exposing impressionable children and teenagers to advertisements portraying models with body types only attainable with the help of photo editing software.”
Although scientific data directly linking these Photoshopped, false advertisements with the development of eating disorders and other emotional issues are lacking, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to state that such an unhealthy obsession with looking unhealthy has a negative impact on women today.
The AMA suggested (in 2011, mind you) that editors and advertisers work together with health organizations to create guidelines that prevent Photoshop from being used to propagate unrealistic and only drastically-attainable beauty standards. Needless to say, I don’t think that Vogue gave WHO a call.
But regardless of the preferred solution to our Photoshop pandemic, it’s clear that something has to change. If both the average woman and the seemingly super-human supermodel are failing to meet the Photoshop ideal, then this little tech tool is no longer working in our favor.
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