14-year-old Julia Bluhm made national news when she showed up at Seventeen magazine with over 25,000 signatures on her petition asking for the mag to stop digitally altering their pictures. Teens Emma Stydahar and Carina Cruz followed suit with their Spark Movement aimed at getting Teen Vogue to lay off the Photoshop as well. While their efforts were somewhat successful – the editors of Seventeen agreed not to alter the faces or bodies of girls featured in the mag – they stopped short of agreeing to stop Photoshopping models and celebs nor did they say they would publish any unretouched photo spreads. Teen Vogue listened to the girls but sent them away with a lecture “that Teen Vogue is a great magazine, being unfairly accused.”

And while I’m 100% on board with the teens’ stated mission – “It’s time for an end to the digitally enhanced, unrealistic “beauty” we see in the pages of magazines. We are demanding that teen magazines stop altering natural bodies and faces so that real girls can be the new standard of beauty.” – I will admit to some ambivalence about the use of Photoshop in general.

Matter of fact, every picture I post on this blog has been digitally monkeyed with. I try to keep it minimal – the goal being that I just want the picture to look as beautiful as the real life thing, not better – but every photo at least gets cropped, watermarked with my copyright and the lighting corrected. Sometimes I go a bit further. While I don’t ever change my own or the Gym Buddies’ faces or bodies, I do always edit out crotch sweat. Because even if you can’t see crotch sweat on cotton pants in daylight, the camera flash has an interesting way of bringing it out. I have also removed showy nips, excessively large zits, weird reflections on faces, butt cracks and extraneous strangers in the background. It’s just something a girl does for her girlfriends, you know? Back in the old days it was your girlfriends’ job to make sure your skirt wasn’t tucked into your slip but since nobody wears slips nowadays (except me, I have a collection!) now it’s our job to make sure nobody has a tampon string hanging out of their bikini bottoms before the photo gets posted on Facebook.

The thing is, this type of Photoshopping is so common now that it is almost mundane. I think most people these days are okay with some incidental editing like the kind I used on our family pic or on my blog pics. It’s expected even. But lighting and cropping are one thing – it gets murkier the farther in you go, especially when it comes to the human form. I had one sister whiten her teeth on her family Christmas card and the first thing I did when I opened it was call her and scream “What tooth whitening system are you using? I MUST HAVE IT!!” Her teeth didn’t look fake but they were so perfectly luminous that it was the very first thing that drew my eyes in the picture. If it had been an ad for toothpaste it would have been brilliant. Unfortunately it wasn’t an ad.

Photoshopping humans can run the gamut from subtly removing a shadow or sheen obscuring a face to all the way into uncanny valley where the person looks humanoid instead of human. So where do you draw the line? It’s easy to say that models shouldn’t have their waists digitally whittled but what about smoothing out the wrinkles on their t-shirt? Does it just show the shirt to its fullest saleable potential or does it make it seem like she’s lacking the natural skin folds that happen when a person bends at the waist? What about adding filters to add effects like a retro vibe or a grittier look to the finished product – art or artifice? How about those photo services that allow you to swap heads from one pic to another so as to get the perfect pose – all the pieces are the same but the puzzle is different? Is a zit different than a large wrinkle? Is there such a thing as ironic Photoshopping? And then there are all the controversial photo edits like when they reverse-shopped Cameron Diaz to remove those v-lines and vascularity that come from an “overly muscular” body.

I think we can all agree that in many cases Photoshopping has gone too far. Some of the ways it’s been used in marketing have passed egregious and are downright evil. But I also think that Photoshop is part of how things work these days. Asking professional magazines to ban it entirely seems a tad unrealistic. And even if, say, Teen Vogue agreed to never photoshop another picture in their mag again, would we really like that? A large part of the whimsy in fashion spreads comes from artful digital enhancement not to mention how convenient it is to be able to fix mistakes like lighting problems that would take much longer and be more expensive to fix with retakes than with a computer.

I’m certainly not saying that Ralph Lauren should get away with turning an adult woman into a stickbug or that we shouldn’t educate people on how those slick advertisements are made. But I don’t think it’s the technology that’s the problem. It’s society’s deeply unrealistic standard of female beauty. Insanely long, thick eyelashes would continue to be sold as the ideal whether they are the product of glued-on falsies and makeup or of a computer whiz. A tiny waist would continue to be fetishized whether it’s through elaborate corsetry or through digital slimming. And is one illusion better than the other? While I commend the teens for their activism, I think they’re diluting their message by focusing so much on the digital. In the end I think we won’t believe that we’re beautiful until we can accept that everyone is beautiful. Because there isn’t just one way to be beautiful.

Don’t nix the Photoshop**. Fix the minds of the people who are using the Photoshop.

How do you feel about photoshop bans? Would you just prefer them to be labelled as digitally enhanced or would the label become meaningless? Do you digitally enhance your pics at all?

*I use “photoshopping” loosely. The actual program I use is Paint.net – it’s free and has almost as much functionality as the real Photoshop.

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  1. I agree with you. I think the proof is in the “sales”. All kinds of activists (and regular people) deplore the unrealistic images of women in magazines and other media. Yet, any editor in chief or marketing exec will tell you sales drop when less than perfect women as used in their advertizements and WHO is responsible for the sales? The public. So the public, despite the petitions and activism is not really supporting its own cause which is why the problem still exists. When the time comes to put our money where our mouthes and petitions are, the public still spends its money on the magazines and products that use these unrealistic to promote whatever they’re selling. The advertizers are in it to make money period, not comfort society’s bruised “ego” or ideal of altruism. IMO, its time for the public to go beyond gathering signatures and actually “be the change they want to see in the world” something everyone keeps repeating but sadly fails to do when given the opportunity. It’s time to use our wallets to be the change and simply NOT BUY the products/magazines etc that don’t present the truth. If we all agree “in theory” why can’t we apply out theory to practice? When magazines and companies see that their sales are lower when they have unrealistic images of women, then they will change their tactics because in the end, they want sales. However, as long as their sales are not dramatically affected, all the “petitions” in the world will make no difference. It’s actually quite simple in my view.

  2. Tiffany Washington

    Ok, I was following until the last four sentences. One way of putting a different image into the minds of society and helping them see various beauty in all its glory is to stop digitally enhancing bodies in magazines, no? Notice I didn’t say fixing crotch sweat or cutting people out in the background – I’m talking slimming, primping, plumping unnecessarily. Unfortunately, too many people are robots and try to replicate what they see on TV and magazines – ESPECIALLY teenagers. People don’t spend millions of dollars on advertisements because they don’t work. This is not a case of society likes this so we’ll make the people in the magazines look like this. It’s a case of magazines make people look like x so society likes x. Generally speaking, people will do whatever you tell them and will look how you want them to. Seriously.

    • @Tiffany Washington: That’s the problem in the first place. If parents don;t parent them images become icons and after that girl will have a hard getting her mind off the individual look.

    • @Tiffany Washington:
      Actually, there is a biological basis for what we find attractive. You will never be able to “put a different image into the minds of society to see various beauty.” Things like slim waists (or a particular hip-to-waist ratio at least) and thick hair and lashes are all indicators of health, which back in the day was high priority for choosing a mate. The fact that we’ve taken it all a step further is also just human nature … we’re always going to want to out-do each other, and we’ve had thousands of years to come up with new ways to enhance and obfuscate. It’s not even just human nature, it’s animal nature. There are birds out there who can barely get around, because they’re so obsessed with their enormous tail feathers, which they’ve evolved to have more and more of.
      My point is, you can go ahead and outlaw anything you want. You can teach your kids to not have unrealistic expectations. And yet there will still be crazy competition to to outdo one another with regards to their appearance and young people will always feel they don’t measure up. The key is just to keep your perspective about the relative importance of it all.

  3. It’s just so irresponsible.

  4. I like to think that humans control their own minds, not magazines. If magazines put people who look like “x” it’s because people only buy them when people look like “x”. Magazines have tried to put regular people on their covers but when that happens the magazine just don’t sell. i.e. the “people” are not buying. Therefore, the people make the conscious decision to buy or not to buy a magazine. So why is it that when regular people are on the covers of magazines the public doesn’t buy them? The magazines are simply on the shelf, no one is “forcing” people to buy them. By buyng the magazines with digitally enhanced babes on them, the public IS saying that IT DOES prefer to see digtally enhanced people rather than real people. Even the mother who hates how magazines present unrealistic women has copies of those very magazines in her home. So how can it be the magazine’s fault? The power DOES lie in the hands of the people howver the people refuse to admit they say one thing yet do another and then blame the magazines because it’s always easier to blame someone else.

  5. Magazines probably do sell less magazines with “regular people” as Karen mentioned however, there is a big difference between throwing a “regular” person on the cover of the magazine and putting a celebrity or a model who hasn’t been digitally enhanced on the cover and throughout the magazine. Photoshop and programs like that are relatively new and people were buying plenty of magazines before women became totally unrealistic looking. I am always shocked when I see a before and after enhancement photo like the one of the woman with the big butt. Although I would have assumed there was some slight tweaking, she looks like a completely different person in the second photo! That type of alteration isn’t right and it is really affecting young girls and teenagers because they will never be able to achieve the type of flawlessness that we are witnessing and it’s sad. Yes, edit out crotch sweat, wrinkles in clothes, etc., but let’s stop with all the phoniness, it’s silly. And, no, I’ve never used photoshop to edit my photos. I am who I am, take it or leave it.

  6. Absolutely do not like photoshopping. It is deceitful and encourages females in particular, to hate the bodies they posses because their bodies aren’t “perfect” enough. I loathe advertising anyway because of the constant lying. Madison Avenue and the people who work in advertising, suck.

  7. I haven’t been living under a rock, but actually I have when it comes to photoshopping. I was aware of editing photos, but photoshopping is creating an entire new person. I am just so amazed by the second photo. She looks like a completely different person and that is very deceiving. Wow..

  8. it’s damaging because this is what causes women and young girls to think they NEED plastic surgery and all these wack enhancements when the women they idolize look nothing like the finished product of a photo-shoot. i remember one actress said that she WISHED she could look like her pictures in real life. it’s sad when a woman is so digitally altered that she tries to get surgeries to look like what is pretty much a caricature of herself.

    i wonder why more companies aren’t approached for false advertising. they show mascara commercials and print ads and in SOME print ads they say ” false eyelashes MAY have been used”. i went to rite aid and they were showing what different types of mascara can look like and they used some fake eyelashes to demonstrate -_ -. soo many shampoo ads where all the women have weaves and lacefronts. makeup commercials claiming to help your skin look a certain way… if your makeup REALLY worked as well as you said it does then why did you digitally alter the model’s skin beyond recognition? it’s sad! ladies are buying into this.

    i have never seen so many women clamoring for plastic surgery in my LIFE. it seems like every woman in LA has fake breasts now and nobody sees anything wrong with that. you got women dying in hospital beds over getting something as stupid as a straighter nose. women are dropping dead because they are soo desperate to look like the cartoon character in the before and after photos, that they meet up in hotels with people and get fix a flat and baby oil injected into themselves. something is wrong with that when people think that superficial things like big breasts and butts are worth losing their lives over. we need to have our young ladies brainwashed to love themselves instead of looking like blowup dolls. funny how you never hear people say ” you’re beautiful the way you are, don’t ever change” or “love yourself for who you are” now everybody is saying “get ___’fixed'” or “there is nothing wrong with plastic surgery”. it’s sad. even little girls are catching on and saying that they or other people NEED a nose job and implants. very sad society we live in now!

  9. I think these images give our young women unrealistic veiws of the human body. We have young girls disliking thier bodies because they have cellulite or strecthmarks. They do harm to themselves trying to achieve these bodies that they see. I think the media needs to be more responsible with the influence they have over young women.

  10. you know what? if i was gonna be in a magazine spread, you damn right i want stuff photoshopped.

    if i got a blemish. remove it. if a bit of cellulite shows. remove it.

    that is all.

  11. Personally I don’t have a problem with Photoshop photos. I have a timer on my camera and will take 20 bad photos until I get to that one good photo. So why shouldn’t a celebrity have a photo he/she is comfortable with showing the public? Yeah, it might make insecure viewers feel better about their own look but it’ll also bring on a crop of new malicious insults about how this or that celebrity looks terrible. People can’t wait to ridicule celebrities with the makeup-off shots. If they can find time out of their unbusy day to rant about photos that aren’t Photoshopped, I can guarantee you they will. You know why I don’t have a problem with Photoshop though? I think I’m pretty cute. So since I think I’m pretty cute, I usually find cuteness in other people or pay attention to cute shots of other people. It’s people who don’t like the way they look who insist on trying to find fault in someone else’s photos.

  12. And for the record, these comments about how these magazines make girls want to get surgery are making me roll my eyes a thousand times. I saw beautiful women in mags all the time growing up from Lisa Bonet to Tyra Banks, from Halle Berry to Phylicia Rashad (Claire Huxtable’s body on “The Cosby Show” was killing ’em!). But that never made me want to run out and get surgery. It did make me want to get into fitness, which I did as a teenager, college and even now. It was my parents, grandparents, etc., complimenting me that made me feel like I was good looking. Instead of pointing at celebrities, how about telling some parents to start complimenting/hugging/embracing their children’s looks. I looked to my mother, my aunt and other family members for visual perks. I wasn’t looking at any famous person thinking, “I want to look just like her.” If parents make children comfortable in their own skin and acknowledge their concerns, this could help far more than no Photoshop.

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