Teaser: The Wrath of Photoshop

Ever turned flipped through a magazine and felt significantly less confident about your appearance? Or walked by the mall’s giant store displays, complete with chiseled abs, protruding hip bones and the oh-so-coveted thigh gap, just to realize you weren’t hungry for that warm and delicious Cinnabon you JUST bought?If you have, don’t worry. You’re not alone.

Our good friend Photoshop* has never failed us. Along with teaching us how to fill in a chipped tooth, extend eyelashes and spot and erase blemishes, Photoshop has taught us the most important thing of all: there is always something to fix. Chances are, every media and advertisement still-frame you have seen today has had some of Photoshop’s digital fairy dust grace its presence.

As a college student, I’ve seen boys rooms with bikini pinups. I’ve had apartment-mates hang up pictures of Victoria’s Secret models on our fridge to discourage unwarranted snacking. Heck, I’ve even had the same midriff-baring photo of MIA in my room since I was 13. But has Photoshop mislead us to confuse the airbrushed cover models with role models? Would we still feel inclined to hang up these pictures if there was a disclaimer that read: “This model has been enhanced in post production, alter 60% from the original photo”?

This White Paper addresses issues brought up in What’s Victoria’s Secret?. This paper explores the current issues of Photoshop and advertising, current policy in place for regulating the overzealously airbrushed advertising industry, and provides policy recommendations for the key players in this topic of discussion.

The following is an excerpt from my Paper:

 While the media has always glorified and emphasized the importance of a slender figure, Photoshop has created a culture that disempowers women by holding them prisoner to an unattainable beauty ideal. According to philosopher John Rawls, persons have the right to “equality in the assignment of basic rights,” (Sandel, pp.206).   Rawls maintains a “well-ordered society…[is] designed to advance the good of its people and effectively [be] regulated by a public conception of justice” (Rawls, pp.114). The conjunction of Photoshop and media has created significant detrimental effects on society, specifically health concerns. Throughout history, the societal pressures of media and advertisements have violated basic rights people are entitled to in pertinence of mental health, ultimately reaching a tipping point with the widespread usage and abilities now available with Photoshop.

Since the widespread adoption of Photoshop in the advertisement world, figments known once only to the imagination can now become a tangible reality. Digital photo enhancement programs have given digital creators the power to manipulate and misconstrue appearances beyond recognition, turning a once unattainable concept of beauty and perfection into actuality. In 2013, the viral video “Photoshop makes anything possible” proved nothing is unattainable. In this 37-second video, Photoshop was used to transform an average looking girl into a Barbie-esque pinup, proving the sky is the limit for Photoshop’s capabilities. YouTube users had a commenting frenzy, sparking reactions such as, “I can’t believe Photoshop can make so much of a difference! #freakedout” by missarianator and “to all the girls out there wishing they looked like the girl in the picture, don’t worry. The girl in the picture doesn’t even look like the girl in the picture” by yaoifinatic1 (YouTube).   This video embodied the modern retouching aesthetic the advertising industry has pushed onto consumers (Seigel, Adweek).

The use of Photoshop, and other digital photo enhancement programs, has become normative procedure within the fashion, cosmetic and advertising industries. The sociocultural theory published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders by clinical psychologists Lisa Groesz, Michael Levine and Sarah Murnen maintain, “mass media creates and promotes a standard of beauty that leads many adolescents and adult females to experience significant body dissatisfaction…[as well as] the ‘normative discontent’ that females experience about their bodies,” (Groez, Levine & Murnen, 2002). With distorted media messages and the obsession with everything from thigh gaps to flat bellies, there’s no doubt the focus of “being skinny” is a concern for children and adolescents. The purpose of the models in advertisements is to sell beauty by displaying the idea of perfect, but there needs to be a disclaimer on these advertisements to warn consumers to “[not] believe everything you see…[since] many of these figures were created and modified by Photoshop,” (Taub-Dix, U.S. News Health).

Here’s the full version of my White Paper: The Wrath of Photoshop_White Paper

*For the purpose of this paper, all digital photo enhancement programs will be referred to Photoshop, a generic word that has come to represent these programs in American society.

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