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Warning: I’m Photoshopped

The backlash and celebrities who’ve chimed in. What’s next?

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Isn’t it fair to be warned when something is hazardous to our health? Cigarette cartons have huge, cautionary health stickers plastered on them, and even roller coasters have warning signs before you step on to the ride. So why don’t magazines have the same? In a psychological sense, we can be harmed by false renderings of images, whether we try to avoid it or not.

Warning: I’m Photoshopped

Most women are no longer ignorant of the fact that the images displayed in magazines and print ads are digitally manipulated in order to look absolutely flawless (see 25 examples here), yet we still can’t help but admire the perfect skin and eye-catching curves. It’s as if the fiction overrides the facts due to our brain’s wiring.

Warning: I’m PhotoshoppedIf most informed adult women are influenced by these unrealistic images, imagine how much more impressionable young girls, the next generation of magazine readers, are. Teens who are always seeking their peers approval and acceptance have a greater tendency to fixate on the improvement of their physical appearance. And where do they turn to? Magazines, of course. The altered image they see becomes a standard which, realistically speaking, is nearly impossible to attain.

I’ve been through that phase myself. Whenever I would see a magazine cover or a glamorous print ad of a model, it speaks to me as if saying “this is what you should look like.” It was only after several years of insecurity that I saw the reality that that I will never attain that perfect poreless skin even if I use an entire bottle of the advertised cream in one go.

And as soon as a I had wrapped my head around the idea that the way celebrities and models look in magazines, ads and on TV is pure fantasy, I realized that it’s not just celebrities that are retouched anymore — it’s my friends on Facebook, too. With photo retouching software being so easy and convenient to use, and smartphone apps offering to smooth skin, brighten eyes and remove blemishes, now everyone is trying to keep up with the crazy, unrealistic beauty standards being pushed on women and girls.

Warning: I’m Photoshopped

In response to the possible negative effects that photo retouching may have on consumers, government sectors and medical associations have taken some first steps towards public awareness. When the American Medical Association (AMA) took a stand against digital manipulation in advertising, pointing to the practice as a contributor to the rising eating disorder and depression diagnoses among teens, reactions were mixed. There were many protesters, such as the businesses that had been enjoying the sales resulting from these tricks.

Warning: I’m Photoshopped

It’s not just celebrities that are retouched — it’s your friends on Facebook, too!

But many others agreed with the AMA, such as Sheila Pree Bright, who’s photo series “Plastic Bodies” examines how beauty ideals affect women. Her striking images combine doll parts with segments of human bodies, and the discord between the two is startling. She told HuffPost in an email:

“American concepts of the ‘perfect female body’ are clearly exemplified through commercialism, portraying ‘image as everything’ and introducing trends that many spend hundreds of dollars to imitate. It is more common than ever that women are enlarging breasts with silicone, making short hair longer with synthetic hair weaves, covering natural nails with acrylic fill-ins, or perhaps replacing natural eyes with contacts. Even on magazine covers, graphic artists are airbrushing and manipulating photographs in software programs, making the image of a small waist and clear skin flawless. As a result, the female body becomes a replica of a doll, and the essence of natural beauty in popular American culture is replaced by fantasy.”

Warning: I’m PhotoshoppedBut there is some promise: in England, some extreme Photoshopping of images has been banned, especially in teen magazines. And France proposed that warning labels be inserted to inform the public that the images have been digitally manipulated.

Many celebrities seem to think that unrealistic images are just ‘par for the course’. “I love Photoshop more than anything in the world. Of course it’s Photoshop; people don’t look like that.” Jennifer Lawrence told Access Hollywood, when asked if her Dior ad was Photoshopped.

And even though most celebrities love seeing their edited glamour shots on in ads and magazine covers, a select few have spoken out against the phenomenon. Stars such as Brad Pitt, Jessica Simpson, and Kate Winslet have said publicly that they would prefer to have their photos unaltered and un-retouched. If they take pride in their physical imperfections, why shouldn’t we?

Warning: I’m Photoshopped

Doutzen, a Victoria’s Secret model

It’s time we put a stop to all of these false standards of beauty and begin to appreciate more of who we are beyond the surface. These lines on our skin, for instance, are a result of our life experiences, and they make us … well, us. The beauty industry calls them flaws, but I choose to see them as marks of character, evidence of my own personal stories, if you will. My smile lines were brought on by thousands of moments of laughter. I made the decision to love myself instead of criticizing myself over things that don’t matter. After all, what is there to be ashamed of, really?

Related: Retouching: 25 Shocking Comparisons and How to Beat the Media’s Pressure to be Thin

A writer, artist and designer since she was young enough to put pencil to paper, Hilary spends most of her time in France, but still considers herself a New Yorker, and visits regularly. Hilary spent the past decade living in NYC and has traveled extensively around the world, looking for hot new topics, destinations, and brands to bring to Urbanette readers.

Reader Discussion: 21 Comments

  1. Christine Muchoe

    It’s so amazing what Photoshop and other editing softwares can do but I definitely stand behind the ban 100%. I think things like smile lines and freckles give character! The media has such a high degree of influence on what people consider beautiful and it’s sad that their using it to push unrealistic standards. People look more beautiful with their flaws because it gives them character, and the media shouldn’t be convincing people otherwise.

  2. Holy cow! I had no idea you can change the way people looked to such an extreme degree. I guess I’m a lot prettier than I thought : )

    So easy to get caught up in looking at people in magazines/TV and marvel at their perfection, when most of us could look pretty darn spectacular if we had hours of makeup, hair, prep, etc (not to mention photo shopping). Good reminder that beauty can be deceptive, and to focus on the beauty within!

  3. Tee

    I agree with both Dove and Jude….

    I am a professional photographer and Photoshop serves the purpose of making the editing process easier, because editing images can be truly time-consuming, and especially the retouching of skin. No one will pick up a magazine or pay attention to any ad with flawed models, products, or food that does not look appetizing. This subject matter is nothing new, plain and simple. For example, would MAC cosmetics put a model whose face is covered with acne and freckles, made up with apple-green makeup from their line on the cover of their catalogue un-retouched? No. The truth is because a person’s eye will focus on the freckles and acne, NOT the makeup. They’d focus on the ‘flaws’ because they are distracting to the eye. Another thing, the celebrities that are stating their complaints are also the ones who have been famous for quite some time now. I imagine it’s a lot easier to do that compared to those who are just starting out. What up-and-comer trying to get their shot at fame is complaining about how they look in an ad or on the cover of some magazine or story when they’re just happy to have a chance at being featured? I agree that this of course has an effect on teen girls (boys too), but Ad companies, photoshop, etc., in the beauty industry is just like everything else. IT IS A CHOICE. How a teenage girl views herself begins AT HOME. As much as we may dislike it, we cannot blame the media for what people choose to do, no matter their age. Sure it may be the reason, source or what have you, but ultimately, the most influence usually starts with the parent or guardian, what’s going on in the home. I see girls all over Instagram with next to nothing on. Filtered or unfiltered, the imagery starves and reeks of someone dying for attention no matter what their initial purpose may be. There are people (namely females) who are very confident and have a healthy sense of self-awareness in spite of all of the magazines, etc. out there, so one can’t completely blame the industry for what young girls do. I get it, I’ve been influenced myself by what I’ve seen in the mags, but grew out of it. I’ll even go as far as to say that at times, I step away from my computer because of all of the images that can effect even the strongest mind. In the end, I love Photoshop and I use it for all kinds of retouching–models included. I want my magazine to have a clean look. I can’t have that with bad acne, yellow teeth, bloodshot eyes, or fly-away hair. Bottom line, once society TRULY accepts people, FLAWS AND ALL, only then will the necessity of programs like Photoshop die out.

  4. Retouching has been practiced since the birth of photography, after all. You could say we don’t need it these days, when technology has advanced so much. But an image of a person will always differ from said person in real life! And we are free to choose how to present our image to the world.
    I think the problem is not photoshopping per se but the standards of beauty people aim for.

  5. It’s a creative venture for me – photoshopping ads. Ads need to be attractive. They need to sell. Nobody will pick up a magazine with flawed models. However, it does give the teens and the naive ones a notion of perfection and a decreased self-confidence when not perfect. I guess the warning labels are useful for the younger and naive ones.

    • Francis Woods

      Hey, Jude!!! I get what you mean. Have you ever tried photoshopping your own pictures?

      • Gabrielle Williams

        I use photoshop a lot. Especially when I’m bored at home. I actually don’t mind looking at photoshopped models as long as I know they’re photoshopped.

    • Hannah Meyers

      I grew up seeing extremely beautiful models on magazines and in commercials on TV. I always wondered how come I am not like them. I felt terrible for some time because I never knew that these models had so much make up on or had been photoshopped. And then I saw candid photos of these celebrities and I’m like, “Seriously?”

    • Hi Jude – I see your point. The problem is that study after study shows that these images really do affect women’s self-esteem. Women of all ages. There definitely needs to be more education about the subject, but I personally think that images should be photoshopped less as well, and warnings should be on images to explain specifically what was done to them.

  6. Francis Woods

    Those before and after photos are shocking! I had no idea it was that extreme!

  7. Sarah Evanston

    I admit it – I photoshop my own photos. I know I should stop, but it’s hard when I’m being compared (by myself, by friends, by everyone) to my friends and celebs who still use Photoshop on every photo they post. Nobody wants to be the less-perfect duckling! 🙁

    • Francis Woods

      Totally agree!!! I photoshop mine too!

  8. I don’t see the big deal. I’m glad photoshop exists. I’m an actress and I definitely want all the filters on cameras I can get. Not because I don’t look great without them, but because I want to look the very very best I can, so I’ll be more popular in the industry, and book more jobs. If the celebs get photoshopped, then we all have to in order to keep up!

  9. Courtney Watson

    Even though I realize all this now, I still can’t make my mind realize that what I’m looking at isn’t real. My mind still compares my real body to their fantasy body. 🙁

  10. Jen Spillane

    I agree that warnings for retouched images wouldn't be a bad idea. Teenagers don't seem to really get that what they're seeing isn't real even though they know it on an intellectual level. I don't think retouching in and of itself is always bad. Photos are a lot like moving film, and for whatever reason, you do look different in those mediums than you do in real life. I know that for me as an actress, having my head shots retouched did present my most polished self, yes, but it also made my shots the best representation of how I'll look when I walk into the audition room (which, of course, is the whole point). I appreciate it when celebrities speak out against these types of measures to create a perfect image. To me, that's not them embracing their imperfections; it's them embracing reality.

    • Melani Kalev

      Agreed with you, Jen! I don’t think that Photoshop would be the problem. Without Photoshop and editing, what would happen to ads, to marketing? Marketing being ‘an art’ of its own – to get to people, to sell them basically everything, anything. It doesn’t mean that I agree how all of this works, playing with people’s minds – retouched photos or marketing tricks, you name it -, but it is however a big part of our consumer society. And in this society, people just need to be smarter. That said, for starters, warnings for retouched images would be a good idea indeed.

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