Photoshop.I've had a lot of time to think about this one - several years in fact. Things conspired recently to make me want to write my thoughts down. Doe Deere (who I've written about before) answered a fan question regarding some of her photo retouching. I have seen a notable increase in photoshopped images - pictures meant for "geeks" are particularly bad about this. Several times over the past few weeks I've stumbled across "Ugly girls photoshopped pretty" collections. I was in a few lingerie stores recently and noticed the big posters they had up. (Incidentally, I was there to try on some Spanx because I have a bit of a tummy. Guess what made me feel worse about it?) Feministing had a small mention of it. And the other day I told a friend, "Today my goal is to not crush my self-esteem" which I accomplished by not looking at fashion, cosplay, ads or... well, anything that wasn't text, really.
Lastly, the thing that alarms me the most: I am finding it harder and harder to pick up on photoshops. I have become so used to seeing the idealized, physically impossible female form that it has become normal to me. I simply accept it now unless I'm consciously looking for it. And that scares me. Because if I, who has a huge interest in feminism and the impact of the media, who is aware of the pervasiveness of image alterations and impossible beauty standards, am starting to accept this crazy ideal as "normal"... what of the average woman, girl or man who isn't aware?
She's cute, eh? Obviously the picture's been digitally altered - the colors and lighting adjusted, skin blemishes erased. It is clearly done for the sake of art. Regarding this kind of photo manipulation, Doe says,
Retouching as a method of artistic expression has existed for as long as photography has been around and is perfectly ok in my book[....]
When I retouch a photo (or apply makeup, or wear a corset, or pose myself), it’s not driven by deceit or insecurity, but done to convey an artistic vision.
Here's the photo untouched. Notice anything... different?
Apparently the original girl isn't good enough to be associated with her own cosplay costume. This isn't advertising, folks. They're not selling something here. Some girl at a con got snapped while in costume. Do you know how difficult it was for me to find the original photograph? Whenever she sees the far more popular 'shopped version of that image she will be reminded that her boobs and butt aren't round enough, that her tummy isn't flat enough and that her whole face isn't pretty enough to be accepted by the masses. This is sickening
These photos are getting passed around as truth. They aren't being presented in a context where people are used to seeing altered photographs. If you're looking for it you can see it, but if you're just glancing at them, well...
You know, I'm getting really sick of it. I'm getting absolutely fed up with seeing pictures of pretty, normal girls (it's usually girls) being warped into "sexy" fake ones. Who wants this? Who is out there thinking, "yeah, give me some plastic-skinned, 20-inch-waisted, 30E-spherical-breasted 100%-symmetrical swollen-lipped chick and I'll be happy. Is that too much to ask for?" Whenever the topic comes up there is always a horde of men and women who come out of the woodwork proclaiming that they appreciate "natural" beauty and don't want their women caked with makeup and eradicated of blemishes and defining features. So if there are all these folks who don't like the ideal we've created, why does the media (even the unofficial media) still think that's what people want to see?
Even natural beauty is mostly unattainable to women. I don't think many men know exactly how hard it is to look like you just rolled out of bed, all dewy-eyed and sweet faced, ran fingers through your hair and slipped on a comfortable dress without looking like you literally just rolled out of bed. There are millions of magazine articles, web pages, blog posts and video tutorials to teach you how to wear makeup in a way that makes it look like you're not wearing any makeup. There's blushes that look "natural", mascara that looks "natural", lipstick and glosses that look "natural". Bronzers to give you a "natural-looking glow", lip plumpers to swell your lips "naturally", eyeshadow and eyeliner colors specifically designed to not look like anything. There's entire ranges of hair products and techniques to give you a bedhead or beach-hair look without the frizz, tangles and poofiness that actually comes with real bedhead and beach-hair. The idea of a woman having natural beauty is laughable, given our current standards of beauty. To accept a woman as "naturally beautiful" you have to be prepared to accept under-eye bags, pimples, cellulite, stretch marks, winkles, muffin top, body hair, tinted teeth, stubble, flaky skin, veins and moles... which our society is clearly not ready for.
Even women who dedicate their entire career to looking like idealized beauty aren't good enough. They aren't beautiful enough on their own - they still need a digital hand. These are women who have an unlimited supply of money and spend hours having makeup applied to them and their hair done by professionals. These are women who have strict diet and exercise regimens. These are women who have clothing tailored exactly to fit their bodies in the most flattering way possible. These are women who have the advantage of all the tricks of lighting, posing and photography at their disposal. And yet, at the end of the day, they get inches chopped off their thighs and waists, pores brushed from their skin, eye sockets and laugh lines removed... and this is accepted as normal.
Our beauty standard has become literally impossible to achieve. And don't get me started on porn and vulvas. Here's a taste: almost all porn mags cut out the model's vulva and paste on another from what I can only describe as "a clip-art library of pussy." They do it because most women don't have those little neat and tidy single-crease vulvas that people seem to want to believe is normal. There's a reason that cosmetic surgeons are seeing a huge increase in the number of women who want their labia chopped and reformed: to look more appealing for the people they have sex with. And what, exactly, defines "appealing"? Who is the authority in our society on what genitals should and should not look like? Pornography, of course.
If I could undo any invention at all, it would be photo manipulation. I have thought about this for great length and concluded that photoshop and programs like it have harmed ourselves, our children and our society nearly beyond repair - far more deeply than any weapon ever could. With this single tool we have shredded the self-esteem of millions of people and taught our citizens to expect the unachievable.
Photographs are supposed to capture a shred of reality and preserve it through time. We were then given a tool that allowed us to alter that shred of reality - and we've created a world where the unreal is the standard that reality is held to.
I disagree with most of Doe Deere's thoughts on this issue. There is a difference between art and reality, but it is clearly obvious in context that these manipulated photos are being used to dictate how reality should be instead of being something fanciful and artful. Cleaning a pimple off of someone's skin is one thing, because pimples come and go, but carving away the body, replacing the face, removing and adding features... these are unforgivable. These are disgusting.
The thing about putting on a corset and makeup and posing a certain way is that these things are possible for anyone to do. It is literally impossible for anyone to have a completely flat tummy. It is literally impossible for someone to not have pores, eye sockets and laugh lines. It is literally impossible for someone to not get rolls on their tummy when sitting in certain positions. But this is what is being presented to us as real.
So what do we do?Well, most of us are aware of the ridiculous beauty standards. But that doesn't mean shit. The rational part of our brain that says, "That's not even real" has almost no communication with the emotional parts of our brain that say, "If I don't look like that I'm ugly and no one will ever love me."
A Girl Scouts/Dove study confirmed this (findings fact sheet (pdf)). A fantastic discussion of the results can be found here I highly recommend everyone read it.
The most succinct and powerful summary of that study is from the above link:
The young women in the Girl Scouts study are media literate. They view the images they see in magazines and on television with critical eyes. They know full well that what they see presented as beautiful is all but impossible to achieve. They even suspect , rightly, that some of the women they’re seeing are sick. And yet, they still think those women are beautiful, and they still want to look like them.
And it's true. It's how I feel. In fact, A few months ago I have a post expressing exactly that sentiment:
As a strong proponent for gender equality, even I find myself longing to look a certain way, to have attention showered on me, or have my photos passed around the internet to be admired by thousands... who wouldn't? Insecurity is part of being human.
And there isn't much we can do about it.
Spreading awareness really helps - even today, many young people don't understand exactly how much has been manipulated in the images they see daily. Boys and girls should be encouraged to question the standards dictated by the media they consume. We should let our displeasure with altered images be known. We should refuse to consume media that warps the human body.
We women should grow confident and bare our makeup-less faces to the world. We should not be afraid to show our imperfections. We should stop fretting over weight and putting ourselves down, because it only lets them win. We should refuse to buy extreme beauty products and we should refuse to slash our flesh and remodel our body in the name of beauty. When people are unfairly criticizing someone's appearance - be it in real life or online - we should challenge them to question why they care and where their definition of beauty comes from. We should train ourselves out of habits like judging how people look and should instead talk about how people act, what they think and how they feel. We need to start a revolution of thought in ourselves before we can begin to think about changing the media.
And as powerful as those words sound, as wonderful as it all is, it will be an endless struggle. Wanting to feel confident and beautiful is one thing, knowing you should feel that is another thing, and actually beingconfident is quite another thing altogether. I want to love my body. I want to look into the mirror and see myself as my boyfriend sees me. I know I should because I know I'm comparing myself to ... well, to false idols. But I still haven't made that last step and it will be a difficult journey to get there.
I encourage anyone who has read this far to really sit down and give this thought and decide on a course of action for themselves. Even if it's as simple as vowing to simply smile and say "thanks" when someone compliments you instead of brushing it aside and being unable to agree... at least it's something. One step at a time and we'll get there, but we need everyone's help.