To Photoshop Or Not To Photoshop? Answering Society's Rhetorical Question
A topic more controversial than the 2016 election.
Today, it seems like photoshop is an implied, intentional step on the path to publication.
But is it a step in the right direction?
There's no denying that photoshop is everywhere. Whether it's on a the cover of a fashion magazine or attached in a funny work email, we are used to seeing things in an altered state. There are times photoshop can be pretty freaking hilarious, totally degrading or downright awful . But defining the blurry line between good and bad photoshop methods sparks a fiery debate, with new fuel is added to the fire daily.
The latest victim in the war on photoshop is Victoria Beckham.
Recent photos appeared on Victoria Beckham's Instagram from her photoshoot for an upcoming Vogue China issue. Critics and fans alike called bullshit on the seemingly doctored gap between Beckham's thighs.
The comment section of Beckham's Instagram quickly became a dumping ground for hateful comments about the "photoshop fail" and that Beckham was "missing part of her leg." According to The Independent, a spokeswoman for Beckham dismissed speculation that the image had been photoshopped, and pointed out that the enhanced thigh gap was an illusion, it was just her shirt tucked under her from behind.
Woah, plot twist.
An instance where photoshopping Beckham's thighs might've actually come in handy? Interesting. Had Vogue China taken away the piece of the shirt and shown only Beckham's leg, maybe we could've gone at least one day without shaking our finger at the media's favorite form of "improvement."
Sometimes photoshop is a great tool that removes illusions or potential distractions from beautiful photos. Other times photoshop is taken way too far.
Unfortunately, photoshop's instruction manual doesn't come with a moral code of conduct.
There is no button that tells magazines, blogs, or any other publication that they shouldn't lighten skin tones, enhance breasts, or reduce stomachs, especially if the subject of the alterations doesn't agree with them.
Photoshop is a creative tool, and its users have the creative license to take things where they choose. But when does that creative license become detrimental to one's own self-image, putting society s already unattainable beauty standards further out of reach?
In 2010 New York magazine published a piece entitled, "In Defense of Photoshop: Why Retouching Isn't As Evil As Everyone Thinks." The story acknowledged that photoshopped images set unrealistic expectations for young girls, but they also spike page views. The piece recognized women as fully aware of what they actually look like, and it encouraged educating young women to be wary of unrealistic digital enhancements. That's great!
However, the piece also closed with the notion that, "The problem isn't altered photographs; it's our failure to alter our expectations of them."
That didn't sit well with me. Why are we, the consumers and target audience of this media, the ones that should have to alter our expectations? Can't they just stop altering us?
Cue photoshop wizard James Fridman, who created his own digital code of conduct when he recently took to Twitter for photoshop requests.
Most requests were answered with humor.
People tweeted at Fridman asking for everything from enhancements to replacements, and the requests Fridman pursued turned out to be pretty hilarious.
But the most important requests were the ones that weren't fulfilled.
James tweeted a photo of a young woman who asked him to "make her look pretty." She identified as someone who is struggling with an eating disorder, and wrote that she wanted to look like "a beautiful version of myself."
Fridman responded with an un-retouched photo of the same young woman, and wrote, "Nothing and no one could ever make you prettier than you already are." He encouraged her to not be "influenced by the wrong standards."
The difference between what Fridman did and what some other creatives don't is that he knew where the line was, and he made sure not to cross it. He knew the difference between humorous, playful editing and molding someone's image to fit the standards set by unrealistic examples and expectations.
Some requests Fridman received were absolutely heartbreaking.
This boy tweeted at Fridman asking "what if my skin was white" along with a photo of himself.
Fridman replied with another unaltered image and the important message that if this boy's skin was white he wouldn't be the same person.
"You are who you are and that's the beauty of it," he tweeted.
But it's not hard to see where a younger generation is getting these ideas from.
All you'd have to do is look at Kerry Washington's recent cover of AdWeek to see where this young man might've gotten his skin lightening idea from.
Washington took to Facebook to call out AdWeek, announcing she's "not one to be quiet about a magazine cover." Washington praised AdWeek as a publication, but expressed her disappointment in their alterations of her image. "... I was taken aback by the cover. Look, I'm no stranger to Photoshopping. It happens a lot. In a way, we have become a society of picture adjusters - who doesn't love a filter?!? And I don't always take these adjustments to task but I have had the opportunity to address the impact of my altered image in the past and I think it's a valuable conversation."
So let's start the conversation about how we could all really use a lot less of things like this.
Katy Perry on the August 2010 cover of Rolling Stone.
And a lot more of things like this.
Photoshop can be a great tool that manifests creative ideas in stimulating, humorous, and unique ways, but it can also be a tool used to distort and alter society's perception of beauty in both ourselves and each other.
Don't get me wrong here, I'd love for someone to make my legs a little longer, my skin a little brighter, and my teeth a little whiter, and with today's technology someone could totally do that.
But even if I love how the photo looked after someone made those alterations, I know that photo wouldn't be the real me. It would be another version of me that doesn't exist, and I'm pretty good with the one that already does.