When Photoshop Goes Too Far

Photoshop Ethics

Two weeks ago, I wrote an article on How to Lose 20 lbs in 15 minutes… With Photoshop! In all honesty, the posting was somewhat of a joke; I took some extreme measures to demonstrate the power of Photoshop to manipulate an image. Do I typically try to slim down my body in photoshop? No. But do I slightly photoshop myself from time to time? Sure! If I have a monster zit on the end of my nose, you better believe that I’m going to remove it (thankfully I don’t really have that problem, but I’m still thankful to have Photoshop  just in case!) And yes, I will soften my skin, fade my wrinkles (yikes!) and I will brighten my eyes. I admit to Photoshoping myself from time to time, and if you’ve ever been photographed by me, it’s mostly that you’ve been slightly photoshopped as well!

Yet one question that I ask myself: When does Photoshop go too far? When does it cross ethical boundaries? Or does it?

Photoshop Distortion

There are some examples of poorly photoshopped images online. PSD: Photoshop Disasters documents these atrocities quite well. One notoriously criticized photo is a Ralph Lauren image of a model whose pelvis is smaller than her head:

When I see such extreme alterations, I question: Have we gone too far? What message are we sending children, teenagers, men and women who look at the images and belief them to be reality? What are the dangers of looking at such distorted images of the body? Laurie Mintz suggests:

“Just like we have those warnings on cigarette packs, it would be nice to put a little warning on Seventeen magazine. Warning: Viewing these images is bad for your body esteem.”

My concern is that as girls and women are bombarded by photoshopped magazine images of “perfect” models (whose faces and bodies have been edited to perfection and beyond), they compare themselves to the unrealistic and sometimes dangerously thin ideals of the beauty industry.

As Mary Pipher (1995) argues, girls are living in a “girl-poisoning” culture and are in danger of losing their sense of self. She writes:

“Something dramatic happens to girls in early adolescence. Just like planes and ships that disappear mysteriously into the Bermuda Triangle, so do the selves of girls go down in droves. They crash and burn in a social and developmental Bermuda Triangle. They lose their resiliency and optimism and become less curious and inclined to take risks. They lose their assertive, energetic and “tomboyish” personalities and become more deferential, self-critical and depressed. They report great unhappiness with their bodies.”

Jean Kilbourne (1999) further notes,

“Advertising is one of the most potent messengers in a culture that can be toxic for girls’ self-esteem. Indeed, if we looked only at advertising images, this would be a bleak world for females.”

She states:

“If you’re like most people, you think that advertising has no influence on you… This is what advertisers want you to believe. But, if that were true, why would companies spend over $200 billion a year on advertising?”

Unfortunately, advertising works, and what it sells, further poisons the mind’s of men, women, boys and girls. As Kilbourne argues, advertising “sells values, images, and concepts of love and sexuality, romance, success, and, perhaps most important, normalcy…. Far from being a passive mirror of society, advertising is an effective and pervasive medium of influence and persuasion, and its influence is cumulative, often subtle, and primarily unconscious”

Recently I watched the documentary trailer Miss Representation. Watch here:

Miss Representation

This trailer addresses the role of media in influencing the viewer’s perception. So once again I question how far is too far in Photoshop?  When Photoshop portrays women’s bodies to unrealistic proportions, I would argue that  ethical boundaries have been crossed.

For a good idea of what Photoshop can do to the body, watch this fantastic video by Dove, below:

Dove Evolution

So… you’ve heard my thoughts/watched the videos. What do you think?



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