Sunday, January 24, 2010

The decade's worst photoshopping, and it's all done on women

The first decade of the 21st century was apparently the decade of Photoshop. Here, Newsweek magazine takes us through some of the decade's most egregious Photoshopping as applied to women's bodies.

We know this kind of overzealous retouching happens, of course, but seeing it drives home the point: When it comes to women's bodies, our culture is seriously fucked up.

Because really, who is the Photoshopping for? Do men really prefer women who look like praying mantises to women with, well, normal proportions? Or is it women who judge one another (and ourselves) so harshly that we demand an unattainable beauty ideal for ourselves, damn it?

Well, neither. You know who loves images like this? Advertisers. Media advertisers. They're the ones trafficking in fantasies. And what is an unattainable beauty idea if not a fantasy?

So how can we respond? We can boycott the offending advertisers. We can consciously look at slideshows like this, reminding ourselves that the images on the left are not any less beautiful than the ones on the right that have been retouched. Au contraire--in pretty much every case I find the unretouched image far more powerful and moving than the ridiculously overdone fantasy on the right.

**Thanks to Christen Brandt for finding the slideshow!


Regina said...

These photoshopped images simply just anger me. I feel duped....and so should everyone else. These advertisers/entertainment industry are doing nothing but selling a lie. The magazines claim that they can't sell magazines unless they enhance their photos....that we (mostly women) won't buy their magazines unless there is an image of perfection on the cover. I understand the desire for perfection that we all have. Hell, I have a hard time looking at unretouched photos of myself, but I have enough integrity that I don't want to be something I am not. Sure, I wear makeup and style my hair when I leave the house, but it is for my own reasons, not other's approval/acceptance. I just want to look like me....and most of those celebrities/models don't even look like themselves. When I was growing up, Farrah Fawcett was the epitome of desire for males and females. Everyone wanted to look like her. Her famous poster showed freckles, tan lines, creases and laugh lines. I'm sure there was some retouching done then, but nothing to the extent it is done today. She was real....and still very desireable. Today, most images plastered to the walls of teens and fans are nothing more than a fantasy and impossible to attain for yourself.

But this is nothing new to me. Ten years ago my then 15 yr old daughter was caught looking at porno sites on the computer. I didn't freak out. I understood the curiosity. What I did was sit down with her and explained that even those women don't look like those women....and if you get caught up in believing that their body is attainable for you, then you are in for a lifetime of disappointment. Nevermind the fact that pornography is not a realistic representation of sex, with the edits and acting and all. Don't fall for that trap because you will be severely disappointed.

Maybe it's middle age wisdom, but I just don't buy what they're selling. It's just sad that there are so many that do.

S. said...

Thanks for that link, Harriet. That was fascinating. And really disturbing. Especially the one about the Dove "real women" ad. How disappointing!

Katie said...

Thank you so much for posting that link. The pictures were very disturbing to me, especially the Ralph Lauren ad. Who could possibly think that was in any way beautiful or healthy? And the Faith Hill photo? She looked better in the original pic! I work with teenagers and will absolutly be showing this to them soon!

Anything Fits A Naked Man said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! Honestly, like Regina, I viewed the pictures with intense anger. Then, there was a sense of relief, relief that I'd been obsessing about not being able to look as perfect as those magazine girls, when THEY had actually had an enormous amount of "help" too! That's not to say that I want this BS to stop. Enough, already! We want REAL WOMEN!!!

I read an article in a magazine a few years back that addressed the image problems we women have with our own bodies. The author seemed miffed: why are we so hard on ourselves? What could possibly be making us feel this way? Then, you turned the page, and there was a size 0 model, perfect hair and make-up, displaying their fall fashions. Page after page. Really?????

Cathy (UK) said...

I'm conscious that I leave (what may be) controversial comments on your blog Harriet, so if my comments seem that way then please recognise that my comments are in no way personal.

I honestly don't understand why photoshopping, media images of thin women etc. cause so many women such grief. This is just a personal feeling, but I do think that the most damage this furure over airbrushing and 'size zero' has caused is to lead researchers down the 'wrong path' when endeavouring to explain the roots and mechanisms of anorexia nervosa. As someone who struggled with very severe anorexia nervosa for many years I feel so misunderstood when people suggest I was 'triggered' by thin images, or even that my anorexia was a 'body image disorder'. It had a lot more to do with general anxiety, depression, obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviours (many of these being inherent phenomena), as well as bullying at school.

Now, I am not suggesting that this applies to all people with anorexia nervosa, and I recognise that this post was not about anorexia nervosa, but I do feel that our society has become obsessed with all aspects of 'body image' - including the critique and/or defence of different body sizes.

Why do businesses selling fashion and 'beauty' accessories airbrush? The most simple explanation is 'because they can'. Technology enables them to do so. No-one is saying that this is how women 'should' look. What businesses do recognise is that these images sell their products, because people find them intriguing. That intrigue attracts their attention - just as the businesses hope. It's a simple 'symptom' of our consumer society, which has now become an integral part of our economy.

Research has repeatedly shown that men are generally NOT attracted to women that look like stick insects. So, these images are not for the delectation of men. However, many, healthy non-eating disordered women view these images as threatening. So in actuality, this furure boils down to female competition and women ourselves constructing some sort of female social order based upon body size.

Returning to my earlier comments about anorexia nervosa: I, like many women I know with histories of this illness state that they wished to remain thin and childlike because this deterred male attention. Some girls develop a mature, woman's body at an age when they have not yet developed emotionally. To know that one appears sexual can be a potent trigger for the development of anorexia nervosa in some girls, whose emotional maturity lags behind their physical maturity.

Many girls with anorexia nervosa become obsessed with media images of thin women AFTER they have developed the illness and are in treatment. Why? because these images justify them remaining sick. In that way they can be dangerous. However, I do feel that the mistakes that the likes of (e.g.) Susie Orbach and some other feminist writers do is to wrongly attribute cause and effect.

Harriet said...


I agree with you 100%. Media depictions do not cause eating disorders.

But they can trigger disorders in those who are susceptible.

More important, I think, they are awful for the rest of us. I've researched and studied and read up on this subject; I'm a journalist, and I've worked in advertising. I think I'm smarter than all that. But I know that when I look at more images of unnaturally thin women, they begin to look normalized to me. My eye adapts despite what my brain knows. And it affects how I feel about not only myself but how I see other women.

When my daughter was at her most emaciated, I can't tell you how many people complimented her "slim figure" and "willpower." They weren't bad people; they had simply adapted to an abnormal norm, in a way.

Cathy (UK) said...

Thanks Harriet. With regard to your daughter, many people said the same to me. My anorexia was of the 'non-fat-phobic' variety and was driven by obsessive behaviour. I starved and over-exercised to control emotions, especially anxity, and I recognised that I was far too thin. I just carried on with my behaviours and didn't look at my body. I thought people were rather stupid complimenting my body when I was 40 pounds underweight... Having said that, people with the fat phobic variety of anorexia nervosa, who may represent the majority nowadays, would be 'triggered' by remarks that your daughter and I received.

I hope your daughter is now recovered...