Jun 16, 2008

The Photoshop Effect

When did we become so obsessed with the idea of perfecting oneself? I have a great job. I enjoy the people I work with, and I enjoy the work that I do. I am lucky and I try not to forget it. However, whenever one of my videos begins to do well on YouTube, the commentators berate me over my weight. Instead of telling them off (again), I chose to investigate why people perceive me as fat. What does perfect look like and why do people believe I need to look it?

In the pursuit of perfection, I went on my very first Photoshop photo shoot but not before I pondered, what is perfection? After spending the past few weeks researching the photo-doctoring tactics used by most – if not ALL – magazine and TV types, the bigger question may be: have we created an unattainable image of perfection that is widely accepted as the standard for beauty?

According to Newsweek, the retouching of photos has become so mainstream it’s not only expected but also demanded from Hollywood publicists. Magazine editors believe their readers are not being deceived because they know the images have been altered. But do the readers really know this?

According to clinical nutritionist Alexis Beck, most girls do not know the extent to which the photos are retouched and, if they do, it does not really resonate inside their head. According to multiple Photoshop experts I spoke with, almost every photo you see in the mainstream media has been retouched in one way or another.

My photographer for the shoot was Tim Lynch. He has been in the business since digital photography was first introduced. We asked him to manipulate my face and body so that I would look is I was as perfect as a Hollywood celebrity on the cover of a magazine. After a quick bikini photo shoot, he began editing my picture.

The initial shock for me came when Tim took away my “age.” He softened the lines on my face and erased all signs of sun damage. I was shocked by how many changes he made. If anything, this photo shoot was a wake-up call to wear sunscreen.

After he made my skin look as smooth as a baby’s bottom, we moved onto the “liquefy” tool which pushes pixels closer together. So basically, you can make someone look emaciated if you really wanted. We just wanted to take off a few pounds so we slimmed my waist, thighs and arms out a bit. We also elongated my neck, whitened my teeth, brightened and sharpened my eyes and gave my body a “natural” tan.

I was surprised we didn’t liquefy more to be honest, but then the image would not look like me at all. Who is to say that advertisers care about preservation of their subjects though?

Tim made the comment that, “If I worked out 5 days a week and ate what I was supposed to eat, I would look like this.” He obviously doesn’t know that I am a fitness video producer who often stars as the model in the videos, which makes me work out about 5 days a week, every week. I admit some days I do nothing, while other days I eat pizza and dessert. Most of my workouts are over in an hour, but they are vigorous.

But here’s what sticks with me: should I believe I could look like this with a little more self-discipline? A new study on eating disorders suggests that prevention begins with getting girls to realize the images they see are not real. The excessive exposure to retouched images has had a profound effect on peoples’ perceptions. They believe what they see is healthy and attainable when in actuality it is neither. No longer is average acceptable. If you are not a size 2, you are subjected to being called fat or worse. Don’t believe me? Just look at some of the YouTube comments on our videos.

There was a recent article published in The New Yorker on a man named Pascal Dangin who "tweaked a hundred and forty-four images" in the March issue of Vogue magazine – 107 were for advertisements. According to a study performed by Dove, by the time a girl turns12 she will have been exposed to 77,000 advertisements – most of which will have been retouched to convey perfection. By the third grade, 42% of girls will want to be thinner, and by age 10 they will fear becoming fat.

In recent months, readers have become enraged at Photoshopped images, and as a result a backlash against digital retouching has emerged. Have photo editors indeed gone too far? Are we risking our own health in letting the idea of perfection reach unattainable levels? Young women are risking their lives to look like the girls they see in magazines. Could a disclaimer on retouched advertisements and magazine spreads restore reality?

Magazines aren’t the only ones guilty of selecting near-perfect images; you and I do it too. We naturally edit what photos people see of us by deleting, detagging, or cropping and then posting the best to represent our social profiles. As soon as Tim finished my photo, I went home and put it up as my Facebook picture. How quickly I went from critic to hypocrite? As individuals, we want to be seen in the best light possible. Putting a photo where a chin may appear double in size or a bad angle is likely to be deleted. With today’s technological advancements, retouching photographs is here to stay.

People are exposed to so many retouched images, perfection has become a reality we are exposed to every day. The advertisers use perfection so that we feel inferior without their products. Photographers use it to make their images more appealing, and boy do their models like the way they look afterwards. We edit our own photos so you won’t know we had a bad hair day.

All this results in one thing – societal pressure to look perfect because we all deserve nothing less than perfect. So in turn, who is to blame -- the photo editors or myself?


Greg Scraper said...

I tend to feel that pictures shot like that in a studio situation don't actually convey reality; that is to say, a 2D representation of a 3D object that is generally seen in motion gives a viewer more time to notice flaws that may or may not be emphasized by the camera, lighting situation, the model's pose, the relative simplicity of the background, etc. What you get when you do that is a sort of hyper-reality, where a situation that was designed to be viewed for just a moment is drawn out and analyzed.

What photo retouching attempts to do is to correct that error. I agree that it can be taken to extremes by people who aren't adept at photoshop. But overall, it's a coping mechanism for the inability of the photo to convey an accurate representation of reality.

Another way to try and reverse the effects of hyper-reality is to use natural outdoor lighting and a camera with a good lens and filter.

Anonymous said...

Some people ask to have re-touches done. Not only that, but you look the same! Your tan doesn't look fake and in fact it might be a color correction. There is display issues, including monitor calibration and resolution, color palettes, and consistency across varying platforms. Try printing both pictures and see which one actually comes out to your natural skin. It would probably be the tan one. I don't think the photos get changes that much. It would be too much work for a magazine since they are being produced so frequently.
What’s sad is Magazines only choose the skinniest and decent so that there would be less fixing and still maintain the fab of beauty is skinny. Models starve themselves to be skinny for the photographs. I think that’s sad!
Truly Yours;

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