Featured Opinion Photography

Is Photoshopping images lying?

Disclaimer: This photo has been photoshopped to make me flawless. I was in fact tired, irritated & slightly ill when this photo was taken.

In an effort to combat body image disorders in adolescents, French MP Valerie Boyer has just proposed a law requiring disclaimers on Photoshopped or “enhanced” photos of people in newspaper and magazine advertising, press photos, product packaging, political campaigns and art photography. As someone who has been on both sides of the lens, as a model and a photographer, I find this proposal overkill.

Isn’t it a given that all photos of females appearing in glossy magazines have been retouched?

Don’t we all subconsciously know that the latest Maxim cover girl actually has skin pores, arm pits, knee caps and a waist line bigger than 20″ in real life? If you really want to know, you can just flick through one of the millions of celeb-bashing websites and see said Maxim cover girl’s “appalling cellulite” or “disgusting tummy roles”.

As a model and someone who is in front of the camera, I have to ask myself if these picture perfect images contribute to my body image insecurities? Probably. Is this a rational behavior? Not really. I think as a culture we are educated enough to know fact from fiction.

I find the pictures of girls in Men’s magazines almost laughable. They look like more like CGIed sex bots, than real, sexy girls. The sad thing is that if they replaced these images with more realistic images of women, I would probably spend 5 minutes pointing out all their flaws and chastise them for not airbrushing a wrinkly elbow.

As a photographer, I try to make my subjects look their best. And by best, I mean as close to perfection as I can make them. Obviously, all blemishes, wrinkles, & stray hairs will be cloned out immediately, but that’s not all that gets brushed to perfection. I’ll admit to restructuring noses, lips, eyebrows, slimming 20lbs off people, making eyes bigger, adding makeup, painting in eyelashes, the list goes on and on.

Maybe the continual exposure to this airbrushed standard of perfection in images of models and celebrities has made me as sick as the Maxim editors, but I don’t see retouching images as negative, it’s merely a part of my artistic process as a photographer.

Is Photoshopping images lying?
This photo of me has not been retouched. Areas marked in red will be retouched to make me look perfect in the final picture.

Beauty and fashion photography isn’t meant to be a realistic portrayal of everyday life. It’s a fantasy. And in this fantasy everyone is skinnier, prettier, richer and more well-endowed than you. Once you know what the images selling, you can take the blow to your ego with a grain of salt.

The other day I was looking back at old Sport’s Illustrated Swimsuit covers from the mid-nineties, pre-airbrushing and required breast implants for models. It was interesting to see supermodels like Cindy Crawford, Elle MacPherson, Christie Brinkley with minor bags under their eyes, little bulges under their bikini bottoms, and actual texture on their skin. In some ways, they looked sexier and simply more real, than the pushed up, squeezed in bikini models of today.

I response to my question: Is Photoshopping images lying? I say a resounding YES. But it’s a lie I’m willing to live with. The more important question is: Will the media ever go back to a publishing photos sans Photoshop? I honestly don’t know. Brad Pitt seems to think it’s possible, but then he’s Brad Pitt. No one cares if he has bags under his eyes. But if I was Britney Spears, I would want a whole team of Photoshop monkeys working on my photos 24/7.

What do you think of this proposed law?

Should Photoshopped images come with a disclaimer?

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  • Reply
    Lynn Indrizzo
    January 18, 2010 at 12:32 PM

    I think plastic surgery gone awry reflects the desire to look perfect. We’re already perfect. I love what photoshop can do but that final picture posted above doesn’t look real. I think photoshop can do wonderful things, especially if the subject is kept looking as close to the real thing as possible. As for the law…we have too many laws as it is. It is our own personal responsibility to know, and own, who we are. And who we are is not our flesh, bones, hair, eyes, etc. To quote Lao Tzu…”that which is real never changes”. We are more than we see, more than our bodies…and until we all realize that…REALLY realize that, we cannot be truly happy with ourselves. Photoshop that!

  • Reply
    Aiko Scheuermann
    July 8, 2010 at 1:32 AM

    Seriously! Many thanks! I continually wanted to create in my site a little something like this. Can I have part of your blog post for my own webpage?

  • Reply
    March 6, 2011 at 6:57 PM

    I personally think that pictures that have been subjected to photoshop should contain a disclaimer. In a society where young men and women are subjected to distorted ideas of what beauty really is there is a great need for disclaimers. Boys are grown up thinking that for a girl to truly be beautiful she needs to look like models in magazines. When men are shown pictures of normal women after just inanimate objects and think they are gorgeous but are then shown the same women after pictures of photoshopped models they are okay with that women they just gorgeous to get work done and lose weight to make herself look like that model. It is sick and wrong. Even with a disclaimer, there will still be problems. So instead of disclaimers I feel there needs to be a ban on photoshop in magazines. The women and men in magazines are beautiful with out the work and deserve to be seen in a positive light.

  • Reply
    March 28, 2011 at 1:37 PM

    I don’t know, but I don’t share a lot of people’s point of view on this subject. I don’t think there should be a disclaimer accompanying pictures that have been “photoshopped”. It is now a known fact virtually every photo we see from a fashion magazine has been worked on. I simply think this media is there to sell a dream and that people should know better… It is the parent’s responsibility to educate their children properly.

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