Monday, October 5, 2015

Photoshop Facades

When I was a kid, I started teaching myself how to do little photo manipulations for fun.  This was pre-Photoshop days for me, so I'd use whatever software was around and tinker with the clone button, color levels, and filters.  I like taking something and changing it, making it more striking and more vivid.  There is a level of verisimilitude that even real life itself can't capture; there is the idea that black and white images on film show our world more as it really is.

I like Photoshop.  I just don't like what it's doing to our brains.  Humans are creatures of habit, and we form habits unconsciously.  When we see people with poreless, blank faces, or women whose bodies don't follow any laws of physics, or the fact that a thigh-gap is the ultimate barometer of desirability... it changes us.  It changes how we perceive the world around us.

Ideal beauty has changed over the years, definitely.  It's been influenced by wealth, race, family, age, chastity, health.  So what changed it for us, in this age?  We can look back at the pinups of the 1940s and think, from our elevated view of hindsight, that they have realistic, natural bodies.  But those images were based on real women, who were then exaggerated on the page to be even more appealing.  Also, those images were targeted specifically at men.  But what we see today are not drawings; they aren't touch-ups in celebrity glamour shots, either.  They're edited photographs that we see on TV, on billboards, in print ads, in magazines, on magazine covers, and when we're shopping online.  They aren't specifically aimed at men, either.  These images are consumed by women and young girls, who are still trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in.  The idea of the hairless, poreless, blandly attractive female (or male, for that matter) has overtaken any common sense about what a real human looks like and has reduced the idea of a natural body into something we see as being alien.  The most galling example of this I've seen is when an all-girls school retouched their teenage students' graduation photos into oblivion.  This is sending the message to girls that, once again, they are not enough for society and, more than that, their real value is in how they present themselves physically to the world.

Actors become different people all the time, and have a unique viewpoint on the line where their personal self and their characters meet.  I read a quote recently from Dustin Hoffman, of all people, about when he did the film Tootsie.  He'd started thinking about what women experience every day in their interactions with men, and how he had played into that without realizing it.  He had told his wife:
I know that if I met [the character] at a party, I would never talk to that character because she doesn't fulfill physically the demands that we're brought up to think women have to have in order to ask them out.  There's too many interesting women I have…not had the experience to know in this life because I have been brainwashed.
Brainwashing is a pretty accurate description of what's happened to us as a culture.  I say all this because I want to mention that -- while I'm going to do color correction, use filters to make photos more interesting, and goodness knows I'm going to erase a pimple or two -- you will not find me sculpting my stomach, my thighs, or my arms into a more socially acceptable shape via the liquefy tool.  I want to be able to look back on pictures of myself at this age and remember who I was, not just an image that I wanted to be.

Art, in it';s various and always-changing incarnations, presents ideals.  It presents made-up people, imagined worlds, characters.  The line between art and reality is shifting; it's great fun to dress up as a character and become someone else, even just in pictures.  But if we present a fiction to the world, trying to pass it off as our real form, we would be playing into a very dangerous and malignant idea.

In closing, I encourage you to check out one of my favorite features: what would happen if famous artworks were taken to task by modern-day beauty standards.  Enjoy/cringe.

  • What's your personal Photoshop policy?  Do you have one?
  • Is there a limit when 'art' goes too far?
  • Any examples of double-standards that have bothered you personally, either from the media or from people you know?

1 comment:

  1. Very, very well said. I completely agree and while I do think there is merit to the technology, it doesn't outweigh the downsides of the extreme PSing in the slightest, IMO. Personally, I do very, very little retouching to the photos of myself that appear on my blog (aside from basic things like correcting the exposure or a little cropping, if needed). I could shave pound, make my eyes sparkle like diamonds, ensure my skin was as smooth as silk, but I don't want to in the slightest. I want to the world to see me as I am on my blog and would feel like I was lying to my readers if I heavily photo shopped myself (save for in a purely artistic, intentional context, but even that hasn't happened to date).

    Thank you for this excellent post and for raising a topic that needs to surface a whole lot more in the fashion world.

    ♥ Jessica


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