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2009 April 7
by George

In I came across an opinion video directed by Jesse Epstein which seeks to understand “why magazines should let readers know if images have been retouched.” It is titled Sex, Lies and Photoshop.
It starts by explaining a bill in France which is trying to pass that would force magazines to list the touch-ups that have been done on every photo. Later the video explores the negative effects these images have on people.
For something that is only 4 and a half minutes long, I was struck by seeing just how in depth the photo shopping is. In the video, people who work for fashion magazines explain the process of how they select body parts from different models to create one photo, how freckles can be filled in to seem more “even,” how they avoid touching up the eyes as that is something people can spot quickly, how to make legs look longer, how to make female bodies less athletic, etc. The director asks, “If the models themselves can’t even measure up to their own images… what does this mean?”
I ask, Why do we have impossible beauty standards? Why do we feel pressure to fit them? Is there a way for us to have alternatives to the constant bombardment of… beauty avatars?

2 Responses
  1. Alex M. permalink
    April 7, 2009

    This reminds me of the campaign Dove is (was?) running to improve girls’ self-esteem with regard to images in the media. Here is their short film “Evolution”, showing how these images come to be.

    I hope this doesn’t come out too long, but it reminds me of this part in the book Infinite Jest, which talks about a video telephone. At first people appreciated the face-to-face interface. Then they worried that they did not look good to the other person and would get dressed up every time the phone rang. Then they just had prepared masks that made them look alert. Then photos of their heads on celebrity bodies. Then they went back to the phone. Basically, I wonder if these lists will assuage some of the anxieties caused by the anxieties of models and photo directors (do I look good enough? Is this picture good enough? Am I good enough?). Maybe we would just revert back to just taking average pictures, knowing that the anxiety was silly to begin with.

    If they are passed, I would be very interested to see the outcome of these laws. Will people be outraged by the number of retouches and demand regular people in magazines? Or will they just become vaguely annoyed by the lists? What is the goal anyway?

  2. George permalink
    April 7, 2009

    Thank you for sharing that video! I forgot about that campaign, but I certainly hope that it is still running:)

    And yes I agree! We should go back to taking “average” photos. It’s silly to feel uncomfortable or less than beautiful, and when those anxieties interfere with the way we socialize and/or live our lives that is almost the definition of a disorder. Actually… if I recall correctly from my days as a psych major (oh so long ago!) a disorder is defined by how severely an anxiety manifests into or interrupts one’s lifestyle. The definition I got from was that “The fundamental characteristics of a person that influence his or her cognitions, motivations, and behaviors across situations and time – can be seen as disordered due to being abnormally rigid and maladaptive.” I could argue that these are the symptoms of people who are obsessed with looking their best by attempting to look like the images in magazines.

    I imagine that these laws will most likely not pass… I can’t imagine what the goal is except for allowing people the luxury of knowing that they don’t have to feel obligated to become these models as most of the images are fabricated anyway. And it is that sort of goal that makes me think that it will not pass. The director was correct in saying that credit should be given to the people who retouch the images, I think that is more likely to pass as a law than a photo shopping list.

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