Late 2011. GlobalDemocracy.com launches a YouTube video urging advertisers to run truth-in-advertising notifications along with Photoshopped glamour and fashion images. The original video receives over five million hits and the re-posts get millions more. Among the more interesting re-posts are those that use the original video as evidence of the positive effects of cosmetology and photo retouching—something along the lines of, “Even you can look like a supermodel!”
It’s safe to say that admiring beauty is even older than the world’s oldest profession. As long as there have been two or more women in the world at least one has been singled out for her beauty, leading to several outcomes.
First, realism of expectation may suffer. While cosmetology and glamour retouching have been called “unrealistic,” people have a tendency to ignore truly unrealistic images and admire those that are “realistic enough” to maintain the belief that there are real women who resemble the image. Still, the manipulated image is unrealistic for the woman it portrays and for a large sector of the population, leading to extremes in self-alteration in order to resemble the artificial.
Second, a significant number of those who are unable to come close to the ideal in beauty—and even a significant number of those already at the top of the class in looks—are likely to be afflicted with a distorted image of themselves, seeing a reflection in the mirror that is far uglier than objective reality would portray. This distortion can have truly harmful results not only on the psyche of a person, but also through incorrect advertising – making promises that can’t be delivered.
Third, there may be impacts to human connections, an issue our culture has virtually ignored. Over-idealization of a particular female aesthetic can cripple a man’s ability to engage in healthy long-term relationships. And a woman’s relationships can similarly be hampered by her belief that she will never measure up to the ideal woman in a man’s imagination.
Can this problem be solved? In a way, it is already solving itself. Once you start watching time lapse photo retouching videos, you can’t watch just one. You may lose an entire work day to YouTube. And eventually, you’ll find a cache of Photoshop fail reels, highlighting the tragic comedy of poor quality retouching. Once you’re sensitized to these techno disasters, you’ll see them everywhere—billboards, magazine covers, catalogs. At the same time, efforts such as those by GlobalDemocracy.com, Dove soap’s Campaign for Real Beauty and the “stars without makeup” meme are strong but natural information-age reactions to beauty idealism.
With all that said, Photoshop can be used for good! Perhaps a shirt color needs to be changed for an ad. Or you need to take a photo shoot at the beach, but live in the mountains. Photoshop can be so much more. The opportunities for positive imagery are endless and fun!