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I’m pretty sure she’s photoshopped

Photoshop Challenge: Horror 2

When I wrote about how I spend so much time photo editing last week, I intentionally left out what most people would probably consider the most important aspect of the topic: photoshopping people.

It’s something I’ve mentally started many post about, but never really got anywhere particularly coherent, so never actually wrote about, I don’t think. Because I feel really really conflicted about the whole thing.

On the one hand, I’m as opposed to it as any good body positive feminist. Kate Winslet and Kate Middleton being reduced by several dress sizes on the covers of GQ and Grazia I’m not cool with. I think representations of beauty should be much more diverse (of course) and I don’t like how photoshop is often used to reduce that diversity. And that advert for photo editing software you get on lots of photography sites, with the ginger girl with the lovely freckles in the before picture, and the plasticky luminosity in the after, well, that’s just creepy. (I can’t find an example now, but for a while it was everywhere – does anyone know what I’m talking about?)

And I think there’s all sorts of questions about the status of reality. And this instagram move to constantly record, broadcast and glamorize every aspect of our lives to no one in particular, the way we are always performing, always editing reality after the fact, is interesting at the very least.

But on the other had, I love photoshop and I use some of the option on myself. And I admit that when I watched that body image fotoshop spoof advert, and it got to the ‘liquify’ bit, my first thought was ‘I wonder how that works’. I did choose not to look it up in the end, because that’s one option I’d rather not know how to do so I’m not tempted, but I definitely didn’t react with the kind of horror the makers of the video were probably expecting.

I’m also not really on board with calls to ban retouching of photographs in fashion magazines that crop up periodically. The way I see it, photoshopping is one of the many tools used to create an alternative reality in fashion photography, and I’m a bit unsure why it should be singled out specifically. I have written a little bit before about how I love that difference between the photoshoot and the final photo you see on programmes like ANTP. I love the fantasy, the magic, and I definitely don’t think that fashion photography should be like photoreportage.

I remember watching a TV programme once in which a British singer (possibly Jamelia?) was letting unretouched pictures of herself be printed in a magazine as an awareness raising thing. But they filmed the photoshoot and it was still done in a studio, with lots of complicated lighting, and her hair and makeup was being done by an army of professionals. And I did feel that that somewhat undermined the whole point of getting to see celebrities as they really are. What is more ‘fake’, an unedited but highly set up photo that 20 people have worked on producing, or a naturally lit, spontaneous photo with some spots photoshopped out?

I suppose where I have decided to draw the line for myself is that I will use photoshop on myself if the same effect could have been achieved another way without too much effort. I will use the ‘healing’ tool (how interestingly named) to remove spots and bags under my eyes, because I know that if I really try, I can cover them up using concealer, foundation and touch d’eclat, and I will turn up the contrast and brightness, because all the colours are being seen through the filter of the camera anyway, and are not a real reflection of what things actually looked like. But I wouldn’t make myself look thinner or taller.

Though I acknowledge it’s a slippery slope, and I am trying to not move too far from reality, whatever that means. I used to whiten my teeth (they’re pretty yellow because I drink so much tea), but I stopped doing that a couple of years ago.

That’s as much of a position as I feel I can take at the moment. I do feel ambivalent about it. What do you think?

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  • Rhianne 2 May 2012, 8:07 am

    Everytime I’m here I seem to confess something – I once properly photoshopped my own photo to the standard of a front cover magazine… bluer eyes, thinner face, no bump in my nose, no spots, no dark circles, smoother skin etc… and it didn’t look anything like me at the end… and I absolutely hated it too! In fact I realised that I liked how I looked and that I didn’t need a flater nose or bluer eyes, though it was interesting to see what you could do – the liquify tool is kind of fun if a bit ridiculous. I would actually recommend doing it just the once, just to satisfy your curioisity and also, just to know what it looks like, in case you ever do over photoshop a photo, its good to know what overphotoshopped looks like too in terms of perspective.

    I do agree with you about blemishes and the dark circles though – things that could be covered up with makeup and perhaps subtle changes that you wouldn’t really notice (I have no problem whitening eye white or teeth a little). I guess the real difference is that my photo wasn’t trying to sell something… its just for me rather than a mass audience.

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with ‘all the colours are being seen through the filter of the camera anyway’ – I am never happy with the results from digital because of this really, my phone is the worst really as you can see whilst you’re holding it there that the colours don’t match what you are looking at.

    Anyway, I was thinking about your post yesterday about GOMI and I really don’t think you ave anything to worry about, your posts are well written, sensitive and thought provoking, I always enjoy reading them. In fact they make me wish we were meeting for a cup of tea and having discussion about things lol.
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  • Sara 2 May 2012, 1:37 pm

    I am on the fence. I don’t like when magazines change the physical appearance of people, as in the dress size example you stated. But I don’t mind if they alter a zit or something. I know it makes people look “perfect”, but they already sell make-up to hide pimples, and dye to color up grey hair so people are already able to alter their own appearance a little. I don’t mind editing photos with instagram/photoshop to make them vintage because I honestly think that it is just for fun. Artists distort images for the sake of art, magazines distort images for the sake of commercialism, the every-day average joe distorts them because it’s an app… It gets a little crazy.
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  • Emily, Ruby Slipper Journeys 2 May 2012, 2:13 pm

    I agree with absolutely everything you said. I’ve recently started zapping out spots (didn’t actually know how to before) and actually consider it a good thing as it means I wear less make-up/ waste less time getting ready, and have time to do and think about other things. Though what my caring how I look on the internet but not in real life means, I really don’t know…
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  • Style Eyes 3 May 2012, 8:13 am

    I have never photoshopped any of my photos although I do take loads of pictures and only use the ones I like. I also warm the colours up a bit if I look particularly pale, but that is not just me, it is the whole picture. I agree slight alterations are fine and perhaps evening out skin tone but when they make the person siginificantly thinner or look very different it is a bit misleading and setting impossible standards for everyone else (especially young girls). I don’t take that much notice of magazines any more and have reached that kind of I am who I am point but I can see how some may be influenced.There is an article on the subject here that might be of interest to you http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/02/thousands-join-girl-seventeen-magazine?CMP=twt_fd
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  • Helga 3 May 2012, 9:10 am

    You write so damned well! My brain goes way too far ahead of me and I rarely catch up coherently!
    I haven’t used photshop at all, I just have Picasa for basic stuff,but am interested in the fun things you can do with it.(Photoshop)It’s a bit ridiculous,all this body morphing kind of stuff they do,it just seems like lying or something terribly false.Who doesn’t want to look like a better version of themselves?But to make yourslef look like someone else entirely….nah,don’t like that.Those celebs who have it done for pix-by their own violition or otherwise-must feel pretty shitty about themselves,surely.I sometimes retouch the huge freckle on my nose,as it can look like a stain,or detract from my fabulous good looks,but not always.But otherwise,I don’t want to look like anything but myself,good or bad!

  • Vix 3 May 2012, 3:10 pm

    I’m with Helga, you write so well and I love how you can put your point of view across succinctly. I’ve never used Photoshop but had a tinker around with Picnik before it closed. I tried air-brushing my wrinkles but hated the result, I didn’t look like me at all.
    I suppose I can understand why celebrities get so insecure about themselves and feel the need for perfection, you’ve only got to flick through one of those hideous celeb magazines in the dentists to see how much stick they get for having a bit of cellulite or bit of a tummy. x
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  • Eli 3 May 2012, 10:43 pm

    Well, what’s interesting is that I’m pretty sure lots of the big fashion bloggers heavily photoshop their pictures. But there’s no disclosure about that. It’s everywhere

  • Kara @ Unusual Form 4 May 2012, 11:17 pm

    I’m like you. I try not to edit my photos beyond what I would have been able to achieve with perfect lighting. I never change the shape of my body. I also think that should be the line fashion magazines, editing to make the photo the best you could achieve through natural measures but not unnatural measures like removing a hip. Haha.

  • Stacey 7 May 2012, 2:33 am

    While I would never change the shape of my body in photoshop, I do adjust brightness, contrast etc. I can’t say that I’ve photoshopped out blemishes, but I do wear foundation & concealer for my outfit photos when I usually go bare-faced in real life. I have wondered about this topic before. I can usually spot a photograph where photo-editing software has been used because I know what to look for, but I wonder if other bloggers get drawn into comparing themselves to overly photoshopped images?
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  • Veshoevius 7 May 2012, 11:05 am

    The only thing I’ve ever altered in photos is contrast, brightness and colour. I think I’ve used photoshop a couple of times to blacken out my face. Interestingly some time ago I read somewhere that Shulman of Vogue complained that she was having to get models photoshopped to look bigger as they were actually so unhealthily skinny they looked terrible in the shots!
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  • Fashionable in Montreal 10 May 2012, 2:23 pm

    You bring a very salient point here – one that I have pondered on a lot since starting my own blog. I am all for sincerity in the way we present ourselves; in the way we interact with one another. The reality seems to indicate that there are certain rules to the game that have been set long before the advent of fashion blogging and we are still subjected to them. Namely, bloggers are competing for attention and the attention seems to go to young, thin and beautifully photographed. Which is why photoshopping might come into play. I personally don’t own the software and would not know how to work it, but I do use iPhoto in order to get the best out of my image which involves removing spots and an odd wrinkle, and improving the images light etc,

    On a different but somewhat related note, i have also tried to resist the whole “follow me, i will follow you” scheme, but it seems that is what gets the traffic going. Would be interested in hearing your take on this. xoxoDanina