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?