The birth of digital image editing has revolutionized photography forever. It has changed the way we mentally process photos, it has changed the way we view the world around us, but most importantly, it has changed the way we view ourselves. While programs like Photoshop provide an immense amount of opportunities for photography and digital art, it also provides a platform for promoting unrealistic expectations – particularly when it comes to body image. We are bombarded with images everyday of what is being sold as the epitome of beauty – the be all, end all of bodily perfection – showering us with body dysmorphia and causing many of us to resort to extremes to meet the standards we are being brainwashed to believe are real.
In 2011, the American Medical Association (AMA) issued a statement in recognition of the negative influence of digitally altered images on body image. Who could possibly deny that? Not only is it giving an unrealistic expectation for what the human body should look like, it’s also completely stripping personhood from models, as many of the images are composites of random hair, faces, legs, arms – much of which doesn’t even belong to the original model; women become worth only their best bodily feature. There are many naysayers who disagree with AMA’s statement, but I’m definitely inclined to agree. There tends to be some confusion about the process itself, as many people think it’s just a bit of airbrushing and viola, but in reality it’s an immense effort that can take days and days and a world of patience. Once you see what really happens behind the scenes, it becomes apparent that not only is categorically impossible to conform to society’s expectations of perfection, but also that we as women are suddenly valued only as parts of a body to paste together into someone’s idea of a flawless Female 2.0.
This is Katy Perry, or rather, a dismembered Katy Perry composed of body parts from different photographs and retouched to make a whole Katy Perry 2.0. This is a great example to show how powerful programs like Photoshop actually are, giving insight on the work that happens behind the scenes.
Not sexy enough? No problem. Photoshop can give you an entirely different facial expression, as well as remove many years off your face. After all, who wants to admit women actually age?
This picture should give you some déjà vu, because it’s Demi Moore’s head plastered onto supermodel Anja Rubik’s body. Why alter and airbrush the shape of a body when you can just decapitate a celebrity with the face to sell and put it on the unattainable body of a supermodel?
Even companies jumping on the anti-Photoshop bandwagon are ironically encouraging the commodification of bodily perfection. Dove, famous for their Real Beauty campaign, among other feel-good campaigns promoting diversity in body image, is owned by the same company as Axe. That’s right, Unilever owns Dove and Axe, who made this.
I spoke with Karis Drake, a veteran photographer and Photoshop artist, on his thoughts regarding AMA’s official statement and the link between retouched images and plummeting body image. “Photoshop can create a perfect face when selling makeup, and the company selling that makeup will do anything in its power to reach [their customer]. That includes creating false ideals of perfection. Repeat this thousands and thousands of times and all of a sudden it has been woven into our everyday life. It becomes very normal, and in ways, expected.” He emphasizes it is consumerism that drives the industry, as negative body image is, sadly, profitable. If people link their appearance to their success in careers, relationships, or life in general, they will do and buy anything to achieve this success. Dove plays the same song to a different tune, where they emphasize ethics that their parent company very blatantly defies, all because it’s profitable. One hand is lecturing against the idealization of bodily perfection while the other is endorsing it and using it to market products to men. It’s two completely opposite messages coming from different corners of the same mouth, but all for one purpose – profit.
Exactly how much time and effort goes into photoshopped images? “I’ve spent over 12 hours on a photo for a hair competition,” Karis explains. “It was shot by a photographer who wanted a composite created from nine different images. This includes changing arms, torso, and even a head, and adding every angle of good hair available. The result ended up winning for a certain competition, and I was the secret that was never mentioned in the details. Never accept what you see, no matter how good it looks.”