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To Photoshop or Not To Photoshop: That Is the Question – FINAL

If you had an image of a murderer on the cover page of a magazine, is it ok to touch him up if he didn’t look mean enough? Just a few wrinkles and extra shadow lines won’t hurt anyone, right? But where do we draw the line about what is acceptable or not when it comes to Photoshopping a human body in print? In this essay, I will analyze and rationalize the positive and negative aspects of altering photos.

So why do we Photoshop images of people in magazines? Better yet, some would ask, “Why not?” The celebration of the idealized human body has always been common; people love to see healthy, beautiful people. Various fashion or men magazines, such as FHM, Maxim, and Cosmopolitan, are known to showcase the female body, but rely heavily on photo corrections to maximize “beauty.” Sure, it may not be natural, but it certainly is easier on the eyes of the public. Artists continue this practice because the majority prefers to see a perfectly sculpted individual rather than your everyday, average looking person.

Photoshopping has become so ubiquitous, people complain when it isn’t done. In the October 2008 cover of Newsweek magazine, we can see an example of how controversial it is to NOT use photo manipulation. On the front, we can see Sarah Palin’s unedited face blown up to fit the entire cover. Andrea Tantaros, a guest Republican media and political commentator for Fox News’ America’s Newsroom, stated that “[Newsweek magazine] cover is a clear slap in the face at Sarah Palin… it highlights every imperfection that every human being has. We’re talking unwanted facial hair, pores, and wrinkles.” Tantaros further insulted Newsweek saying that it favored Democrats by making Palin look bad; her untouched face was accompanied by an embarrassing headline caption, “She’s one of the folks (and that’s the problem).”

Newsweek Director of Covers, Burce Ransay, defended Newsweek’s intentions but did not comment on why the photo was not manipulated for final publication: “Nigel Parry’s portrait of Governor Palin was shot and cropped so we could see clearly into her eye and be engaged by her smile.” Though it may seem silly for people to make a big fuss over this, it proves that photo manipulation plays an important role in our society.

On the other hand, the practice of manipulating photos may have serious consequences because they can be misleading and deceptive. By falsely setting up the standards of beauty, we are bending the perception of reality itself. The most common alteration in photos is skin; many of us have undesirable wrinkles or noticeable pores on our skins which unfortunately show up clearly on photographs. With the help of computer software such as Photoshop, those nasty marks on our hides can be edited out with relative ease. But that’s not all, there are professions that go as far as warping the bodies of women in photos to make them more sexually appealing, such as slimming the waist line, enlarging the breasts size, or adding extra volume to the buttocks.

Thanks to Jezebel.com, we can see an example of heavy photo modification done on famous country singer, Faith Hill (July 2007 magazine cover of Redbook). By contrasting the original image with the edited photo, we can spot obvious differences: skin spots and imperfections are removed, wrinkles on face are removed, subtle color change on hair is apparent, face is slimmed, teeth are whitened, collar bone shadows are removed, waist is dramatically slimmed, bottom portion of her body is scrunched up, arm in front is slimmed, hand in the back is removed and replaced with another “arm”, and so on. The Faith Hill we know on Redbook’s July 2007 cover is not even real, due to the significant amount of work done to her. If Faith Hill is not actually skinny in real life, how do people expect to match such “beauty” if not even she can’t realistically achieve it?

People who are not aware this practice could be fooled into believing that they could obtain this status of “beauty” created by magazines, thus potentially harming themselves in attempts to conform to such misguided ideals. Robin Estrin of Chicago Sun-Times stated that “many girls mistakenly think they are overweight because they are getting the wrong idea of the perfect body from fashion magazines.” The March 1999 Pediatrics journal issue concluded that two out of three girls from the grades of 5 through 12 said that magazines influenced the way they see themselves; nearly half of readers claimed they wanted to lose weight because of the women they see in magazines (only 29% of the 548 girls that were interviewed were considered overweight). Long exposure to magazines may dilute one’s perception of what is real and not, therefore having a negative impact on the reader rather than a positive one. Epidemiologist Alison E. Field fears that girls who don’t read magazines are still affected because the concept of beauty manifests itself in other forms, such as in movies (Charlie’s Angels, High School Musical, Twilight), in newspapers (weight loss ads), on billboard advertisements (Brittney Spears, Kylie Minogue, etc.), in TV commercials (Victoria Secret lingerie), and in shopping malls (mannequins – they might not be real, but they are in better shape than most of us).

The practice of photo manipulation is a part of our culture and cannot be ignored. In fact, it has become customary to apply it whenever possible (a good number of photos in magazines, if not all, are usually Photoshopped). It is not beneficial for readers to see and publishers to have pictures of normal people in magazines because the image does not sell; people see imperfections on a regular basis – they do not need to further speculate it in magazines. However, this practice holds many contradictions in itself. If a person featured in a magazine has an abundant amount of wrinkles on their face, is it necessary to “clean up” the photo? The crazy thing is, most people would say yes, even though deep down inside, they know it would wrong because they are bending the truth.