Photoshopping Hall of Shame

Photoshopping Hall of Shame

Posted Jan 31, 2010

Welcome to the photoshop hall of shame courtesy of Newsweek entitled, "Unattainable Beauty" (Click Here). It's likely that you heard about the Ralph Lauren fiasco just a few months ago. It's no surprise that Ralph Lauren's ad of a woman cut down to absurbly thin proportions makes the list. But, unfortunately, he isn't alone. There are a slew of advertisers who photoshop men and women's bodies to unrealistically thin proportions. You may be surprised by who you find in this photomontage. It isn't just celebrities and supermodels. There is a famous news anchor, a male (yes, I said men are photoshopped too) and a musican. No one seems to escape the airbrush.  

What's the problem with this? Unfortunately, showing unrealistic images of men and women sets up unobtainable and impossible body "ideals." People will continue to think these media images are "normal" and "desirable."  It may be conscious. However, much of our beliefs are formed on an unconscious level.  Seeing these kinds of pictures day after day forms our viewpoint of what men and women should look like.

For people with eating disorders, these images are potentially dangerous.  They serve as triggers. Looking at these images triggers people with eating disorders to feeling not good enough or thin enough, which can lead to harmful restricting or bingeing and purging. These altered photos don't cause eating disorders but they can be triggers for maintaining the behaviors. For dieters, these images fuel yo-yo dieting and body dissatisfaction.  Who hasn't looked at pictures like these with envy or a desire to have those bodies (which may not even be a real body at all)?

France and England are currently trying to pass laws that would place disclaimers on airbrushed photographs to inform readers.  Do you think this would help?  It's hard to say. Physically harmful products are required to have labeling like cigarettes and alcohol. Why not airbrushing, which has been shown in research, to negatively impact body image.  However, where do you draw the line and how do you enforce it? We alter a lot of things like digitally enhancing musicians' voices and adding animation to movies. This is a great discussion for further debate.

Acceptance of your body is key to healthy living. Photoshopping is the polar opposite. It's about erasing wrinkles and any imperfections. Even supermodels who are thin and gorgeous men and women are airbrushed. They are never perfect enough. At times, photoshopping erases character and individuality.  (See 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food for suggestions on how to accept your body).

The good news is that this hall of shame gives us all the opportunity to discuss the media, airbrushing and what it does to society. Photoshopping happens each and every day. Almost every publication does it to varying degrees.

For a fantastic illustration of the disturbing magic of photoshopping see the Dove, Evolution video, which takes an ordinary woman and creates a completely different one right before your eyes courtesy of makeup, styling and most importantly, a computer. But, most photoshopping is so slight that you can't really tell. We look at a picture without really realizing that airbrushing has taken place.  Also see Jean Kilbourne's Killing Us Softly video.

Take a look at this hall of shame and feel free to leave your comments and place your vote.  Do you think we should 1) ban photoshopping completely 2) place disclaimers on ads  3) do nothing different than what is currently being done 4) place some restrictions (if you pick this one please specify). 

By Dr. Susan Albers, psychologist and author of 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food, Eating Mindfully, Eat, Drink & Be Mindful and Mindful Eating 101.