I realize that my opinion isn’t a popular one, but I am someone (and a woman, at that) who doesn’t care when advertisers Photoshop the life out of their models. I hear so much controversy from people (mostly women) who blame the media for ruining their self image and causing self esteem issues for women and girls, but I take a different approach when thinking about the root of the problem.
Now to be fair, I do understand why people are upset. Photoshopping has become a standard in the advertising field, whether it’s a simple smoothing of an actress’s wrinkles for a magazine cover or knocking off twenty pounds from a model for a billboard. It’s everywhere. And I understand that if a young, impressionable girl (or boy) doesn’t understand that these are unrealistic standards it can cause serious psychological issues. Even for adults it can be at least challenging to see how beautiful the model on the billboard looks in those clothes, only to find an unsatisfied reflection of ourselves in the dressing room mirror. I get it.
But I think that by this point in our culture everyone (including young kids) should know that everything has been altered. With the prevalence of photo filters and image retouching technology built in to even our phones, I don’t think it should be a surprise to see models with zero cellulite or perfectly flat stomachs or whatever other trend is considered “in.” And if kids grow up believing that these images are realistic, it should be their parents’ responsibility to tell them the truth. Sit them down and explain that those models and celebrities don’t really look like that in real life. It’s not the media’s job to parent these children.
Now this is where someone would argue that it’s also not the parent’s job to clean up the media’s mess. That if advertisers were more realistic in their portrayal of women and models in general, the parents wouldn’t have to sit down and explain what Photoshop is to their six-year-olds. But, coming from a future businessperson, the retouching won’t stop because some people don’t like it. The truth is that beauty sells. And as much as people complain that they want to see a “normal” model on magazines and advertisements, the Photoshopping obviously works to get people to buy more. Companies wouldn’t be so addicted to it if it didn’t.
Because the industry is not going to change, instead of complaining about it every chance we get I think it’s better to make whatever change we can–to ourselves. Retouching models is just like any other alteration that we need to get used to. What about wearing makeup? Or seeing the juicy, delicious-looking Big Macs on the billboards that we all know fail in comparison to the real thing? We’ve been able to adjust to those differences, because we know they’re not quite realistic. Why should it be any different for seeing Photoshopped models and celebrities? Make a conscious effort to remind yourself that it’s not real, just like a layer of foundation covering a blemish or the perfectly melted cheese that’s computer-generated.
Even if the ad agencies and other forms of media agreed to quit retouching their models, I don’t think it would solve the problem. There will always be beautiful people out there even without the aid of technology. And we can’t just tell them to go away so we can live in our average-ness without comparing ourselves to them constantly. Instead what we need is to have good role models growing up and parents who will explain to us why it’s okay to just be ourselves and not wish to have what’s not possible for us. It’s normal to at times want what you don’t have, but it’s unrealistic to expect the world to change so you don’t have to think about not getting it.
I’m sure people will forever complain about the agencies that make the ads or the magazines that publish the cover images and they’ll claim that they are responsible for the self image problems in today’s society. But the truth is that there will always be self image problems. Whether our children and young adults (and fully grown adults) are admiring the models’ beautiful hourglass figures or wishing for their best friend’s flawless complexion, there will always be someone there to show us something we want but can’t have. And getting rid of it isn’t the answer. The only thing we can do is change what we have control over–our mindset.
Image courtesy of Adweek.