It’s almost getting old, the whole “let’s complain some more about Photoshop” thing. But really, there are so many photoshopped photos out there. It’s a miracle when any photo you see in the media or advertising isn’t touched up in some way.
The latest is this Victoria’s Secret model, who seems to have lost a butt cheek. It’s outrageous.
Why do we bother to criticize something like this on a feminist fitness blog? To understand that, you need to understand that body image is a huge topic of interest to us and lots of people who read the blog, and photoshopping is really connected to body image.
Sam wrote about body image and why we spend so much time on it in this great post, “why a fitness blog cares so much about body image. In her post she says:
Body image is connected to fitness in a variety of ways.It’s both the motivation for lots of women to pursue physical activity. I’ll solve my body image issues by improving my body!
Body image anxiety is also the reason lots of women don’t exercise. I can’t go to the gym. I’m too fat!
Both of these sets of motivations are problematic.
I worry about women who miss out on the health benefits and the joy that comes from physical activity either because they mistakenly think they’re thin and don’t need to exercise, or they think they are too fat to be seen out in public, or they start, and don’t lose weight, and so quit because they think getting thin is the sole point of exercise.
So while I’d like to separate out body image and self esteem from athletic performance and joyful movement, our culture makes that nearly impossible.
We wouldn’t be so plagued with photoshopped photos of women’s bodies if we didn’t have such ridiculous expectations of perfection. It used to be that we complained about being compared to super-models because most women don’t look like super-models. And that’s a legitimate point.
But photoshop takes this to a new level. Because if you look at the way most images in advertising represent women’s bodies, even the models don’t look like that. Going back to the huge Victoria’s Secret fail–surely the model has two butt cheeks and no doubt they’re both lovely.
Touch-up artists get so carried away with changing the reality that is represented in pictures that even when a picture is perfectly fine the way it is (meaning: even when the woman in the picture looks like she looks in real life), they need to fiddle with it, smooth it over, turn the representation into something that represents only an idealized version of reality.
And that messes with our expectations about how we’re supposed to look. Now, you may be thinking you’re immune to the influence of media. Maybe you make a conscious effort to reject those messages. I know I try. And I can tell you this — it takes work and it takes energy. Maybe almost as much work and energy as it takes to try to live up to the ideal conveyed in those messages in the first place.
Sam rejects this by celebrating the selfie as a way of taking control of her own image. That’s not everyone’s approach (not mine, for example), but it’s one way of potentially presenting something less idealized. It’s not clear to me that the dominance of “selfie culture” is typically characterized by these noble motives. Indeed, sometimes people even touch up their selfies or at least spend a lot of time trying to “get it right.” And though I love a good picture as much as the next person, I’ve always admired candid shots of people who aren’t posing for the camera.
In a nutshell: it’s the connection between body image, impossible ideals, and the media’s representations of women that make photoshop a feminist issue. And that’s why we need to complain about it every so often.
Here’s a gripping series of photoshop fails, not all but many involving women’s bodies.