5 Reasons We're In the Middle of a Dumb Anti-Photoshop Panic
Word on the street is we're all mad about photographers and advertising agencies using Photoshop to make models look supernaturally good. They've decided, among many ludicrous things, that some people totally have waists smaller than their heads and that Anne Hathaway deserves an Oscar but not an armpit. Luckily, other people who would also like to sell you things have found a way to capitalize on the anger caused by literally impossible beauty standards -- denouncing the airbrush.
The most prominent has been Dove and their "Real Beauty" campaign, but it's really picking up this year, with all the fuss over Keira Knightley's refusal to be retouched for a spread in Interview magazine, fashion company ModCloth's "no Photoshop" pledge, and the redundantly named "Real" campaign by American Eagle's lingerie line. These body-image crusaders claim to be taking back the power of, um ... realness. Realhood?
Unfortunately, they're completely, pornographically fucking with you. Because ...
It's Been Around Since Before Cameras Even Existed
Ever since the very first spoiled heiresses demanded to have their inbred faces immortalized, the brush-jockeys they hired have wisely decided to make a few adjustments. The artist got paid, the subject got a tangible representation of their overinflated ego, everyone was happy. The artist attending to the royal Medici family in the 1500s was known to paint his subjects to "highlight [the subject's] learning and social status," which is a nice way of saying "make them look less like peasant trash," and that was pretty much the standard at the time.
The truth is, we likely have no idea what anyone from that time period actually looked like. Every pre-Industrial historical figure could have had a big floppy dick growing out of their chin and we would never know. So let's just assume that they did.
Are you picturing it?
It didn't stop once photography became a thing. About two minutes after people started taking pictures, they started messing around with darkroom techniques to make shit not look like shit. If you think you need a computer to make someone look like a cartoon character, check out Joan Crawford kicking it old-school.
From left to right: hideous she-beast, beloved American icon.
If there's one upside to this centuries-old tabloid horseshit, it's that it's made us way more aware of how much they're shoveling onto us. What Katy Perry looks like first thing in the morning might seem like the grossest kind of non-news, but knowing how much effort and flat-out voodoo goes into creating a beauty icon is really important and kind of unprecedented. If that's our goal, to spread awareness that not even Katy Perry looks like Katy Perry without several hours of makeup and Photoshop ... that knowledge itself is a pretty big step up from the entire last 500 years. It seems like that's more important than the actual Photoshopping and makeupping. Speaking of which ...
They Can Get Around It Using Makeup
There are all kinds of physical tricks models and photographers can use to render Photoshop unnecessary, which is arguably way more insidious. You'd be surprised how much can be accomplished with makeup. After all, models don't exist in some weird digital dimension where everything is made of 2D pixels -- they have to appear in person sometimes, at their stilt-walking parades. (Edit: I have been informed that these are called "fashion shows.") At the goofy-shoe contests, they can (and do) use body makeup to create shadows and highlights that turn their butts into completely different butts. One Victoria's Secret model said that sometimes she has 20 layers of makeup on her butt, which is like at least 16 more than most people wear for their jobs. If you're skilled enough, you can even paint someone else's face directly on top of yours.
This woman chose Sylvester Stallone's for some reason.
And that's just the tip of the bullshit iceberg. Laughably simple things like lighting, posing, clothing, and hairstyle can have a startling impact. Here's personal trainer Melanie Ventura, who lost 15 pounds in 15 minutes just by opening the curtains and standing up straight.
Who knew your mom gave such good selfie advice?
That's not to say that any of that is bad on its own. We've all made an unspoken social agreement that some women paint their eyes to resemble a cat's, and that's just fine. Anyone who thinks my nails are naturally glittery has bigger problems than I can address. But you couldn't be faulted for not knowing that models get the full sci-fi special-effects treatment, which is why if we got rid of Photoshop they would just lean on these techniques more. Of course, it doesn't hurt that ...
Models Are Not "Real Women" in the First Place
Let's all give a round of applause to Keira Knightley for telling Interview magazine, "I said, 'OK, I'm fine doing the topless shot so long as you don't make them any bigger or retouch.' Because it does feel important to say it really doesn't matter what shape you are." Yep, it sure was brave of her to display her natural body in all its hideous imperfection. (Warning: Bare tits all up in your grill.)
Ugh, god, get that troll off my screen.
Right. Even without Photoshop, Keira Knightley is a breathtakingly gorgeous woman who represents a standard of beauty that is not attainable for 99 percent of women. It's worth noting that Knightley's only real problem with Photoshop is that she thinks it makes her look worse. It's kind of weird to hold this up as a triumph for body acceptance when the very reason you made the decision was based around presenting your body in the most flattering way.
It's a funny thing about models: They're all naturally beautiful, otherwise they would be accountants and not models. In order to look like Britney Spears even before Photoshop, I would need a very expensive surgeon and a full-time job as a treadmill tester, and I am including her paparazzi umbrella warrior phase. You know who else I totally don't look like? The Dove Real Beauty models.
Other people I don't look like: ModCloth's "real women."
I wouldn't be caught dead with that basket.
Still more people I don't look like:
I'm just trying to figure out what that hole's for.
Turns out you (allegedly) don't need to Photoshop women who don't need Photoshop. To tout these images as a "challenge [to] supermodel standards" is like saying Freddie Mercury is a challenge to Queen singer standards. These companies are not unaware of that. Because ...
No One Actually Wants to See "Real Women"
If you ask them, consumers will say that they're more likely to buy from a company that advertises with models who reflect their own appearance. According to an informal study published in Elle Canada, women's interest in a product doubled or even tripled when the models used in the advertisement were their own size, age, or race. But that puts an adorably misplaced trust in what people say versus what they actually do. Incidentally, I polled a bunch of people and 100 percent of them said they weren't racist. Good news, everyone! Racism is over!
"These are ghost suits; we're going to a costume party. Honest."
For example, if people like these campaigns so much, why do they almost universally flop, while campaigns featuring unapologetically dangerous images thrive? The designer who conducted the Elle study accidentally identifies the reason (and proceeds to completely ignore it): Advertisement is all about selling a lifestyle.
They figured out a long time ago that appealing to people's sexiest secret desires is a lot more effective than addressing their actual, boring needs. That's why the dudes in ads for pickup trucks are all cowboys and not sweaty, crack-flashing plumbers. They're not selling a pickup truck -- they're selling rugged individualism. Of course, a pickup truck can't turn you into a cowboy, but there are entire industries devoted to figuring out how to bypass the logical part of your brain and convince you that it will.
If she was a 350-pound man, no one would buy the bed she's lying on.
Is that evil? Oh my god, so evil. But it works, and that's why ads featuring average-sized models don't. They serve only to remind women of what they don't like about themselves without offering a solution, which is why a University of Arizona study showed that women's self-esteem plummets after viewing those ads. Since the goal of advertising is to imply "You can have what I have if you buy this product," what the precise fuck kind of sense does it make to show them something they already have? And that's why we leave the academicing to the actual academics, kids. That brings us to the harshest truth of all ...
Winning Means We've Lost
There was a recent Dove commercial that made just about every woman bust an ovary, even though it's probably the worst thing in the world that doesn't involve the phrase "baby catapult." In the commercial, a sketch artist draws women the way they describe themselves and then as other people describe them. Spoiler: They're prettier than they think, and everyone has a nice cathartic teargasm over it. And as much smarter people than me have pointed out, it's total bullshit. They're just reinforcing the idea that what you look like -- and, more importantly, what other people think of what you look like -- is all that matters, and we let them because it makes us feel good. The uncomfortable truth is that most of us don't actually want to eradicate cultural standards of beauty -- we just want them changed to include us.
That's why even if we somehow got everything we're demanding, the media still wins. They're willing to tell us we're pretty in exchange for the authority to do so (and, of course, loyalty to their brand), and we'll eat it up like chocolate-flavored dog shit.
But only if it comes from a beautiful dog.
We're happy that the Department of Pretty is handing out self-esteem licenses as long as we get one, when we should be wiping our asses with it and then setting the building on fire. That's a terrifying prospect to a lot of people, because without a standard to meet, how do you know if you measure up? That external validation -- and as close to an objective measure of it as possible -- is absolutely vital to their sense of self-worth. Let's face it, it's a lot easier to change your body than it is to change yourself (that's why so many people focus on controlling their bodies when they can't control their lives) and it's even easier not to change at all.
This isn't the same as in entertainment, which serves a completely different function. The chief complaint about sexy ladies in those media is that that's all they're there for ... or at least it's presented as their most important quality. We run into problems only when we're taught that a) "hot" is the most important thing a woman can be, and b) we do not meet that standard. How insane is it to propose as a solution to that dilemma, "Well, let's just change the standard"? You might as well be trying to prevent tornadoes by removing the Earth's atmosphere.
The only person who should care what this man has to say is Dame Mix-a-Lot.
Even if you could change the standard, that would never, ever work in advertising because its entire reason for existing is to make you care. Every element is designed to push the "withdraw" button on your emotional ATM. They need a standard of beauty, otherwise the entire industry collapses. Still, they're willing to wink and nudge and pretend to let you in as long as you agree to worship them as the Supreme Decider of Deciding. All advertisements are designed to make you need something, and it's super important to be aware of that when it's happening, because the formula is pretty basic: make you feel like shit -- then sell you something that makes it all better.
Incidentally, that's also how political campaigns work. I'm just sayin'.
For more from Amanda, check out 5 Awful Realities of Having Size JJ Boobs in Sixth Grade and 4 Secrets of The Most Common Tragedy Nobody Talks About.
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