“Okay, now can you smooth out that spot on her forehead?” “I see a bit of a double chin too, get rid of that.” “Could you also slim her waist a little?” “Still not 100% content with the face, maybe smooth it out some more?” “Oh, make sure you don’t forget to add a little color on the lips.” The above is a string of valid requests an editor would be seen making when editing a shoot in the fashion industry. The industry has been notorious for using Photoshop for some time, but the issue is becoming something quite more rampant than that. Today, virtually anyone can edit their own photos through several online applications to replicate perfected photos they see from influencers online.
Young women today have to face an onslaught of societal pressures to conform to unrealistic beauty standards because of misleading images that are extremely prevalent throughout social media. Women of all ages are coerced into the psychological and physical self-torment that comes along with constantly being exposed to altered images. This creates an unrealistic expectation of an optimum look or image that women feel as if they must look like even if it is often not real. The glorification of Photoshop in today’s culture makes it difficult for many women to embrace their flaws in a society that so desperately tries to cover any sight of their flaws. Photoshop should not be a common practice in our society as it holds no boundaries and makes it difficult for women to celebrate their differences rather than conforming to what is defined as beautiful to the masses. The use of Photoshop in magazines, on social media by influencers, and through filters by anyone on Snapchat have created severe dysmorphia issues for thousands of women and putting a final end to it is something that needs to be discussed.
Due to today’s technology, highly edited images are normal imagery individuals constantly have the access to consume, whether it be through their phones or laptops. This is one of the leading causes as to why people, especially women, are consistently growing at-risk for developing Body Dysmorphic Disorder which causes individuals to feel insufficient in their own bodies. Body Dysmorphic Disorder, or BDD, is defined by Mayo Clinic as a psychological disorder in which a person becomes obsessed with imaginary or not observable defects in their appearance. This often puts individuals in the situation where they avoid social situations because of crippling insecurities. Men are also susceptible to dysmorphic conditions that stem from the similar exposure to perfected images from variations of sources. Mayo Clinic defines the condition that mostly affects men as Muscle Dysmorphia Disorder which, essentially, causes individuals to feel as if they are insufficiently lean or muscular compared to certain standards even though that is often not the case. Individuals who experience dysmorphia share and experience common symptoms with those who have anorexia. According to the Body Dysmorphia Foundation, symptoms include, but are not limited to seeing an exaggerated shape that is not true their figure, checking features repeatedly, picking at one’s skin, and comparing oneself to models in magazines or seemingly “more attractive” individuals. About “80 percent of people suffering from dysmorphic disorders experience lifetime suicidal ideation and 28% have attempted suicide” (Chiu). This constant worry is what causes individuals to take measures such as extreme dieting or plastic surgery to eventually change their appearance. These conditions are real and have become a grueling part of people’s daily self-image yet Photoshop is still an aspect of Western culture that is so prevalent despite the fact.
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Photoshop was most often seen in the fashion industry in printed magazines for many years until the rapid spread of social media; the industry has always consisted of perfectionists who edit any minor inconsistencies they see in a photograph. Former Vogue Editor, Kirstie Clements, told The Guardian on how the industry stresses the consistent use of Photoshop as well as how it is a “thin-obsessed culture in which starving model resort to surgery when dieting is not enough.” These seemingly flawless magazine covers and their modified editorials have negative effects on the self-esteems of countless women both behind the scenes and for consumer. For years, women have been exposed to such unrealistic and hard-to-obtain aesthetics by printed magazines which are sold at every corner for consumption. These edited covers reinforce the initial causes of dysmorphia by constantly objectifying women, causing comparisons that kill the self-esteems of many.
The significant issue with the fashion industry is that it fails to create aspiration without leaving such a negative impact on people. In Face Value: The Politics of Beauty, Robin Tolmach Lakeoff and Raquel Sheer carried out a study and found that people who read magazines such as Time and National Geographic felt more empowered after reading whereas people who consistently read fashion magazines began having self-esteem problems. Consumers begin wanting to live the editorial they witness, and the inspiration slowly becomes aspiration for a look they want to achieve. Once these early dysmorphic stages begin, it is hard for individuals to realize that the look that they so desperately desire to reach is not real but is edited. The issue has spread to the masses due to innovative editing platforms present throughout social media.
Although many can blame society’s unrealistically high standards for this glorification of altering images, technology is hugely responsible for how widespread this issue has become in recent years. This issue is present within our society, but technology has given it the platform to extend to where it is. It was not as dire as it is now to the mental health of countless people when it was only practiced on print, but now it has become something that people can consume every day with their devices.
It is a subconscious part of our culture that many people do not realize. Individuals interact with these means of communication so extensively that they often forget that the media often persuades and advertises society’s ideals which is why these apps exist. These ideals are shaped in a way that consumers willingly participate in, hence, why there is nonstop bombardment of media focused towards everyone.
Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat have magnified the reach and intensity of these issues as they are quicker, improved methods of communicating for virtually anyone. Celebrities and influencers are capable of instantly uploading photoshopped images onto their respective Instagram feeds by using smartphone applications such as Facetune to edit their photos. Facetune is an app sold for $3.99 in which “users have access to a host of editing tools such as teeth whitening and making a person’s nose or waist smaller” (Chiu). Essentially, it gives people the ability to change their appearance in the palm of their hand. Ordinary people similarly wanting to document perfected versions of their lives are often influenced to replicate such images seen online, representing themselves in a way that is often not true. This all comes from a place of wanting to fit in with society’s unrealistic standards, and causes individuals to participate in the same culture that contributes to their mental torment; it is an endless cycle.
Snapchat plays a significant role in contributing to the extensive photoshop culture through filters available within the application itself. Not too long ago, Snapchat released a collection of facial-distorting filters that people have at their disposal when taking photos or recording videos.
Some of these filters are playful and fun: some transform someone’s face into a puppy or spill rainbow vomit out of their mouth. However, there are others that are slightly more problematic. Instead of working as playful accessories, they mimic certain photoshop applications mentioned above and work as instant facial re-touchers. Many people in the makeup industry may argue that such filters help emphasize their craft, but these filters have gone beyond just emphasizing one’s artistry and have become a daily part of regular women’s lives. These filters instantly transform a person’s entire face, creating a more flawless version of themselves by blurring each imperfection until they no longer look real. Filters created a more refined and “socially desirable” more version of women by contouring their cheeks, narrowing their noses, clearing their skin, and lengthening their eye-lashes. These beauty standards are implicitly placed on people regularly, and they begin not liking the person they see in themselves without a perfect filter. Although filters may be fun in some aspects, but similar to any other perfect photo online they are not real. It is unfair to constantly put this objectifying pressure on women, making it hard for them to love the skin in which they are. Everyone has begun to prefer the retouched version of themselves and become hesitant to show their filter-free face because it does not feel as desirable anymore.
Neelam Vashi, a physician from Boston University School of Medicine, informed The Washington Post, about a widespread phenomenon known as “Snapchat dysmorphia;” it has become a “concern among experts who are worried about its negative effect on people’s self-esteem and its potential to trigger body dysmorphic disorder.” This study carried out by Vashi’s colleagues and researchers found that people began “bringing in their own selfies, usually edited with a smartphone application… asking to look more like their photos.” These cases are extremely alarming because people are blurring the line between reality and fantasy and are in pursuit of an unrealistic look that is unattainable. Vashi mentions how her patients who often want all their flaws to be gone in a day or a week, but that is not realistic. She says she “can’t do that, [she] can make people a lot better, but it will take a lot more time than a week, and it won’t be 100 percent.” This obsession with an instant fix of their flaws at ease in a selfie-sprung culture is dangerous. People begin to not see filters for what they really are and it has become the new definition of what is typical or average.
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