Already Prettypoll: Photoshop Talk

Earlier this spring, a friend and I had a long conversation about women and the media. First, we lamented the fact that every single article written about a powerful woman described what she was wearing, how she did her hair, and/or the ways in her style and grooming had changed over the course of her career. But eventually we came around to Photoshop.

Some organizations, publications, and countries are fighting hard against photo retouching and the false notions it instills in the observing public. But, as former Marie Claire editor Liz Jones explains, the fashion industry and the media associated with it are NOT on board. They are resistant to body diversity, but they are even more resistant to going Photoshop-free.

And they’re not the only ones. Here’s an excerpt from Tina Fey’s Bossypants.

“Photoshop itself is not evil. Just like Italian salad dressing is not inherently evil, until you rub it all over a desperate young actress and stick her on the cover of Maxim, pretending to pull her panties down. (That ‘thumbs in the panties’ move is the worst. Really? It’s not enough that they got greased up and in their panties for you, Maxim?)

Give it up. Retouching is here to say. Technology doesn’t move backward. No society has ever de-industrialized. Which is why we’ll never turn back from Photoshop – and why the economic collapse of China is going to be the death of us all. Never mind that. Let’s keep being up in arms about this Photoshop business!

I don’t see a future in which we’re all anorexic and suicidal. I do see a future in which we all retouch the bejeezus out of our own pictures at home. Family Christmas cards will just be eyes and nostrils in a snowman border.

At least with Photoshop you don’t really have to alter your body. It’s better than all these disgusting injections and implants. Isn’t it better to have a computer do it to your picture than to have a doctor do it to your face?

I have thus far refused to get any Botox or plastic surgery. (Although I do wear a clear elastic chin strap that I hook around my ears and pin under my day wig.) I can’t be expected to lead the charge on everything. Let me have my Photoshop.”

I was floored when I read this. And a little disappointed. I mean, I get that Fey is just being honest, but it still surprised and saddened me to hear her basically come out in favor of retouching.

And yet as my friend and I discussed the ideal world versus the real world, we couldn’t quite envision a universal ban, either. We didn’t want Photoshop and extreme retouching to stick around, but we agreed that there would have to be some MAJOR changes in global priorities before the program and practice could ever be truly eradicated.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. First, how do you feel about Photoshop and retouching in general? Second, can you imagine a world in which both were banned? Or even used sparingly by only a few organizations? What do you think would have to happen for this to be possible? 

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12 Responses to “Already Prettypoll: Photoshop Talk”

  1. No Fear of Fashion

    No I agree with Tina Fey’s remark: you cannot turn back the time. It is here and nobody would ever suggest to pass a law to ban Photoshop or retouching. We are not living in a police state. Neither Photoshop nor retouching is bad. It is the use in extremes and with bodies which we resent. We don’t mind it when you use it to erase leaves on the floor or to add another bush at the right side of the photo to make it prettier. There are other, more harmful things in this world, which are not banned either. Like tobacco and alcohol (if not used wisely). So I don’t think this will ever happen.

  2. Erin

    I had the EXACT same reaction to that passage in Bossypants. Surprised, kind of disappointed, then I sort of got her point. And I agree, it’d be nice to live in a world where it wasn’t necessary to retouch every pore out of existence, but I don’t see it happening in our lifetimes. We have a supply and demand culture. Until there’s an overwhelming demand for realistic betrayals of women (and that would take a pretty major cultural shift) I think the Photoshopping is here to stay.

  3. Nancy Lu

    I think of photoshop as just another artistic technique- the important emphasis is on “artistic.” As long as we are all able to have intelligent conversations with ourselves and more importantly, impressionable little girls, that the pretty women in magazines and ads are really just an “artistic” creation- the result of hours of labor by personal trainers, nutritionists, the model, photographers, stylists, makeup artists, hairdressers, and yes, the graphic artists doing the photoshopping- then I don’t see photoshop as a problem. If I wanted to look at “real” women, then I would just look up from my magazine and stare in the mirror. Or you know, take a walk around my office.

    “Stop photoshopping” is an simple fix to a very deep and complex issue. If, somehow, we got a universal ban on photoshop, I honestly don’t think the world would look any different. Magazine ads would just use more makeup and change the setting and the lighting and stock up on corsets and maybe make all their models get even more plastic surgery than they already (possibly, maybe) do. Or they would just feature more cute animals. That might be a plus, actually. But I really think if we stop photoshopping, we’ll just find another way to make people feel inadequate about how they look. The real solution is to figure out how to stop us, as a society, from wanting or trying to make people feel inadequate about the way they look, and that’s a much, much more challenging thing to do.

    For that, I find being the daughter of doctors helps. Every time I feel a tinge of jealousy because that lady over there has longer legs than me, I remember that she has squishy pink insides, farts an average 10-20 times a day, poops at least a few times a week, and sweats buckets during bikram yoga. We’re all the same. We’re all human. The trillions of little cells and bacteria working to keep us together would be so deeply offended if they realized how hard we try to alter what they’ve done.

    Anyway, tl; dr: I’m with Tina Fey on this one- at least photoshop is make-believe!

  4. Fishmonkey

    Photoshop is not the issue. Banning it seems kind of silly, because it is a valuable tool for graphic design etc. And it is not the enemy! The enemy is the culture in which women are only valued for their looks, so it seems like Photoshop is somehow responsible for setting impossible standards. And again, those standards are not a problem by themselves; it’s the general assumption that women have to live up to beauty ideals to have value. This is incidentally also why “everyone is beautiful” thing is misguided: it operates on the same basic assumption that beauty=value. Photoshop has not created this culture; banning it would do nothing to remediate it. The only thing that would is insisting that women like all people have inherent value not tied into their looks.

  5. Ruth Slavid

    One of the problems is that you have to use Photoshop. There is not really any such thing as an untouched image because it is the technology that people use, certainly for print, to correct colour balance, take out specs of dirt etc. For all photos, not just portraits. So, for instance, with a photo of somebody that you were printing it would be totally legit to take out red-eye, remove a scrunched up piece of paper on the table, or just make the colour look ‘right’. So forswearing Photoshop is a bit like saying ‘I am overweight so i will stop eating’. Can’t be done. And changing appearance is also done for all sorts of reasons. A v stroppy client I worked for once insisted that the designer photoshopped the top button closed on a man’s shirt due to appear on the cover because otherwise he looked scruffy. A bald friend had hair photoshopped in for a company brochure (he was furious). Which is not to deny that a lot of what is done is ridiculous. Just that we should talk about responsible use of Photoshop, maybe even a code, not just eschewing it. Sensible Photoshop – like sensible eating.

  6. SunGold

    Tina Fey is a comedienne – read the subtext and realize that she’s NOT in favour of Photoshop. I mean, really: “Family Christmas cards will just be eyes and nostrils in a snowman border.” That’s hilarious!

  7. Sewing Faille

    The more deeply that I study photography, the more I feel that the discussion over the use of Photoshop hasn’t been framed correctly. The basic assumption in all these discussions is that the camera accurately represents reality– the camera, and photography, is fundamentally honest– and that Photoshop is responsible for lying, for distorting reality.

    But it has never been true that the camera represents reality, and that there’s no potential for interpretation (fudging? misrepresentation?) using basic photographic techniques. Let’s start with lighting. In the pictures in this post ( ) I deliberately overexposed my skin to give myself a smoother complexion. No Photoshop required. On a more sophisticated level, you can drastically alter someone’s appearance just through the harshness/softness and direction of the lighting on their face. You can see some examples here ( ) and the Strobist has a great discussion using headshots ( ).

    Many, many of these lighting techniques simply accomplish some of the same things that people achieve through makeup, like smoother, more even skin and more defined features. It’s fine to cover up a zit with concealer, but bad if you get rid of it in Photoshop. Why is it more acceptable to achieve these results through makeup than photography and

    Second, virtually every digital photo involves some level of postprocessing. The JPEGs that come out of your camera are not what the camera sensor saw– the camera itself applies some postprocessing to enhance contrast, clarity, vibrance, saturation, and the like. If your camera shoots RAW, you can take that image and postprocess it yourself, but it will need it– RAW files are typically very undersaturated and flat compared to what you’re used to.

    Photoshop is here to stay, and it’s simply one more tool in the photographer’s toolbox for representing the world as they choose to present it through their photography. The real debate should be about the message we send through fashion photography, regardless of the techniques used to achieve it.

  8. Lisa Wong

    Everything in moderation, I say. I’m not opposed to using Photoshop to clean up blemishes, adjust lighting in an image, minimize visual noise, and the like. Once, the boy and I did outfit photos in a tiny dry patch of sidewalk when it was pouring out. When I reviewed the images later, I could see his wet boot footprint in the shot! Totally distracting. I ended up blotting it out.

    But extreme body manipulation? No thanks.

  9. Monica H

    I appreciate the desire to ban Photoshop, but as others have mentioned, it is more of a symptom than the actual problem. And I don’t think removing it would make a dent in the unrealistic beauty ideals of our culture.

    I think the bigger problem is that we generally spend too much of our time paying attention to media of one type or another, and not interacting with live people. We are consuming too much ‘art’ and not enough real life. (And I’m as guilty as any.) This has us feeling like we need to compete with the most beautiful women in the world instead of being normal people.

  10. Andrea

    Agree with many of the comments posted. Also, this quote from Fey’s excerpt: “Which is why we’ll never turn back from Photoshop – and why the economic collapse of China is going to be the death of us all. Never mind that. Let’s keep being up in arms about this Photoshop business!”

    Yeah. Way bigger issues in the world than this.

  11. marsha_calhoun

    If we ever reach the point where the use/abuse/whatever of Photoshop turns most of the pictures of women we see into identical, interchangeable images (think Korean beauty contest winners), maybe we’ll get tired of it. But I’m not holding my breath. Something about being human seems to exalt female “beauty” (I use quotation marks because, as we know, this is a very flexible concept), and so far, that quality (whatever may comprise it at the time) sells magazines as well as the personal purchase of wedding pictures equally – we choose what we want to look at and look like. Otherwise, the fairy tale of the Ugly Duckling would have no denouement. But I am always glad to see the concept of beauty expanded, and I must admit that Photoshop is seldom used to accomplish this.