In my opinion ours is a culture obsessed with the idea of perfect beauty; flawless skin, blemish free features, thin waistlines, striking eyes, perfect noses and not a pimple in sight yet such an obsession has been fueled by nothing more than lies and hypocrisy with popular culture icons using such lies to distort reality all for the sake of making money (Peterson, 1).
What I’m talking about is the sheer amount of altered, retouched and utterly fabricated photos that appear on today’s billboard ads, magazine covers and online advertisements with models appearing flawlessly beautiful, unnaturally thin and possessing skin tones that are so smooth and perfect that you would think that they were paintings.
Such beauty and elegance can be summed up in one word “Photoshop”; they aren’t real, no one has eyes that striking, no one has legs that flawless, people don’t glisten in natural light, they really aren’t that thin, and hair doesn’t normally shimmer that way as if they stepped straight out of a Palmolive commercial (Coen, 1).
It is fake, unnatural yet it has created an obsession with beauty and perfection that has dominated the fashion industry resulting in the proliferation of photoshopped imagery on almost every page of major fashion magazines around the world.
Why is Photoshop Extensively Used?
When examining the extent of photoshopping in today’s magazine and print ad industry it must be questioned as to why the practice was instituted in the first place. When examining models from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s it can clearly be seen that the women in the photos had fuller figures than the models of today.
Back then such models were considered the most beautiful women on the planet regardless of any slight imperfections seen on their skin or bodies. It was only by the mid 90s that the idea of beauty started to shift with models becoming skinnier and skinnier resulting in the almost skeletal like figures that we see today.
On the other hand it must be noted that from a historical perspective making people look better than they actually were has been around for quite literally hundreds of years. Paintings of historical figures such as Catherine the Great, Elizabeth the I, Henry the VIII and a plethora of such figures always portray the subjects in the painting as having flawless skin, imposing figures and beautiful proportions yet in reality such individuals had far from ideal visual appearances.
It is a well known fact that Elizabeth the I rarely took a bath, had terrible teeth and was not what one would consider “desirable” yet in her paintings she looks incredibly beautiful. The same goes for Henry the VIII who in reality was morbidly obese yet looks positively handsome and imposing in his portrait. It is based on this that it can be seen that there is a historical precedent for hiding a person’s true appearance for the sake of portraying a falsified image of beauty.
A rather interesting fact that should be taken into account regarding historical artists and their “editing” of their subject’s appearance is the fact that if they had painted the subjects as they actually were it would very likely get them fired or killed.
In the case of modern day photographers the use of extensive photoshopping in order to change the appearance of models can be likened to the actions of history’s artists in that their very survival depends on producing iconic images that show great symmetry and beauty despite the appearance of the models.
This is due to the fact that the magazines these photographers work for demand a certain quality in the images they produce. You must take into account that magazines not only have to sell themselves but the products that sponsor them.
As such in order to entice people to buy the magazine and the products they advertise they need models which look absolutely flawless, symmetric and uphold the standards of beauty that is up to date with current popular culture standards.
The message these magazines are trying to express is that “if you buy this product you will look like this” or “if you apply this and that your skin will look just as flawless”. It is a message based on lies that is force fed to the public which unfortunately has worked over the past decade as evidenced by more and more photographers having to use photoshopped images in order to comply with the falsified standards of “beauty” that fashion magazines demand.
What is Beauty in the Fashion Industry?
Today, the idea of beauty, as espoused by popular culture fashion magazines, consists of a thin waistline, small shoulders, a petite nose and well shaped lips. This perception of beauty has changed from the time in which full figured girls were considered beautiful and instead has been replaced by the present day ideal of a rail thin body, a pale complexion and long thin arms and legs (Stewart, 1).
It is rather interesting to note that such women, when examined through the eyes of someone from 16th, 17th, 18th and early 19th century, would have been considered ugly, sick or possibly starving due to a lack of food.
What must be understood is that the present day definition of beauty is not part of a set standard (aside from considering symmetry to be beautiful) rather throughout the years there have been various definitions of beauty ranging from hour glass figures, full figured women and even those who by today’s standards can be considered fat (Stewart, 1). All of these standards of beauty have been in one way or another influenced by the prevailing popular culture at the time.
It is only within the past decade due to the greater level of interconnectivity brought about by globalization and the internet that a set international standard for beauty has been created with thin models rather than full figured women being considered beautiful. At the present it is rare to find a photo in a fashion magazine where a model has not been cropped, thinned, smoothed, sharpened and otherwise warped into what the fashion industry considers “the ideal woman”.
This ideal though is completely false, these models are not that beautiful, not as thin and whose legs are not that smooth and shiny in real life. Women are being tricked by the millions into trying to fit into a false ideal (Coen, 1).
In fact within the past decade alone the number of plastic surgery procedures within the U.S. has increased by nearly 300% since the mid 1990s with cosmetic facelifts, Botox and collagen injections, liposuction, breast implants and nose reductions topping the list. In other words people that already look perfectly alright the way they are have become so obsessed with what they believe is the ideal form of beauty .
This results in them willingly spending thousands of dollars and weeks of recovery in order to conform to this image which in the end is not truly attainable. It is based on this that it can be stated that not only are photoshopped images of models a form false advertising but they have negative repercussions due to the obsession of the general public with popular culture.
This is due to the fact that popular culture plays an important role in defining what is beautiful and what is not and unfortunately it so happens that the present day definition is one akin to considering individuals that are rail thin and pale as being beautiful.
Influence of Popular Culture
The influence of popular culture on modern day society can be interpreted as a form of irrational exuberance which is defined as the act of people modeling their behavior on the actions of other people without sufficient justification for doing so. In the case of models seen in magazines and print ads people see these models, which pop culture defines as the epitome of beauty, and attempt to emulate them by buying the products that the magazines say can help you achieve the same level of flawlessness as them.
Yet this beauty is nothing more than a false image made to entice the masses towards buying a particular product however this doesn’t stop people from attempting to emulate them in whatever way they possibly can.
Evidence of this can easily be seen in either the Miss Earth, Miss World, Miss Universe and a variety of other local and regional beauty pageants where it is always the contestant that has a thin body rather than full figured look that wins.
Not only that, with the current proliferation of modern day media in the form of TV shows and movies which also show thin stars and actors this has furthered reinforced the message being presented by photoshopped model images in that in order to be considered beautiful you must try to emulate the model that the picture shows.
Based on this paper it can be seen that not only are photoshopped images a form of false advertisement but they actually contribute to the current popular culture perception that in order to be considered beautiful you need to be thin.
On the other hand the blame cannot be placed solely on photoshopped images alone but can also be attributed to the shifting nature of what is considered beautiful by present day popular culture standards. In fact what is considered beautiful today may not be the same standard 50 years from now as established by historical precedent.
Coen, Jessica. “Why You Must See Unretouched Images, And Why You Must See Them Repeatedly.” Jezebel. N.p., 2010. Web. 1 Oct 2011.
Peterson, Jessica. “How Photoshop Transformed Megan Fox.” Jezebel. N.p., 2010. Web. 1 Oct 2011.
Stewart, Dodai. “Rachael Leigh Cook Wants Photoshop To Be A Crime.” Jezebel. N.p., 2010. Web. 1 Oct 2011.
Stewart, Dodai. “An Analysis Of Crystal Renn’s Photoshop Of Horrors.” Jezebel. N.p., 2010. Web. 1 Oct 2011.