Photoshopped Reality

“The media create this wonderful illusion-but the amount of airbrushing that goes into those beauty magazines, the hours of hair and makeup! It’s impossible to live up to, because it’s not real.”
– Jennifer Aniston, May 2001

This is going to be a video heavy post because I’ve run across some good ones lately, so bear with me here.

Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty is one of the very few corporate advertising campaigns I can really get behind. On one hand I know that this campaign us driven, to a degree, with the intent of making profit by convincing the consumer that their product is above all of the airbrushing and hype that goes on within most advertising. However, if there is one thing my Media Literacy classes have taught me, it is that the ideology a company sells along with its product is just as important, if not more-so, than the product itself.

It is widely accepted that advertising plays a large part in shaping our cultural ideology; even those in the business, like Rance Crain of Advertising Age, admit that an effective ad, “plays the tune, rather than just dancing to the tune.”* Once we accept this it is difficult to look at advertisements where already incredibly thin models are airbrushed to look thinner, with flawless skin, hair, and so on without wondering how those images affect how we see ourselves.


Eva Longoria Before (Left) and After (Right) Retouching.

You may think you’re immune, but as Sut Jhally of the Media Education Foundation so succinctly states, “To not be influenced by advertising would be to live outside the culture. No human being lives outside of culture.”*

If you’ve ever wished you could just lose that last five pounds, searched for the lipstick that would transform your face, looked in the mirror and wished for flawless magazine skin, if you’ve ever judged someone else on their appearance… you’ve bought into advertising’s message about perfection. We’ve ALL bought into advertising’s subliminal cultural messaging, that’s why the first step to not letting the media’s image of beauty control our lives is to realize that it does play a part in our lives.


“In a world where lying, deception, and the fudging of facts has become endemic in everything, all the way up to the highest levels of government, this is yet another example of a fraud being perpetrated on the public… and the public, for the most part, is not yet in on the joke. Magazine-retouching may not be a lie on par with, you know, “Iraq has weapons of mass destruction,” but… when girls as young as eight are going on the South Beach Diet, teenagers are getting breast implants as graduation gifts, professional women are almost required to fetishize handbags, and everyone is spending way too much […] time figuring out how to pose in a way that will look as good as that friend with the really popular MySpace profile, it’s […] wrong.”


This video editorial from the NY Times (found via Jezebel) covers the issue of airbrushing very well in a short amount of time. I feel like it says some very prolific things, especially about the impact these images have on teens and young adults… but part of its message still irks me.

These products cannot deliver us perfect beauty, because “perfect beauty can only be achieved with an airbrush” is the message expressed by the reporter who narrates this video. While I understand where she is coming from, I have to disagree. The media would like for us to think that the beauty that can only be achieved with an airbrush is perfect beauty; more than the airbrushing itself, it is this attitude that needs to change.


Even America Ferrara – who is known, and admired for rocking her fuller figure in the thin-crazed Hollywood environment – is not exempt from photoshop’s manipulative abilities. This cover simultaneously makes me mad, and amuses me – on one hand, how dare they airbrush away a positive message about body acceptance, and on they other hand… they really messed this one up, is this really the best retoucher they could get?

I suppose I am echoing yesterday’s message a little, but I believe the most important thing to take from this video and the discussion surrounding it is the idea that advertising, magazines, and so on do not reflect reality – these perfect people don’t EXIST outside of the editing room. It goes against our instincts- since these commodities are designed to be related to and to look like real life, but better – however, the pressure that we put ourselves through trying to shape our realities to meet the standards of these ads is ridiculous.

Once you can embrace the idea that magazine spreads, billboards, advertisements and so on are manipulations of reality, and do not represent the world any of us inhabit  (even the models who pose for these images don’t look as “perfect” as the images in real life), then the pressure  to be perfect can fall away a little.

We need more ad campaigns like Dove’s “Real Beauty” Campaign, more magazine spreads and ads that push the limits of what we perceive as beauty and help to change the limiting cultural limits we place upon what is considered beautiful by the mainstream, and what is not. Unfortunately, making ad campaigns like this happen is tough since a lot of money is made off of consumers in pursuit of “perfection” but it is possible.

We can do our part by supporting companies that work to diversify beauty through their advertising campaigns, by recognizing both mentally and verbally the unique beauty in those around us, and most importantly by embracing our own imperfections rather than trying to flatten them out or cover them up.


I can’t figure out how to embed this video but please go here and watch this if you don’t think photoshopping is that bad. How have we, as a society, gotten to a point where its okay for a mother to sit her preteen daughter down in front of a computer screen and have her watch as her own image is photoshopped until it is perfect? What message does that send to the girl about how she looks every day? Just look at her face while she watches and try to not feel frustrated with the society that let this come about.


* This quote came from Jean Kilbourne’s amazing book called Can’t Buy My Love (formerly titled Deadly Persuasion) that looks into the advertising world and its effect on social ideology – this is a great book to read if you’re interested in advertising and its effects on our daily lives.

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