This is going to be a heavy post, but I'm not going to apologise. We need to talk about the many dangers of people 'photoshopping' their faces and bodies, and what it is doing to everyone's mental health, and why we need clear labelling of images that have been altered.
I'll admit it here and first - I used to photoshop the living daylights out of my images. I was so obsessed with looking skinny because I was trying to lose weight at the time. I thought, 'why not photoshop my images, I'll look like that in a few months anyway...'. Dear reader, no matter how many months, and no matter how much weight I lost, I will and would never look like how I look in my photoshopped images.
The Dangers Of Photoshopping Your Body
There are many, many dangers that come with 'photoshopping' your face and body. Altering a body in images seems like it has been around since photographs themselves - take this famous image of Joan Crawford, for example. This image was used as a promotional image for her film Laughing Sinners in 1931. This image took the re-toucher six hours to complete - smoothing skin, removing spots, and erasing wrinkles. The re-toucher used a retouching machine, which backlit and vibrated the original negative of the image, allowing them to physically smooth out the film using a pencil. It all seemed like such hard work to make an image 'perfect'. But the scariest thing of all? I can do all of that in under a minute now.
I believe the main danger of this process is that it affects our mental health in so many damaging ways. As you can see, even Joan Crawford didn't have perfect skin, and that's because no one does! How can we live up to things that don't even exist? When you look at an image of yourself that you have altered and then look in the mirror, how do you feel? Do you feel horrid, disgusting, fat possibly? All because you're comparing yourself to an image of you that does not exist. It's a fantasy, it is false.
And there is a bigger cycle in play here. Not only does this affect the mental health of those editing their own faces and bodies, but it also affects the people who see the images too. How are they to know that what they are seeing is a fantasy, is false? Is that how all people are supposed to look? Are they supposed to look like that too? This damaging exposure of edited faces and bodies creates a false narrative of how us imperfectly perfect humans are 'supposed' to look. It creates unattainable beauty standards that impact an already gargantuan mental health crisis that thrives on poor body image. It needs to end, for the mental health of everyone.
'A 2019 Mental Health Foundation study among teenagers (aged 13-19), showed that one in four girls and one in ten boys had edited their face or body in digital photos, due to poor body image, which could result in severe body dysmorphia later on in life. The study also found that over a third of young adults (aged 18-24) had recently felt shame over their body image, with one in four feeling overwhelmed by their negative feelings about their appearance. The harm caused by the online world doesn’t just affect teenagers. 22% of the adult age group in the study said that they had worried about their body image as a result of the posts they saw on social media, compared with 22% of teens.' Source.
'Nearly two-fifths of young people (37%) said that people should stop editing their photos and more than a quarter (28%) said that people should stop using filters on their photos to help promote body confidence on their social media platforms. The importance of collective action was recognised, as one-third of young people (33%) said people should also join campaigns that help promote body positivity to make their social media platforms a more positive place. Despite accepting the important role they have in curating a more body-positive digital world, only 4% of young people said they currently post content on social media that relates to body positivity, demonstrating that more can be done.' Source.
Understanding Both Sides
As an image editor, I have been asked to gently and subtly alter bodies in images from clients only a handful of times. And I completely understand why. For example, most of the images that I edit are wedding images, and I know that everyone wants to look perfect on their wedding day. Very rarely has a photographer come to me with a specific photoshop request, but it's only because they want their couples to look incredible in their images. All of the photographers I work with are incredible at posing their couples in flattering ways, which is why I ever so rarely get these requests, but it has been known, and I completely understand why.
The most altering work that I have done on an image is probably for newborn shoots, as I'm sure some of us are familiar with, babies have lots of spots and flaky skin, and everyone wants their newborn to look perfect. This again is down to the photographers in terms of retouching or not, as I only edit from what the photographer has asked me to do. Some of my photographers like all of their newborn shots to be slightly retouched, whereas some of them prefer nothing. But once again, I understand why they have made either choice.
Personally, I believe that no retouching whatsoever should be in an image used for marketing or advertising. End of. For personal use - I understand why people do it because I've done it myself and understand those feelings of body image issues and self-loathing. But, I also believe that any image that has been altered that is for personal use, eg, posted on social media, should be labelled that it has been altered. That is what I have done on my images on my Instagram. And it's also what Instagram so quickly did for any post that even mentioned the word Covid19 in! So something similar can be done, and quickly!
Whether you have thousands of followers or not, people deserve to know that what they are seeing is a false version of that person (if the image has indeed been edited). Perhaps this can even deter that user from altering their face or body in any images going forward.
I have created a petition on Change.org that calls upon Facebook and the UK Parliament to discuss putting a label on altered images on social media. I would be incredibly grateful if you could sign it. (Please sign the petition here!)
I believe that it is a good step forward, but the best step forward is ridding social media of altered bodies altogether, and that starts with the choices that you make. I have vowed to never alter an image of my body ever again, and I have followed and filled my feed with beautiful people and bodies that inspire me that have taken this vow too. Why not do the same?
No one should feel like they need to alter themselves in any way, ever.
So please, sign the petition, and vow to never alter your beautiful, unique, strong, wonderful body.