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46 Responses

  1. Nahida
    Nahida December 12, 2011 at 8:26 pm |

    You know, I genuinely prefer the way EVERY ONE of those pictures looks “before.” There’s something endearing about the imperfections, the messy bits of hair and the wrinkles. And some of them were brighter before, with more color.

  2. Seth Eag
    Seth Eag December 12, 2011 at 10:12 pm |

    I don’t know, I think there’s a danger that things like this can end up being used for petty cruelty directed at the subject of the photo themselves instead of criticism of the media as a whole. We probably all remember when Madonna’s unairbrushed album photos were released a couple of years ago. The main discussion, unfortunately, wasn’t about ageism, but about “why is she such a liar?!”

  3. Jessica Isabel
    Jessica Isabel December 12, 2011 at 10:58 pm |

    We just don’t cut women a break either way. Remember when Britney Spears went on tour post-baby with a negligible amount of extra weight from – oh I don’t know, participating in the miracle that is human child birth – and she received so much flack for it. “Britney’s too fat to be in that outfit” “Britney’s gained so much weight!” So those un-retouched photos of her got far more negative attention than her normally retouched photos have. Really sad. It just makes me wonder – how do we deal with this?

  4. alynn
    alynn December 13, 2011 at 1:08 am |

    I work for a nonprofit where (among many other things) we try to guide teen girls through the process of analyzing the media’s messages. Photoshop activities always get tricky because when we discuss it, and show before/afters like this, someone always says, “but the afters just LOOK better.” Or we show them a before and we get “ewwwww!” Typically, I can let the conversation unfold naturally amongst the girls and through the discussion most of them come to agree that natural is better and they see the problems with comparing themselves to an unrealistic, unattainable ideal–but damn if it doesn’t take some time to get to that conclusion. It’s a real tough sell.

  5. EG
    EG December 13, 2011 at 1:53 am |

    Seth Eag: I don’t know, I think there’s a danger that things like this can end up being used for petty cruelty directed at the subject of the photo themselves instead of criticism of the media as a whole. We probably all remember when Madonna’s unairbrushed album photos were released a couple of years ago. The main discussion, unfortunately, wasn’t about ageism, but about “why is she such a liar?!”

    That’s true, but it’s not a result of releasing those pictures; people are petty, cruel misogynists all the time. Not releasing non-air-brushed photos won’t save their subjects any heartache; the crap they get will just be focused on how their lives are empty and meaningless without a man/baby, or how OMG they ate sushi while pregnant what kind of monsters ARE THEY, or how they’re man-stealing sluts. If you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, you might as well do.

    That’s my charitable, official, feminist response. Here’s my gut-level NYC bitch response:

    Women like Kate Winslet and Queen Latifah are on record resisting the horror show that is the US beauty standard; they have already put themselves out there and shown themselve to be serious fighters around issues like this (Winslet, for example, donated the money she won in a libel suit against a tabloid that claimed she was on some kind of weird diet or getting lipo or something to a foundation working to help women with eating disorders). If they don’t want their photos released, I’d respect that.

    However, women like Madonna and Kim Kardashian make money hand over fist based in large part on the marketing of these airbrushed propaganda images that help promote eating disorders and self-loathing, so they can damn well take a few hits for the team every so often, and if they need to have a good cry over it, they can wipe their tears with some of the hundred-dollar bills they keep in the change compartments of their wallets. And then they can go to therapy to deal with their unhappiness, just like all the women and girls lucky enough to be able to afford it whom their images affect.

  6. MadGastronomer
    MadGastronomer December 13, 2011 at 2:26 am |

    Seth Eag: I don’t know, I think there’s a danger that things like this can end up being used for petty cruelty directed at the subject of the photo themselves instead of criticism of the media as a whole. We probably all remember when Madonna’s unairbrushed album photos were released a couple of years ago. The main discussion, unfortunately, wasn’t about ageism, but about “why is she such a liar?!”

    So, because the problem is bad, we shouldn’t fix one of the things that causes and perpetuates the problem? WTF? No. Just no.

  7. Glove
    Glove December 13, 2011 at 5:04 am |

    @alynn, what nonprofit do you work for? It sounds great :)

  8. Sarah
    Sarah December 13, 2011 at 7:18 am |

    Once, in one of my high school classes, one of my classmates made a line graph illustrating how Miss America got taller and thinner every year. It was eye opening for a lot of girls in my grade. I wonder if there’s a way to have something like that for photoshopping.

  9. matlun
    matlun December 13, 2011 at 8:01 am |

    Apropos this discussion: Some fashion models have been replaced by computer generated models

    Perhaps a view of things to come?

  10. Angie unduplicated
    Angie unduplicated December 13, 2011 at 9:55 am |

    The issue here is who owns our bodies-Us or Them? If I feed it, dress it, and pay for hideously expensive medical care on it, it’s mine, and those who think otherwise get the big FU (with job hunting the only exception). This is where the catchphrase “entitlement attitude” becomes do useful, because malice entitles these creeps to nothing. Their aesthetic values should come out of their own pockets, not out of ours, and should be hung on their own walls and bodies. I suspect that the push to skeletonize women comes from 1-Holocaust deniers who want to sexualize the Auschwicz look, 2-heoin, crack, and meth pushers and pimps who want larger profits from their drugs and ‘hos, and 3-1%ers who want to pay women starvation wages and cut EBT food. All of these lobbyists are happy to use Photoshop in pursuit of the Almighty Dollar.

  11. Angel H.
    Angel H. December 13, 2011 at 10:14 am |

    Angie unduplicated: I suspect that the push to skeletonize women comes from 1-Holocaust deniers who want to sexualize the Auschwicz look, 2-heoin, crack, and meth pushers and pimps who want larger profits from their drugs and ‘hos, and 3-1%ers who want to pay women starvation wages and cut EBT food.

    What the fuck?! What does photoshopping models and actresses have to do with Holocaust deniers, drug dealers, and EBT? This wasn’t just pulled out of your ass; it was dug out with a shovel and backhoe.

  12. Li
    Li December 13, 2011 at 11:16 am |

    Angie unduplicated: The issue here is who owns our bodies-Us or Them? If I feed it, dress it, and pay for hideously expensive medical care on it, it’s mine, and those who think otherwise get the big FU (with job hunting the only exception). This is where the catchphrase “entitlement attitude” becomes do useful, because malice entitles these creeps to nothing. Their aesthetic values should come out of their own pockets, not out of ours, and should be hung on their own walls and bodies. I suspect that the push to skeletonize women comes from 1-Holocaust deniers who want to sexualize the Auschwicz look, 2-heoin, crack, and meth pushers and pimps who want larger profits from their drugs and ‘hos, and 3-1%ers who want to pay women starvation wages and cut EBT food. All of these lobbyists are happy to use Photoshop in pursuit of the Almighty Dollar.

    This is almost as nonsensical as your Muslims = the KKK argument.

  13. EG
    EG December 13, 2011 at 11:52 am |

    Angie unduplicated: I suspect that the push to skeletonize women comes from 1-Holocaust deniers who want to sexualize the Auschwicz look, 2-heoin, crack, and meth pushers and pimps who want larger profits from their drugs and ‘hos, and 3-1%ers who want to pay women starvation wages and cut EBT food. All of these lobbyists are happy to use Photoshop in pursuit of the Almighty Dollar.

    Evidence? Even with Galliano, who didn’t deny the Holocaust so much as support it, I have never heard anything to indicate that Holocaust deniers have a great deal of influence over the fashion/movie/beauty industry.

  14. Katya
    Katya December 13, 2011 at 12:06 pm |

    I don’t know, I think there’s a danger that things like this can end up being used for petty cruelty directed at the subject of the photo themselves instead of criticism of the media as a whole. We probably all remember when Madonna’s unairbrushed album photos were released a couple of years ago. The main discussion, unfortunately, wasn’t about ageism, but about “why is she such a liar?!”

    But if all the photoshopped images were revealed as such, that might change. People might know intellectually that the images are altered, but those images are everywhere and shape what people expect women to look like. If the images were either accurate or clearly labeled as fake, you might start to see a change in that expectation. People would get used to seeing women as they really look, rather than some ideal that is actually impossible to achieve even for the women whose photo it is.

  15. ArielNYC
    ArielNYC December 13, 2011 at 3:08 pm |

    Whenever I read articles on photoshopping I’m reminded of this:

    http://www.pbs.org/howartmadetheworld/episodes/human/greece/

    “Though they didn’t know it, just like the hunter-gatherers thousands of years ago [the Greeks] were looking for something more human than human. The Greeks discovered they had to do interesting things with the human form, such as distorting it in lawful ways in order to exaggerate the brain’s aesthetic response to that body.”

    I do wonder if girls in ancient Greece developed eating disorders from looking at that era’s version of photoshop…but I’m more interested to know, as a man, what exactly if anything can I do abot body perceptions? Because from my experience the women I’ve dated never really paid any attention to what what I thought about their physique. If a woman thought she was 5 pounds too heavy, she was 5 pounds too heavy, and no eye rolls on my part could disduade her…

  16. jrockford
    jrockford December 13, 2011 at 3:29 pm |

    I don’t think you can come close to comparing the media image saturation of ancient Greece with that of today.

  17. ArielNYC
    ArielNYC December 13, 2011 at 3:54 pm |

    @16 jrockford

    Well obviously we shouldn’t be too glib about comparing different socities in different eras. Then again, it’s not like the Greek and Roman statues you see in the Met or the Louvre were housed in the Athenian Museum of Art back in the days for a select elite only. Many statues were placed in public spaces for everyone to see. They communicated certain cultural ideals just like the media of the present day. So I think you can definitely draw a direct line between that era and the present in the way that a particular beauty standard was replicated and disseminated for public consumption.

  18. valentifan69
    valentifan69 December 13, 2011 at 4:20 pm |

    I just hate this nonsense.

    Please, it’s nothing to do with ‘truthful’ and ‘accurate’. The ‘before’ photos aren’t real – real people do not look like that either. It is impossible for your eyes to get a good look someone via an electric flash light, or see someone’s entire body at a 9 inch focal range. By saying this is ‘real’ you’re basically pretending everyone is a lot uglier than they really are. Photographers are not taking a real image and faking it, they’re taking one artificial image and playing around with it to make another, that’s not misleading anyone. Guess what, Rubens’ women probably did not look anything like his paintings in real life. Photography has never been about some exact recreation of an objective reality.

    I guess some people don’t recognise art when they see it.

  19. Seth Eag
    Seth Eag December 13, 2011 at 5:00 pm |

    I want to be clear that I wasn’t suggesting (@2) that we dismantle the photoshop-sniffing-machine (or whatever it is) or cease engaging in—much needed—discussions of the issue of digital alterations simply because it may be misused. I just think it should be noted that things like this could be used to further TMZ’s page-views as opposed to media and advertising literacy.

    It’s a tough one because you have to feel a bit of empathy when a person, even a filthy rich person, is torn apart simply for trying to fit our expectations. I mean, it seems like photoshopping is symptomatic and not the disease in itself. It’s odd for me to defend Madonna here—she’s not exactly a wonderful person or role model—but, look, if she had ceased having her photos airbrushed or getting botox or in any way showed signs of aging, would she still be considered a star or make the kind of money she’s become accustoming to making? Our culture kind of asks her to go through this, doesn’t it? Same with anyone else.

  20. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable December 13, 2011 at 6:51 pm |

    ArielNYC: If a woman thought she was 5 pounds too heavy, she was 5 pounds too heavy, and no eye rolls on my part could disduade her…

    It’s not about you. I really hope they’ve all told you that, but seriously dude, it’s not about you.

  21. arielNYC
    arielNYC December 13, 2011 at 6:58 pm |

    @orettyamiable

    Well, it is about the patriarchy is it not? Unless you want to argue that body perception is an intramural, women-only issue and men play no part in it for better or for ill, which would be interesting to hear

  22. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable December 13, 2011 at 7:03 pm |

    That’s funny that you should say that – because judging by your response, I bet you have a fascinating take on logical fallacies which would also be interesting to hear. Tell me, why is it that you’re under the impression that your opinion being completely irrelevant to someone’s body image is totally the same as denying the existence of patriarchal motions?

    Let me try again. You, specifically you, have no input on any specific woman’s body image issues.

  23. arielNYC
    arielNYC December 13, 2011 at 7:12 pm |

    @prettyamiable

    You’re right. I was naively under the impression that as someone who thinks and reads about body issues I could play a constructive role in my own private life in promoting positive body attitudes. Silly me

  24. Nahida
    Nahida December 13, 2011 at 7:12 pm |

    valentifan69: I guess some people don’t recognise art when they see it.

    Art is the creation of something, not the destruction of it. This only cheaply defaces the human figure as a work of art.

  25. LC
    LC December 13, 2011 at 7:20 pm |

    valentifan69: Please, it’s nothing to do with ‘truthful’ and ‘accurate’. The ‘before’ photos aren’t real – real people do not look like that either.

    You know what? As a photographer, I agree with you. All photography is to some extent an illusion. Too bad you kept on until the whole “I guess some people don’t recognise art when they see it” comment.

    The issue here is what changes are being made and why.

  26. PeggyLuWho
    PeggyLuWho December 13, 2011 at 7:55 pm |

    LC

    The issue here is what changes are being made and why.

    Isn’t context a lovely thing.

  27. PeggyLuWho
    PeggyLuWho December 13, 2011 at 7:58 pm |

    arielNYC:
    @prettyamiable

    You’re right. I was naively under the impression that as someone who thinks and reads about body issues I could play a constructive role in my own private life in promoting positive body attitudes. Silly me

    Yes, because eye rolling is so constructive.

  28. LC
    LC December 13, 2011 at 9:07 pm |

    PeggyLuWho: Isn’t context a lovely thing.

    I like to think so.

  29. EG
    EG December 13, 2011 at 10:17 pm |

    Seth Eag: It’s odd for me to defend Madonna here—she’s not exactly a wonderful person or role model—but, look, if she had ceased having her photos airbrushed or getting botox or in any way showed signs of aging, would she still be considered a star or make the kind of money she’s become accustoming to making? Our culture kind of asks her to go through this, doesn’t it? Same with anyone else.

    If Madonna stopped it tomorrow, she’d have enough to live on, for her kids to live on, and to finance any other project she’d want to do for the rest of her life. I just can’t work up much sympathy, or even concern.

  30. DonnaL
    DonnaL December 13, 2011 at 10:28 pm |

    Angie unduplicated: I suspect that the push to skeletonize women comes from 1-Holocaust deniers who want to sexualize the Auschwicz look, 2-heoin, crack, and meth pushers and pimps who want larger profits from their drugs and ‘hos, and 3-1%ers who want to pay women starvation wages and cut EBT food. All of these lobbyists are happy to use Photoshop in pursuit of the Almighty Dollar.

    You couldn’t possibly be serious, right? Lobbyists for the Holocaust denial industry? Do you think this kind of thing up yourself, or is there actually some fetid corner of the Internet where you read it?

  31. Open Thread for Night Owls: Airbrushing and whitewashing women | Hotspyer – Breaking News from around the web

    [...] after so long, why hasn’t the practice been hounded into extinction? As Caperton at Feministe writes, we just take it for [...]

  32. Open Thread for Night Owls: Airbrushing and whitewashing women | FavStocks

    [...] after so long, why hasn’t the practice been hounded into extinction? As Caperton at Feministe writes, we just take it for granted: proud of their bodies are digitally slimmed (and placed next [...]

  33. Angie unduplicated
    Angie unduplicated December 14, 2011 at 8:29 am |

    Photoshop is being used to promote an impossibly thin appearance for American women, and this may well be contributing to an upsurge in eatimg disorders. I was taught that the personal is political. The anorexia aesthetic parallels am increase in right-wing hate group activity, and please do source the Southern Poverty Law Center’s webpage for evidence. These groups are, for the most part, anti-feminist. The effort to ‘Shop out all of our secondary sexual characteristics except mammaries (estrogen-repository thighs and even the occasional PMS pound) just looks too much like a woman-haters’ PR campaign.
    Next time you disagree, do it with facts in hand, not Mean Girls-level insults.

  34. Li
    Li December 14, 2011 at 8:53 am |

    Ok. Small but important point.

    Correlation does not equal causation.

    There we go.

  35. EG
    EG December 14, 2011 at 9:19 am |

    Li: Correlation does not equal causation.

    Seriously. The incidence of heart disease in men goes up during the same period as the rate of baldness in men rises, but that doesn’t mean that baldness causes heart disease.

    Unless, Angie, you can point to Holocaust-deniers actually influencing the beauty industry, your claim is utterly specious.

  36. Angel H.
    Angel H. December 14, 2011 at 9:22 am |

    Li: Correlation does not equal causation.

    QFT.

    Hey, Angie. I’ve got some Tiger Repellant to sell you.

  37. Xeginy
    Xeginy December 14, 2011 at 11:03 am |

    arielNYC:
    @prettyamiable
    You’re right. I was naively under the impression that as someone who thinks and reads about body issues I could play a constructive role in my own private life in promoting positive body attitudes. Silly me

    You can (and should) play a constructive role in your own private life in promoting positive body attitudes. But I think what prettyamiable what trying to get at is that when a ladyfriend in your life is worried about her weight, your reassurances that “she’s not fat” is not going to fix the problem. Because, at the end of the day, her worries about her weight are not about impressing YOU, SPECIFICALLY. Yes, it is about the patriarchy, and it might even be about men in general. But it is probably not about YOU, specifically. So while your assurances are appreciated, it’s not going to solve the problem.

    So you can talk to her about body image and ridiculous beauty standards, but don’t expect it to fix the problem. Yes, keep talking to her. Providing that you’re speaking to her as a caring friend and you’re not being patronizing or slipping into “mansplaining” mode, every little bit helps. But dealing with body image issues is not just about someone saying, “Cheer up! You’re not really fat!” It’s more complicated than that.

    But I don’t want to dissuade you from helping, either. Keep being supportive, just don’t expect to work any miracles, okay?

  38. ArielNYC
    ArielNYC December 14, 2011 at 12:09 pm |

    @Xeginy

    I admit it did come off a bit silly. Not quite “hey everyone, how can I singlehandedly resolve this pestering,society-wide problem with my neat jedi mindfuck powers?” but still off.

    it is about the patriarchy, and it might even be about men in general. But it is probably not about YOU, specifically.

    And I’ve acknowledge as much. My personal opinion carried no weight. So what is this shadowy entity called “men in general”? Do you think this is “men in general” as conveyed thru popular media, or the actual day-to-day experience of women with men?
    I also found this study pretty interesting:
    http://understandingteenagers.com.au/blog/2010/08/teenage-girls-embracing-unrealistic-body-images/
    What I’m getting at is that wanting to look like a celebrity strikes me as rather different than “I have to look in such and such way or else I will get punished in my personal relationships/work etc.” Vanity vs necessity?

  39. AndrewJenny
    AndrewJenny December 14, 2011 at 12:28 pm |

    In my high school yearbook (mid 1990’s), you could pay the photographer to airbrush out your pimples.

    And yes, I did.

  40. Xeginy
    Xeginy December 14, 2011 at 3:45 pm |

    ArielNYC:
    @Xeginy
    So what is this shadowy entity called “men in general”? Do you think this is “men in general” as conveyed thru popular media, or the actual day-to-day experience of women with men? … What I’m getting at is that wanting to look like a celebrity strikes me as rather different than “I have to look in such and such way or else I will get punished in my personal relationships/work etc. ”Vanity vs necessity?

    As to your first question…I don’t know. It is likely both – how men are conveyed in the media, and women’s day to day experiences with men. Sometimes it’s not about men at all. It’s difficult to tell because there are so many different reasons behind why people have poor body image. It’s usually not a good idea to assume anything (this is why it’s so important for women and other marginalized people to tell their own stories, by the way. Only they know for sure.) If you really want to know, I would suggest asking the woman in question.

    As to your second question…sometimes wanting to look like a celebrity is just another way of trying to avoid that “punishment” you mentioned. In a culture that encourages young girls that the path to success lies in their body and their sexuality, achieving “celebrity” status (and thus attaining material wealth, the ultimate “American Dream”) can easily be seen as success to a young girl.

    You mentioned that you think and read about body issues. Then you probably already have noticed the double edged sword that many women face – namely, women are punished for not striving and achieving the beauty standard. But women are also punished when they do achieve. A good example is Heidi Montag – she did what our culture tells women to do. She used plastic surgery to achieve the ideal body, and was promptly viciously mocked and punished for it. Women are expected to be “effortlessly beautiful,” so when we see a woman putting a great deal of money and energy into it, the woman is treated as some sort of traitor or monster.

    Which brings me to my point – you ask the question “vanity vs necessity?” Well, who decides what is vanity and what is necessity? You? Other men? Will we ever get to a point where women are not punished for the decisions they make about their bodies and their looks?

  41. Schmorgluck
    Schmorgluck December 14, 2011 at 5:12 pm |

    In my late teens and early twenties, I made a point of providing mild-mannered compliments to my weight-anxious ladyfriends about their bodies, in hope it would help them get over the issue, that I already (although) percieved as culturally inflicted. They eventually got over it, but I doubt I can claim any merit for it: my approach was pretty naive and unelaborated.

    They just grew out of it, like most women do, just like most young people grow out of their early anxieties. But every person is different, so not everyone gets over such issues at the same pace, or ever. And the pressure on women is stronger than on men in terms of role and body image. At the very least, the kind of body models men are proposed tend to be athletic, healthy. The models proposed to women are morbid, weak and passive. Like Naomi Wolf stated in The Beauty Myth, “a cultural fixation on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty but an obsession about female obedience”

    Nowadays, were I in the position to try and soothe a woman’s anxiety about her weight, I think I’d try to put it in perspective. “Three too much kilos? Ah… Too much compared to what? I’ve always wondered…”

    Or maybe not. Now that I read it, it sounds kinda smug and insensitive.

  42. IrishUp
    IrishUp December 14, 2011 at 7:42 pm |

    Correlation does not equal causation.

    No WAI. I know for a FACT that global warming is due to the decline in the pirate population. Says so right here:.

  43. IrishUp
    IrishUp December 14, 2011 at 7:45 pm |

    Hmm. Quite the html fail. *le chagrin*

  44. alynn
    alynn December 14, 2011 at 11:33 pm |

    @Glove Thanks, I think it is :)

    I don’t usually disclose (I keep a low profile w/ my job stuffs online.) But I can say that many local Girls Inc. affiliates do activities similar to the stuff my nonprofit does.

  45. Welcome to Monday ~ December 19th | feminaust ~ for australian feminism

    [...] back: a scientific way to see just how much airbrushing has been applied to images. Which will come in handy next time I see one of those “non-retouched” photos [...]

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