Many of you may have seen the articles today about the awesome fourteen year-old who took a petition to Seventeen Magazine requesting that they do one non Photoshopped spread a month. Seventeen, to their credit, heard her out. They ultimately turned her down.
Now, Seventeen Magazine can do whatever it likes. And it should be said that Seventeen is hardly the only magazine guilty of this, and they might not even be the worst offender out there. Photoshopping is standard industry practice.
Because this kind of thing eats at my brain, which certainly cannot abide any more NIBBLING, I decide to write a bit about this. Much of what I have to say will be obvious to some of you, and not obvious at all to some of you, and somewhat obvious to some of you. Some of you will avoid the whole thing and are already driving away at a high speed, probably heading for some kind of lighthouse or other secluded spot. I APPLAUD YOU FOR YOUR CUNNING.
But for those who want to read my thoughts, here they are.
1. Most fashion/lifestyle magazines make their A LOT of their money from ads.
Ever notice how those glossy mags are made up of lots of ads? (Ever notice how a bridal magazine is pretty much ALL ADS? There’s a story in itself.) There’s not really a lot of actual magazine content in there. Because the ads are of primary importance, the content must not be offensive to/wildly contradict the aims of the advertisers.
This, in and of itself, is not an evil thing. It’s just the simple fact of the matter. Glossy mags are often advertisement collections with thin wafers of story nestled between them.
2. The point of advertising is to make you buy something. Which means you must create a perceived need.
Hey, did you know how you HAVE to buy an engagement diamond? How that has always been the thing, since all of time? Oh, except, no it hasn’t. The whole “diamond engagement ring” thing was made up by DeBeers with the help of an advertising firm in the 1930s. They made up the phrase “A diamond is forever” in 1947. They wanted to sell diamonds, so they made up a need. You HAVE to have a diamond for your engagement! It’s the DONE THING!
Advertisers make up all kinds of needs! You need a bigger/smaller television/computer/phone/car. You need this diet to be thinner. You need this pizza with actual cheeze deposits in the sides. YOU NEED IT. LACK OF IT MEANS FAILURE.
3. Ads create an (often/usually) fictitious worldspace in which whatever product being advertised is the answer to a problem or a deficit. Sometimes, a deficit you had NO IDEA YOU HAD.
You’re just wrong! Didn’t you know your hair is wrong? You eyelashes are too short! Your white, glinting teeth cannot be seen from the moon. Your phone is a source of shame and embarrassment to your family. Frankly, everyone hates you and your sandwich. Loser.
4. This means that the actual point of an ad may be very counterintuitive. You may think ads are there to make you feel good. In fact, many ads are designed to make you feel BAD, and then propose the solution to this BADNESS.
Which brings us to Photoshop. The ads generally found in something like Seventeen or any similar magazine are usually for things like clothes, makeup, skin care, and hair care.
So a common example is something like this …
[Image of more or less normal looking girl—except she is a model and she probably looks fine, if not much more than fine. Better than you on pretty much any given day. And this is the BEFORE picture!]
Caption: Is your skin dull and lifeless?
Your thought: She looks … good?
[Another image of the same gorgeous girl, looking unhappily at her chin.]
Caption: Are your pores oversized?
You: Wait, what? What’s wrong? What does she see? *run to mirror* OH GOD. You can see a pore. Is that a pore? If you can see them, that’s bad, right?
[That girl again, still sad, now examining her cheek with a look of disgust.]
Caption: Have you lost your glow? Are dead skin cells holding back the real you?
You: OH GOD IT’S SO MUCH WORSE THAT YOU THOUGHT. EVERYONE HAS PROBABLY BEEN STARING AT YOUR PORES AND YOUR DEAD, DEAD SKIN. YOU ARE SO SCREWED, because you know an AFTER picture is coming. WHY NOT JUST GIVE UP NOW?
[Image of same girl, now with smoother/bigger/smaller/in some way better hair and skin that emanates a glow that is not quite of this world. Just touching this skin would probably cure all known disease. Angels would weep for such skin.]
Caption: TRY NEW BIOZOID SMOOTHENATING MOISTURE FOUNDATION, now with vitamin Q and FRUIBITROL, derived from the TEARS OF BATS.
Your thought: I don’t know what that stuff is BUT I CLEARLY NEED IT. TO SAVE THE WORLD FROM MY PORES.
[Girl bounces off smiling with guy/dog/best friends you will never have.]
Caption: BIOZOID SMOOTHENATING MOISTURE FOUNDATION … because your face is dead and full of holes.
You: Are already hiding under the table nervously eating staples right out of the box.
Fact: Model is quite stunning, but her face has also been digitally altered. Because NO ONE EMITS LIGHT LIKE THAT. Skin does have pores. The skin is the largest organ of the body and it is COMPLEX and awesome, and it goes through all kinds of moods. Making up skin/hair/makeup issues is the entire engine of the skincare/haircare/makeup industry. Which is how they get you to buy the new thing, which is very much like the old thing. Except now with the TEARS OF BATS, which have been “clinically proven” in their hired labs to do something or other at INTENSELY HIGH CONCENTRATIONS not normally found in the product. So cheer up, get out from under the table, and stop eating staples!
A lot of the more egregious Photoshop happens in the more full-body photos, in which actual human are whittled away into humanoid hanger-objects. Often the models look into the camera miserably, pouting. At you. It’s like they are looking at you and HATE WHAT THEY SEE. They might be appeased if you dressed better. But as it stands now, THINGS ARE NOT GOING WELL BETWEEN YOU.
Or maybe it hurts not having floating ribs and a head that must weigh twice as much as your torso.
But why change the body? Why DO that? What purpose can it serve? Here’s my best guess.
Altering the image creates something truly and profoundly OTHER. It creates the unattainable, which means you have the endless carrot and stick.
And the fashion shoots are often not about the fashion, but about a lifestyle, a picture of some life you COULD HAVE if you just EMBRACED THOSE WHITE JEANS. YOU TOO would spend your time in a field with twenty-nine of your equally angry-looking, plaid-clad friends, in a group photo of well-curated collective misery that might as well be captioned, “SUCK IT, POORS.”
Yes, you have been kept from finding yourself ALL THIS TIME by lack of the perfect dress. Those thigh-high socks. The right belt!
YOU HAVE BEEN SO CLOSE. IT HAS JUST ELUDED YOU. TRY A BIT HARDER.
Which is not to say that there is anything wrong with fashion photos. I love a dress, myself. (Though ideally I would never take off my pajamas and once did a signing event in a hotel bathrobe, because that thing was FLUFFY.) Fashion is an art, and fashion photography is also an art. Some of it is, anyway. The best photos are often very intriguing. There’s a reason they interest us. There’s a reason we look at all kinds of manipulated images of humans. We look at sculptures and paintings and drawings and we see things that have been re-imagined, altered, idealized, made more grotesque.
The only difference now is, we have a simple technology that enables photographs of actual humans to be changed into something that’s supposed to pass as real, or something achievable. And it gets into your head and messes around with your perception of how things are supposed to be.
A heavily photoshopped ad shows dissatisfaction with the way people are. When you look through any glossy mag, or at any commercial or ad, KNOW THAT THAT IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE YOU. Know that it’s a game. Step back, and don’t worry.
I invite your comments. In fact, I LONG for them.