photoshop

Photoshop: A Downloadable Public Health Crisis?

 

There’s a new dystopian sci-fi event coming soon to screens near you—and no, I’m not talking about The Hunger Games. I’m calling it Photoshop: The Final Frontier. And, unfortunately, it’s taken the leap from speculation to reality.

For something that comes standard in an expansive set of computer utilities, Photoshop (when used with reckless and patriarchal abandon) has been proven to have negative social effects on the very audiences it’s targeting as potential consumers. Among these, as a very partial list…

  • Artificially slimmed-down bodies are impossible without the magic of a cursor, but these bodies are placed in women’s health and fitness magazines (okay, Women’s Health and Fitness magazines) and advertised as the totally obtainable “after” image. We go to more and more drastic lengths to obtain these fantasy results, crash dieting or engaging in unhealthily intense exercise regimens. Which, as we know from research into orthorexia, exercise bulimia, crash dieting, and the fact that diets don’t work, is wildly detrimental to health, whatever the magazine covers say.

So if studies, facts, statistics, and general common sense all tell us that Photoshopping our bodies into vaguely alien-looking plastic-people is a generally terrible idea, why is it standard business practice for the advertising industry? Because… well, not to get too Econ 101 on you, but because capitalism.

You know, capitalism? That handy economic system where profit is driven by a free-market economy in which whatever sells can be distributed at incredible prices to support the accumulation of wealth?

Here’s the thing: in our world, shame sells. Body hate sells. The diet industry (weight loss plans, pills, supplements, shakes, surgeries, and all the rest) sells, and sells, and sells, to the tune of $60 billion every year. Yup, every year.

Wonder why you feel worse about yourself after looking at endless images of tall, thin, white, symmetrical, pore-less models? Then notice, every time you open your browser or turn on the TV, the promo for the latest root/flower/seed/unicorn blood that melts fat like candle wax. Bam. That’s the one-two punch.

This isn’t to say that all advertisers are deliberately driving a Photoshop-sized hole through our self-esteem for profit. There’s our screwed-up, one-dimensional, stretched-to-the-breaking-point beauty standards to consider, too. Advertising firms are made up of humans, and it’s hard to find a human completely unaffected by the social pressure to slim down and shut up. (And be five foot nine, able-bodied, and white. You know, if possible.)

I’m not blaming any one company, firm, or person for this phenomenon. We aren’t responsible for how we’ve been socialized, just like we aren’t responsible for certain levels of cultural privilege we may or may not be born with. But, just like with privilege, we are responsible for the impact of our actions, and of our inaction. Faced with a sociocultural monster like this one, it’s that inaction that’s most destructive.

So what can we do to fight inaction with activism? A few suggestions to get you started…

1. Understand When a Product Invents the Flaw It Fixes

Show of hands: how many of us even knew what our pores were before those commercials convincing us we could shrink them with expensive creams (and Photoshop, to hide the fact that said creams invariably do nothing)? Same goes for forehead wrinkles, vaginoplasty (yes, really), or whatever can be the hell wrong with our underarms now.

Women make 85% of all consumer purchases in the US. However gender stereotypes make you feel about that, it’s a fact. If we decide we don’t want, need, or even have the ability to look like Photoshopped models, companies will have to adapt their business models to thrive in the new consumer landscape. And even if the change isn’t immediate on a cultural scale, it will be on the personal. I can’t begin to tell you how much more progress I’ve made on my writing when I decided time spent worrying about my uneven skin tone could be better spent on revisions of Chapter Twelve.

2. Take Political Action

Don’t let my Econ digression scare you; I’m not asking for a total dismantling of the capitalist system by tomorrow. (Though people always seem to say “dismantling the capitalist system” like it’s a bad thing…) But there are political actions you can take, in addition to voting with your dollar.

Sign the Truth In Ads petition, urging lawmakers to support H.R. 4341, the Truth In Advertising Act. This proposed legislation would require all advertisers to indicate when substantial, body-altering Photoshop has been used on an image. Substantial changes, mind. We’re talking shaving off ribcages or manufacturing thigh gaps, not smoothing flyaway hairs or shopping Benedict Cumberbatch’s Oscar photobomb into great moments of history. Think of it as a Surgeon General’s Warning for the body image of America.

Sign the petition and share it with your friends, family, and colleagues. Urge companies who claim to support “real beauty” to do the same. Modcloth is already on board, but companies like Dove and Aerie could stand to put their cursor where their mouth is. Put the pressure on: email, Facebook, Twitter, anything. Just make your voice heard.

3. Promote Media Literacy in the Children in Your Life

We grew up in this twisted, exploitative beauty system. We’re already pretty messed up by it. But there are kids right now who could maybe, possibly, learn a different way. So share every critical thinking muscle you’ve got.

Encourage others to call out Photoshop alterations when they see them. Give airtime to celebrities like Lorde and Lady Gaga who push back against our culture’s obsession with alteration.

Compliment young girls—and boys—and everyone—more about who they are and what they do than what they look like. Who wouldn’t want to be valued for what they had some control over, verses some genetic fluke?

Prompt kids to find the subliminal messages in ads. “Why do you think they’re selling this product?” “What is this ad really trying to say?” “Why do you think all models look like this?” Make media literacy as important as any other school subject, and kids will get better with practice.

—–

Photoshop: The Last Frontier might be approaching quickly, but that doesn’t mean we have to sit down and accept it. Stand up. Push back. Agitate for change. Because if we don’t, who will?

6 Deadly Sins of Body Policing and Negativity

Screen Shot 2013-11-05 at 9.24.59 AM

Sometimes, society is exhausting.

The constant pressure placed on our bodies day in and day out can make you never want to leave your bed, where at least your pillow understands that your body is nobody’s business but your own.

But much as I’d like to, I can’t stay in bed for my entire life and listen to body negativity pitter-patter against the roof like a particularly noxious rainstorm. So forgive this somewhat-ranty list of the top six things that irritate me about the way body politics appear in the world and the media today.

If I miss something that really grinds your gears, let me know in the comments! This list could go on forever, but I only have so much emotional energy to expend at one time.

1. The phrase “plus size.”

Plus what? Plus society’s preconceived notion of what size is acceptable for a woman? Here’s my general thought on the matter: “plus” means positive, as in “not a negative number.” We are all plus-sizes if we take up any space at all in the world. So please stop dividing clothing into “acceptable” and “plus-acceptable.” If you have to make clothing sized by numbers, go ahead and do that. Just keep your value judgments out of it.

2. Diet supplement and weight-loss ads everywhere.

facebookadspic1I’ve made a game of it every time an ad telling me I can LOSE SEVEN INCHES IN TWO WEEKS WITH THIS ONE EASY PILL, NO DIET OR EXERCISE REQUIRED!! (For some reason or other, they do seem to enjoy caps lock…) I like to block them, and then when Facebook politely asks me why, explain that they are “against my beliefs.” Which they are. I’d just like to see the article my friend posted on my wall about the French kids who took a llama on the tram. I don’t want to be bombarded with the multi-billion-dollar diet industry. Facebook doesn’t know my body. And quite frankly, it’s none of its business.

(For those who are interested, the llama on the tram is real. Click here.)

3. Tabloids like these:

mary-kate-olsen-119waity1originalFirst off, tabloid reporters have zero way of knowing whether or not one of these celebrities is or is not struggling with an eating disorder. That’s not something that you can tell by picking them out on the street. Eating disorders are mental illnesses (I’ve discussed this before…), not diet plans. And making it something you have to continuously deny only adds to the shame. The last thing we need is celebrities having to repeatedly assert “I’M NOT ANOREXIC!”, as this only heightens the stigma on an already dangerous disease.

And let’s not even talk about those little arrows on the left image, pointing out Mary-Kate’s “stick thin legs!” Because that’s so helpful, Star.

4. Tabloids like these:

originalenq012207vh41 xkim-kardashian-in-touch-cover.jpg.pagespeed.ic.gEmlI1yY_5No. No no no no no no. Other people’s bodies are literally none of your business. Cellulite is not like Sugar Ray Leonard, and you cannot “lose a fight with it.” Cher “packs on 26 pounds,” and that’s entirely her business. Please stop making other people’s body size news.

You want to show me “eight pages of shocking new photos”? How about some pictures of the cleanup efforts around Hurricane Sandy, or the continuing conflict in Syria. Not Britney Spears’ thighs. The only person to whom Britney Spears’ thighs are important is Britney Spears. And I doubt she’s reading this magazine to find out what they look like.

5. Fat-Shaming Week

I didn’t make this up. This is actually a thing. October 7-11 was apparently hailed by some self-absorbed douche canoes on Twitter as Fat Shaming Week, otherwise known as five days of the year when people with nothing better to do provide unsolicited, ineffective, rude, and cruel advice to anonymous strangers whose weight they determined was unsatisfactory. Here is part of their actual mission statement:

Mocking someone for lazy and slothful behavior is one of the best ways to motivate them to change and appear more pleasing before our presence… Hurting people’s feelings is the quickest way to get them to change… We have decided as a group that fat shaming is essential in creating a society of thin, beautiful women who are ashamed for being ugly. Let the fat shaming begin!

I’m actually so angry about this that I want to throw my computer across the room and let out a war cry. I won’t do that, because 1. my laptop is very expensive, and I’m unemployed, and 2. I’m in a public library and that would be frowned upon. But seriously? This is the world I live in?

I don’t think I actually need to say what’s wrong with this, but let’s do it briefly anyway.

First: THEY ARE WRONG. Fat-shaming isn’t even effective. Studies have shown this. (Yes, there were studies on this. I’m linking only a few sources that confirm it. Tiger Beatdown puts it best, I think: “Guess What? Shaming People for Being Fat Doesn’t Magically Make them Thin!)

Second: Some people still seem to be laboring under the delusion that women are here to “appear more pleasing before men’s presence.” Excuse me while I laugh so hard that I actually vomit up a lung.

Third: “Lazy and slothful behavior” are not direct causes for someone’s body type. Fat does not equal unhealthy. Thin does not equal healthy. Neither of these equal beautiful. Besides failing basic human decency, it appears that someone also failed science.

Moving on, before I actually get so angry that I break something expensive…

6. Photoshop.

If you haven’t seen the 37-second video that explains why Photoshop gives us an unrealistic view of what the actual human body is supposed to look like, I recommend you click on this link and check it out. You can spare 37 seconds to see in glittering detail how fashion magazines and advertisements are airbrushing us out of existence.

If you want to sell us clothing and accessories, please show us how it would really look on an actual human’s body, not on some computer-generated cyborg that you whipped up in your laboratory. I don’t want to see what pants will look like on someone made of toothpicks and papier-mâché, I want to know what they would look like on me. Because unless I’m very much mistaken, the average consumer is, in fact, human.

The only plus side of Photoshop in the fashion and advertising industry? The fails. Photoshop fails make my day.

imagesimages-1Unknown

I could go on for days and days and days, but as I mentioned earlier, that would only result in me breaking things. Is it possible to live in a society where women’s bodies aren’t placed on the dissecting table and picked apart by strangers and CEO’s? Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. But I live in eternal hope that someday I will turn on my computer, switch on the TV, and flip through a magazine without once feeling the need to flip a table.

Until then…