In 2011, the American Medical Association took a public stance against ‘Photoshopping.’ The most respected group of medical professionals in the U.S. opined that the way media “corrects” photographs of humans is a leading cause of a deadly class of mental illness. They recommended advertisers and PR firms consult with 3rd part organizations to regulate how much they retouch photos. Law-makers in France and the UK have made similar suggestions.

Hearing about this conjures up images of a white guy in a powdered wig and black robe waving his finger at the powers-that-be in Hollywood. Stories on this topic end up getting a few headlines as a novelty, which then putter off into the sunset (or as the blog is updated through the day). In the meantime, little girls across the western world are still vomiting to try and look like a woman that doesn’t actually exist. Fifty-percent of girls between ages 11 and 13 think they’re fat. Anorexia is the 3rd most common chronic illness in adolescents. The media messaging about how you should look is so persistent and consistent in our culture, that most of us don’t even notice it anymore.

It’s bad enough that most models are part of a gene pool and age group that encompasses a very small percentage of the population. But now, they are photographing these folks and manipulating their skin, the lighting, their weight, and proportions to make them into an alien life form that exists only in a computer.

Advertisers use a term all the time when discussing marketing plans for a product: “aspirational.” If they create an image associated with their product that you aspire to, the message then is that you need their product in order to obtain it. But how sad and desperate is the idea that the images are actually completely mythical! It means you are now in search of the unobtainable. For example, if you buy this skin care product, you will get a unicorn as well, and then you will be happy. And even though we all know better, the messaging is so thick that self loathing creeps in, and we all find ourselves thinking “if only I had a unicorn, I’d be happy.” But unicorns don’t exist.

Consider this: If you have the time and money to exercise frequently, manage your body hair meticulously, be extremely disciplined with a high-end skin care system, eat health food always, wear trendy and flattering fashions every day, and get your hair conditioned professionally a few times a month, AT BEST, when you’re 40-years-old, you might be able to fool people into thinking you’re 30. Likewise, ten years later, some people might think your 40 when you’re 50. If you are at least somewhat obsessive about your appearance, at best, you might be able to make people think you were born a little later, and people will say “wow you look great” a little more often. And If that is the chief end of all this striving, there is no joy.

Clearly, we need to turn up the volume on the voices that remind women, young and old, that their most valuable and defining parts are not visible to a camera. When a woman knows this beyond a doubt, she is so much more attractive. The intangible qualities are what make life worthwhile. Love, hospitality, intelligence, wisdom, and courage win over good skin and plucked eyebrows any day. And a woman who understands this is more lovely to almost everybody.


  1. As a full time professional photographer that has spent a decade photographing women, one of the most upsetting trends is the unrealistic representation of women in print publications. I am unsure of the origins of this disturbing behavior but without question it is skewing perception to the point of effecting long term life choices.

    I have retouched the face of my subjects to clean up things or small blemishes that the make up could handle but i have never made someones neck look longer or moved there cheek bones. In fact what makes people so interesting to me is their differences. Making every persons appearance look identical is boarding on Orwellian.

    It is my hope that this article gets more traction with the people that need it most… the young women coming of age.

  2. I agree with ck. On another note, I don’t really understand why this article was written. This is an old topic and there is no new information in this article to make it interesting… why am I reading someone’s biased opinion? Paragraph 5 is simply false. It perpetuates a sense of “I’m still not good enough” because it is reprimanding women who do want to care about their bodies in a way they feel (albeit, socialized in the way they think) is right. Please get off of your soapbox. You have not done the research necessary to make claims like “if you do x, y, and x, AT BEST (A) and (B) will happen to you.” Stop doing that. It makes you sound very unintelligent.

  3. In complete agreement with the article’s idea that we are feeling bad about not looking like someone that doesn’t even exist. Lighting, makeup, and a team of people can make someone look like a forties movie star, but those things don’t change the proportions of a human face.

    The pictures show that very difference. In the left her eyes have been enlarged, her lips are pointed and color changed, her nose shrunken, even her earlobes and neck shape have been changed. In the right makeup and lighting show a real person in the most flattering way possible, a touch of the old silver screen magic, but still a real person.

    “most models are part of a gene pool and age group that encompasses a very small percentage of the population. But now, they are photographing these folks and manipulating their skin, the lighting, their weight, and proportions to make them into an alien life form that exists only in a computer.”
    The section above in quotes could be the heart of the article.

  4. Is the image for this article meant to be comparing an “unphotoshopped” photo to the photoshopped version? They’re both obviously photoshopped, and presenting them as they are right now will do more harm than good for people’s self esteem…

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