Glossy Talk: The power and problem of Photoshop

Glossy Talk: The power and problem of Photoshop

While Photoshop has been a talking point for GWAS since early 2007, it has been's bread and butter, helping the site (tagline: "Celebrity, sex, fashion. Without the airbrushing"), also founded in 2007, to achieve cult status and hit-rate success.

"Thanks to breakout, brand-building investigations of everything from women's magazines, the fashion industry and celebrity Photoshops to menstrual-period dramas, douchebag takedowns and Presidential elections, I've seen our readership catch up to, and, in some cases, surpass, that of older, more established sites in the Gawker Media stable, including, which we have surpassed in monthly pageviews for 9 months straight," wrote then-editor Anna Holmes in May.

According to The New York Times, Jezebel's most popular post in its first year featured an image of singer Faith Hill both before and after the insidious Photoshop fairies at Redbook magazine had got to work on her. Jezebel paid an undisclosed source $10,000 for the raw photo and pointed out the ways in which Hill had been digitally altered. It landed Jezebel on NBC's Today Show appearance and a blog was made (meanwhile, GWAS made two Today Tonight appearances she'd sooner forget about).

The latest addition to the Jezebel Photoshop of Horrors portfolio is an image comparing Jennifer Aniston in the raw and as on the April 2009 cover of Madison magazine (not to be confused with the April 2010 cover of Madison also featuring Aniston seen right). In response to 'cease and desist' legal action, editor Jessica Coen writes, "One of Jezebel's most significant areas of interest is the Photoshopping of women who appear in magazines, catalogs, or in any other publication. It's an important factor that shapes the beauty standard, and it affects how women view themselves, for better or worse. As such, the peg of the post is how Jennifer Aniston looks pre-Photoshop, and I think you can agree that a small image falls under fair use since the existence of these images is indeed news."

Sometimes when a trending news item loses traction, we forget to talk about it and then it's business as usual until we are again alerted to some gross injustice and reminded why it is a significant issue. Like when a survey is published showing just how unhappy girls/women are with their self image. Jezebel might have a traffic-spiking self-interest in alerting us to Photoshop atrocities, but how many media organisations profit off the opposite (i.e. the perfectly flawless images)?

"A few years ago, my modelling agency asked me to audition for skin-lightening commercials," says actress Freida Pinto talks of her O The Oprah Magazine 'Aha! Moment'. "I knew those products were wrong, so I'd show up with a burden on my heart, thinking, I can't believe I'm doing this. Those commercials send out a message that if your skin is lighter, you are more acceptable to society... They always rejected me for the ads, and I'm glad they did... In my travels, I've seen that self-doubt is not just an Indian problem. All people – African, European, American – worry about being different."

Now back to 2007, the year that Women's Forum Australia published a magazine called Faking It, a comprehensive look at issues affecting women's media and the representation of women in the media (the back cover is pictured above). In one of the articles, 'WANTED: Living Doll (no talent required)', the historian Joan Jacobs Brumberg is quoted: "although elevated body angst is a great boost to corporate profits, it saps the creativity of girls and threatens their physical and mental health." The magazine calls for more magazine editors, journalists and photographers to "make a positive impact by refusing to go along with pop culture's obsession with weight, shape, appearance and sex [so] then other aspects of young women's lives could be given more attention."

Similarly, Lisa Pryor wrote in response to marie claire's January issue: "Perhaps the better way to better mental health among young women is to shift the focus away from the image of the body, negative or otherwise, towards thinking more about the capacities and sensations of the body - achievements through sport; the pleasure of touch; the potential for reproduction; achievements of the mind."

Acknowledging the National Body Image Voluntary Code of Conduct on Body Image, Australian Women's Weekly editor Helen McCabe writes: “We do use these techniques because we want to bring you the best possible magazine. We smooth out skin tones, reduce imperfections and often alter ill-fitting clothing... In the interest of transparency, from this month we will acknowledge whenever a picture produced by The Weekly has been digitally altered."

Like having a pimple on your face pointed out to you by a friend, causing you to get into a panic over something you had given little thought to before, the act of talking about Photoshop, body image and the flaws of women's magazines may inadvertently keep us from getting on with other important things, like engaging in politics, having a laugh or cultivating a career (or doing all three at once).

But until real change is affected in the industry, the agitators will keep agitating. This is one that won't go away. And, as with the Federal Election, both sides have their heels dug in.

See also: Girlfriend, we're still waiting for the revolution @ Melinda Tankard Reist

The Photoshop story archives
Dolly shuns Photoshop
Murdoch sans Photoshop (Sarah Murdoch for The Australian Women's Weekly)
Photoshop double standards? (US Harper's BAZAAR)
More competes for Photoshop supremacy
Photoshop - curb your enthusiasm
Photographers du jour - Lindbergh v Meisel
Vogue, Tina Fey and Faking It
Marie Claire, Madison and Magazine Dreams

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel


Anonymous said...

I love how you threw in that bit about the election at the end there ;)