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Selling Perfection: The Deadly Dangers of Photo Retouching

Photoshop and photo apps are a hot topic in media and social media today. From Kim Kardashian’s Voge cover, to Cindy Crawford’s unretouched Marie Claire image to Khloe Kardashian’s leaked photos — everyone is talking about the role of photo retouching in the media. But what’s the real impact? 

For women and young girls it’s downright dangerous. Idealized, unrealistic, and unattainable, images bombard us everyday. Images that showcase perfect models and celebrities made even more perfect with computer programming. Adding volume to hair, slimming waists, lifting breasts, adding thigh gaps and smoothing skin has become so normal, we’re shocked when we see photos without it. 

By the time a woman is 17 years old she has received more than 250,000 commercial messages through the media. As adults, we don’t always have time to stop and think about them. But, the whitening toothpaste, anti-wrinkle creams, plumping lip-glosses and makeup lining our bathrooms shows just how quickly it seeps into our daily lives.

Now, imagine being a teenager. Your body is changing; you’re awkward, unsure, unconfident. You look to TV, magazines, advertisements and now more than ever, social media to determine where you fit in. Whether you use these retouching apps yourself, embrace it as part of the industry or absolutely despise it — it’s affecting the way we think about ourselves, our definitions of beauty, our self-confidence and our health.

Reflecting All Time Lows: Body Confidence and Satisfaction

Some studies indicate that after women are shown images of ultra-thin models, they experience psychological and behavioral features associated with eating disorders, such as increased anger, depressed mood, body dissatisfaction and low self-esteem. This is how my story began, and unfortunately, I’m not alone. 

By the time girls are seventeen, 78 per cent report being unhappy with their body. Despite featuring a body type possessed naturally by only 5 per cent of American females, 69 per cent of girls say magazine models influence their idea of the perfect body shape while 47 per cent of girls in 5th-12th grade reported wanting to lose weight because of magazine pictures.

The Thin Ideal: Increase in Eating Disorders

Photo retouching exasperates the thin ideal creating a differentiation between the expected size of women and their actual size. Glamorous, polished and sometimes anatomically impossible, these images set a standard for perfection that we want to mirror. How? Half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting and taking laxatives to control their weight. Eating disorders have no age limit, now becoming apparent in girls as young as 10. In fact, 46 per cent of 10-year-old girls are dieting, have a fear of “fatness” or are binge eating.

Real Life Editing: Rise in Plastic Surgery Among Teens

Teenagers are incredibly vulnerable and often feel desperate to fit in with their peers. When they don’t measure up to the images they see in media it can inhibit their ability to find confidence in themselves. Lip augmentations on 13-19-year-olds have increased 44 per cent. From 1996-2010 cosmetic procedures among the same age group increased by 548 per cent. While cosmetic surgery can offer a relatively quick boost to self-confidence it is invasive, expensive and comes with risks including unexpected bleeding, nerve damage leading to muscle paralysis, scarring, side effects of anesthesia and depression that aren’t often talked about in media.

So, What Now?

We desperately need more realistic images of women’s bodies in media to help young women form positive relationships with their body. Photo re-touching perpetuates an ideal of beauty that is impossible to achieve and is harmful to society. So what do we do about it? I believe, we need to change the conversation. We need to celebrate the beautiful imperfections of every person and help young girls and women find confidence in their own, unique beauty. 

By Erin Treloar

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