Thursday, September 20, 2007

Photoshopping the flaws away

I was going to write this post a couple of days ago, but didn't get the time to plan out what I was going to say. However, today I saw an article in the Sun-Times about this very subject, so I'm weighing in.

There's been a lot of fervor lately over how Photoshop and photographic retouching are horrible practices that distort the reality of beauty and glamour and blah blah blah. These people are saying that beauty is some lie perpetuated by a dark, shadowy cabal in league with retouching artists.

Let's back off for a moment and look at the reality of the situation. Reality and Glamour are not the best of pals. Hell, the word glamour is the name of fairy-magic. Making something seem like more than it is. We put these models and celebrities on such high pedestals that their reality is that of glamour. No one wants to think of someone like Tyra Banks dropping kids off at soccer practice or Cate Blanchett scooping out a cat's litter box.

Yeah, Faith Hill may be an aging mother of three that leads a hard-working lifestyle and as such, doesn't look like a supermodel. But people have this idealistic idea of who Faith Hill is based on her music and public persona and so, when her image is put out to sell magazines, records, or whatever, she's going to be made to look like the goddess that people imagine. In this case, it's not the fashion world dictating what beauty is, they're dressing up a person in the expectations of the public who consumes these images. To put it simply, as Bill Maher once said, "Hollywood is your mirror."

Remember in the late 90's when some fashion designers tried to hype and use what they called, "ugly models?" We're talking bald women, odd shaped people, too skinny, etc. I don't know about you, but I didn't see a slew of bald, skinny chicks running amok through the city. To be honest, I don't believe that a small group of people could make the unattractive attractive, no matter how hard they tried. Attractiveness plays on certain triggers we have on an evolutionary level. Some guys may have a bald girl fetish, but most guys won't feel attracted to bald girls because a woman's hair is a sign of her health. Good health is attractive.

They reality of the matter is that throughout history, artists have always done what they could to portray their subjects in the most flattering possible way. Moles were just not painted. That spare tire wasn't scultped. Unfortunately, a camera mechanically records the light reflecting off of a subject. That means every mole, every flyaway hair, every inch of flab gets written in the emulsion for all time. It's up to the retouching process to bring out the "inner truth" of the shot, much like the painter may change a model's eyes to blue.

The Sun-Times article also talked about the harmful effect all of this evil retouching was having on teen girls who were undergoing fashionable eating disorders to look like idealized images. I find it reprehensible to place blame on retouchers. This is clearly a result of the public not having the tools to take a critical look at the media that aurrounds them daily. I mean, I've heard people calling reality shows "documentaries." To be ignorant of the retouching process is one thing, but even they most unknowing person has to realize that every photo is the result of a hair, makeup, and wardrobe team under the supervision of a professional photographer with professional lighting who is paid to use his expertise to make the subject look like a million bucks.

Retouching may be able to change reality, but it's only doing what so many artists have done for centuries and should come as no surprise.