• Ursula Ní Shabhaois

The normalisation of picture perfect standards


Photoshop is everywhere. For years we'e been getting used to the idea that, in magazines, the way people look isn't always the way people look. In fact, it hardly ever is. Photoshop is a huge influence in the fashion industry which can do anything from remove the odd blemish to fundamentally alter the entire appearance of a person.

The use of photoshopping and editing is one thing when it comes to improving the actual quality of a photograph - adjusting lighting, removing unwanted background objects etc. It's something else entirely when this technology is used to make the subjects of those photographs conform to societal standards, especially when these retouched images are so prevalent in the media that impossible standards have been normalized.

Actress Lupita Nyong'o recently criticized Grazia UK when the magazine removed her ponytail from the picture of her they used on the November 2017 cover, without her permission. The end result was the Lupita's her was shorter, smoother, and closer to what she describes as 'a Eurocentric notion for what beautiful hair looks like.'

The decision to remove Lupita's curly, frizzy Afrocentric hair from the cover photo is something more sinister than deciding that a short crop looked more aesthetically pleasing. This decision was removing a key part of the actress' identity. Someone decided that her natural hair was too far removed from what readers are used to seeing that it had to go. This sort of editing goes so far beyond artistic enhancement and amounts to cultural censorship.

It's encouraging, however, that celebrities and people in positions of influence are more frequently speaking out about this and refusing to accept the alteration of their images in this way. After Lupita Nyong'o spoke out about this cover photo, she received an apology from Grazia and a pledge from them that they would be more aware of things like this in the future.

Model Emily Ratajkowski has also took to Instagram recently to share her disappointment at French magazine Madame Figaro and their decision to alter the model's appearance in the editing room.

The difference between the two photographs of Ratajkowski are so subtle that they could easily be missed until they're pointed out. Far from suggesting that only subtle changes were made to the photograph, this shows that editing tools are being used to tweak and change every single element of a person's being until they conform more closely to what the fashion industry deems acceptable.

In October 2017, France introduced a new law stating that retouched images would have to carry a warning stating that the image has been altered to make the model look either smaller or larger. The aim of this law is clearly to deter French publications from promoting unrealistic ideas of what a body should look like, although how this law can either be implemented or enforced remains somewhat unclear.

What these examples show, to a point, is that both celebrities and lawmakers are slowing starting to act against the never ceasing sea of retouched, enhanced and altered photographs which make their way onto our screens and into our magazines each year.


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