Last week, the American Medical Association officially denounced Photoshop (and other image manipulation programs), stating that its use is bad for your health.
They explain: "Such alterations can contribute to unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image -- especially among impressionable children and adolescents, according to a decision announced this week. The AMA has adopted a new policy that encourages ad agencies to work with agencies devoted to child and adolescent health to develop guidelines for ads."
I'm certainly not part of the pro-Photoshop camp when it comes to mainstream media (and other platforms that distribute these highly-altered images on a large scale), so I was surprised that my knee-jerk reaction to hearing this news was a long, exaggerated eye roll.
Then I heard Tina Fey's voice in my head, repeating one of my favorite segments from Bossypants: "Photoshop itself is not evil. Just like Italian salad dressing is not inherently evil, until you rub it all over a desperate young actress and stick her on the cover of Maxim, pretending to pull her panties down."
I'm not even going to try to assign real-life meaning to that metaphor, but Fey's general sentiment explains my feelings about the AMA news: Photoshop isn't the issue, folks.
The fact that we are coming around now to finally put pressure on our glossies (and other companies in media, advertising, and beyond) to change the way they operate is far too little, far too late. This may seem obvious to say, but magazines aren't using these images because they just don't understand or care that Photoshopping promotes unrealistic and highly problematic representations of beauty. They get it. Trust me.
Magazine covers tend to get the most critical attention when it comes to airbrushing, yet little seems to be changing (the handful of cases where brands turn "Photoshop-free!" into a marketing campaign, aside). Major mags are not drowning as quickly as the "print is dead" advocates have predicted, and many titles are continuing to stay afloat through (among other strategies) relaxing the lines between church and state -- a.k.a., ads and articles -- and doing whatever it takes to get their newsstand sales up. It is not surprising that Photoshopping is the worst it's ever been. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Does an increased use of Photoshopping also reflect our unattainable cultural ideals? Of course. But it's time to start acknowledging that the conversation is much more complex than that. Raising awareness about why it is bad to alter images in mainstream ads and media (especially print) oversimplifies the problem.
What happens when you take Photoshop out of the equation? We're left with models and performers who are still under an enormous amount of pressure to go to enormous lengths to make their bodies look a certain way. And while men feel these pressures increasingly these days, the pervasive use of image alteration software is only one small piece of the strong, sexist undercurrent that continues to dehumanize women as objects in the vast majority of these images and videos in our popular culture.
Taking a public stand against Photoshop does not unpack these issues in a meaningful way, and frankly, might make it worse for models, actresses, singers, and other performers, for whom the pressures to alter their bodies will only be heightened.
None of this is to say that I don't believe getting ad agencies and media to promote more realistic representations of women and men would be an amazing accomplishment. But it is not realistic and it is not the most practical use of our time, energy, and resources. However much it pains me to say this: Let's leave Photoshop alone. It's time to widen our lens.
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