‘Sex, Lies and Photoshop’

// 14 March 2009

The New York Times has posted a video about the impact of Photoshopping on body image, and just how prevelant it is in the images we see all around us.

Frustratingly, I can’t embed the video, but you can head over to the NYT and see it here.

A bit portion of the piece involves interviews with the retouchers themselves. Interestingly, they admit the situation is having a negative impact and is out of hand.

Comments From You

Meg Mansworth // Posted 14 March 2009 at 1:47 pm

Thanks Jess, that was really interesting. I’m so sick of this issue, I hope the laws go ahead.

JenniferRuth // Posted 14 March 2009 at 10:34 pm

Photo manipulation is something that is part of my job – most of the time it is simply creating new images out of existing ones or repair, but sometimes I have to make people look “better” – I hate saying that, and I also hate that I understand exactly what clients want when they say they want a model to look better.

Myself and other retouchers I know agree with those in the video – people should know that a image has been retouched, that it is not real. It should be there, right on the page. They list who makes the clothes and who does the make-up so they should also list who does the retouching.

I can understand, partly, that you might want to remove blemishes on a models face or remove flyaway bits of hair – but this makes the image a fiction.

Make no mistake of it – you do not see ONE SINGLE PICTURE on billboards, in magazine or newspapers that has not been retouched. The image is a fake. You cannot be that thin and show no ribs, you cannot have flawless skin and you cannot have eyes and teeth that white. To present these images as attainable disgusts me and I truly believe that it is extremely damaging to present such images without a disclaimer. Thankfully, I don’t do much of this type of work, but I would be much happier doing it if the images came with a disclaimer.

Lucy // Posted 14 March 2009 at 11:19 pm

Quoting from the end of the video – ‘The idea of a magazine publishing an edition with no retouching’ – how interesting would that be!!

Holly // Posted 15 March 2009 at 12:07 am

I agree that photoshopping women, especially in magazines, is out of hand. There have been so many instances where you see the original photo of a woman and the final product and you literally cannot tell that the woman in the finished product is the original woman. There is so much emphasis on body image and women believing that their bodies must look like those that they see in the pages of magazines but what they do not realize is that the women in those magazines don’t even look like that and that their images have been molded into what society believes is the “perfect woman.”

Barnaby Dawson // Posted 15 March 2009 at 7:59 pm

I predict that within a decade we’ll have a significant proportion of such images entirely computer generated. That would make it even harder to work against.

Perhaps we should have an advertising tax the revenue from which would be used to fund a realistic body image campaign.

Jessica Burton // Posted 16 March 2009 at 9:32 am

None of what was in the video is entirely surprising.

I do however wonder why there is not more activity/talk around boycotting these magazines. It would only take a small but significant percentage drop in sales to scupper them – sending the message that these images are just not acceptable.

Why do my friends, some of whom call themselves feminists, still pay good money to develop eating disorders? Everything about these magazines is evil, even the so called ‘advice’ or ‘factual’ articles that are just written by the in-house hacks.

We need to stop buying them (not even for a ‘naughty treat’) and stop letting our kids buy them.

Kez // Posted 16 March 2009 at 9:35 am

On the slightly more positive side, I do believe that people are becoming more aware all the time of just how much these images are tampered with. I continually hear people saying “of course that model doesn’t really look like that….” etc. Also, the myth is actively counteracted by the likes of Heat etc which delight in showing celebrities looking less than perfect. (Not saying this is unproblematic in itself – there is a definite streak of cruelty in this trend – but I suppose it has the positive effect of showing that actually, nobody really looks that perfect.)

Doesn’t mean the continual bombardment of retouched images is not damaging, though – this stuff can be really insidious, however much you *know* rationally that it is not real.

Lara // Posted 16 March 2009 at 12:30 pm

Suggesting a woman’s mag produce an issue entirely untouched up? Perhaps bar advertising? I would buy that. F-word campaign?

Lisa // Posted 16 March 2009 at 12:53 pm

My jaw dropped with the ‘She looks way too strong to be wearing that dress. What’s the dress about … She’s not going jogging. She needs to be a lot more feminine and thin ..” as he whisked away her upper torso muscles leaving the fashionable skin and bone stick arms and shoulders !!! Yes a ‘he’ Bastard.

Nikki // Posted 17 March 2009 at 5:15 am

I, of course, realise all the images I see on a daily basis are touched up but that doesn’t stop me from reacting to them on a subconscious level. I think that simply stamping images with some kind of identifier isn’t going to be enough because on some level we already know that images are routinely touched up. I don’t really think that many of us have an idea of to what extend the images are changed though.

Perhaps a better – and more revealing way – would be to make it a requirement to have the original photographs at the end of the magazine/book and in a corner of the billboard.. kind of like footnotes, so that it really does sink in on a deep level just how much we are being manipulated on a daily basis.

Lindsey // Posted 17 March 2009 at 10:21 am


Have you seen the new Love magazine? It’s a glossy high fashion mag but claims to leave the celebs they interview untouched. The first issue had some good articles with significant female pop culture icons but I don’t know where they can take it from there – if they’ve used all their A-material too soon.

Ruth Eames // Posted 23 March 2009 at 4:18 pm

I too am absolutely baffled as to why women buy these magazines, and the products that they advertise.

If we really are against woman hating, if we really are feminists, we should boycott these magazines, and the crappy products they try to sell to us!

I totally agree with Jessica on this one.

If we can’t love ourselves and spare ourselves all of this horrendous nonsense (which, as Nikki commented, affects us more deeply than we might realise), how can we hope to convince others, men particularly, not to hate us and see us as objects and nothing more… to be manipulated, posed, dissected and stuck back together again as mangled mass labeled, sadly, ‘perfection’?

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