Real or Fake? Is Photo Retouching Hurting Girls' Self-Esteem?
The pressure to be thin, to be beautiful, to be flawless. It doesn't end. And we see it projected at us from every magazine cover, bus shelter and advertisement.
As a 40-year-old woman, I know that almost every picture I see is retouched in some way, but on an emotional level I still have a fleeting moment of yearning for that flawless skin, tiny waist, and slim upper arm.
Each picture we see is so heavily manipulated it's hard to look at any photograph and guess what is real and what is fake. And it also hard to know what the emotional cost of all this visual perfection will have on our daughters (not to mention ourselves).
How good is photo manipulation?
Here is the same image right side up:
Our kids are surrounded by cultural messages that make it increasingly hard to carve out their own sense of self. They live in a much more visual age than we did. Their life is in front of a camera and online all the time. And they are influenced by what they see.
The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty did a survey and asked girls if they think they are beautiful and they found that by the age of 14 girls put a lot of pressure on themselves to be beautiful.
But who cares? What's wrong with wanting to be beautiful? Dove also found that girls will avoid activities if they don't feel beautiful. So if a girl is feeling bad about her appearance she can hold herself back, not state her opinion and even avoid school and this is important.
But what can we do? We can keep talking about the unhealthy pressure for visual perfection, as defined by magazines and celebrities who have full-time makeup artists, trainers and stylists at their disposal.
We can look at images critically and teach our kids that what they are seeing is not real. But we parents need help.
There are some companies and groups that are aiding with this discussion. Glamour Magazine has made it a policy to use women of different shapes and colours and to avoid heavy retouching.
British advertisements for L'Oreal of Julia Roberts, Rachel Weisz and Christy Turlington were rejected by the Advertising Standards Agency because the images did not look enough like the women, the defense of the company is that they were aspirational. Because the world needs Julia Roberts to be more aspirational.
Dove Canada is using their platform to take a stand against retouching. The pictures above are from their latest Campaign for Real Beauty. They use only "real women" (not models) in their ads, and the only retouching they do is to smooth out colour imbalances. Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty and their self-esteem resources seem to be generating a real conversation about beauty and its costs. And the pictures posted here are from them, they say they are taking a stand against retouching.
But I am not letting a beauty magazine and beauty company off the hook completely. As I was reading about the self-esteem campaign on the Dove site the sidebar was busy recommending me anti-frizz cream and smoothing lotion. Unilever, Dove's parent company, also owns Axe, which may be familiar to you by their over-the-top commercials with buxom babes.
But I'm willing to live with a little hypocrisy. We need media companies to lay off the Photoshop and start broadcasting images of real beauty. Our daughters (and our sons) deserve to feel good about how they look without having to put their images through some kind of scary home airbrushing tool.
It is our job to teach our kids that they are good enough and beautiful enough for things that are a lot more important than the cover of a magazine. You can start with these images and ask them what makes them feel beautiful and then just keep talking.
Check out this video by Dove showing the transformation of one woman:
What's the answer? Should we ban photo retouching? Do the images ever make you feel like you don't measure up? How do you talk to your kids about these images?
Want more chaos? Last year,I wondered if a stroller could be worth $1,500.