On the phone the other day, my mother expressed her excitement about the new CVS Photoshop-Free campaign. Like my mother, I support the anti-Photoshop movement. I believe it is a positive start in rectifying our body image issues. Yet despite the fact that I approve of companies, celebrities, and influencers jumping on the anti-Photoshop bandwagon, I don’t agree with the deceptive marketing behind the trend. In fact, I believe that normalizing photographs taken of professional models, celebrities, and influencers without a realistic discussion of the emphasis beauty has in these fields of work could merely increase body image issues in the general public, not decrease it.
Anti-Photoshop campaigns conceal a greater issue with the beauty industry than the unrealistic standards they promote. The lie extends far beyond the physical and extends to the intellectual and emotional, affecting the manner in which we relate to our internal perception of ourselves. Companies, celebrities, and influencers are attempting to curb such a negative relationship to body image and self-esteem by eliminating factors that depict images altered with makeup and digital software. Yet health, beauty, and youth sell; and in order to gain profit and retain their high position in society, the majority of celebrities, models, and successful influences are essentially forced to present curated, seductive photographs that are not representative of a simple candid shot of a non-professional. Which is why the images in their photos don’t look like all that much like me, you, or the majority of people you would pass by on the streets. The lighting is flattering. The pose is flattering. The angel is flattering. The background is flattering. The model’s features are flattering. The clothes fit perfectly. The makeup blends flawlessly.
The results are captivating. But behind that captivation, it causes many of us ask: Is that level of perfection normal? Am I normal? Are you normal?
Whether you consider such a look to be normal or not, the reality is that such beauty comes with effort. Advertisements presented to the public- regardless of whether they are Photoshopped or not- will be highly curated by professionals. Even if they were done without professional photographers, lighting sources, beauticians, hairdressers, and stylists, and candidly done in a one-off shot, the models and celebrities being advertised to the general public spend quite a bit of resources on dietary planning, fitness regimens, and hair, skin, and salon treatments. They also spend countless more hours than the majority of us buying makeup, applying makeup, watching beauty tutorials, finding styles that work best on their body, studying photographs of celebrities and models, and testing their angles in photographs than the average person. Essentially, it takes a lot of time and practice to look like the individuals in advertisements or the influencers on social media. And the make-up free and non-Photoshopped appearance presented in ad campaigns is not the same thing as waking up in the morning, washing your hair with drug-store shampoo, brushing your teeth, styling your hair (or limiting the need for this by keeping your hair cropped short), pulling on comfortable fitting jeans and a t-shirt you took five-minutes to pick out, putting on shoes you bought for fit, not style, and then walking out of the house without much thought to your appearance.[i]
Yet such a relaxed attitude towards style, beauty, and health is a myth that our beauty industry wants to cultivate. They want women and men to believe that such a look is achievable if you just purchase their makeup or their clothes. For let’s fact it: The concealer won’t sell as well if a model’s imperfect skin is further exposed by florescent lighting. The clothes won’t sell as well if they aren’t perfectly tailored and styled on an attractive model. The face wash won’t sell as well on a model who doesn’t follow a morning and night skincare routine.
And- perhaps most importantly- the product won’t sell if consumers don’t feel that it can help to make them beautiful, accepted, and appreciated, like the model advertising it.
Now if marketing slogans were honest about the effort put into making the products and model enticing, perhaps it would limit the detriment that this has on the general public’s confidence and self-image. But companies, corporations, and celebrities benefit from obscuring this fact, since following the trend to present diverse, non-Photoshopped models or celebrities without makeup is a simple strategy that increases profit. However, doing so with full-disclosure, honesty, and integrity is a risky process and would likely decrease profit overall.
Manipulating consumers into believing you are becoming more inclusive and sympathetic to the unrealistic and often fatal[ii] standards set by the modern beauty industry is one thing. But allowing them to believe that beautiful, perfectly curated photos are what a normal person should look like is merely a further manipulation with disastrous consequences. Looking like a model or top celebrity is a high bar, and most of us logically understand that we can’t compete with high-fashion standards and still maintain our sanity and health. But we do at least hope to be able to compete with a normal standard of beauty. And if you take ‘normal’ looking but still physically appealing professional models, curate their look with stylists, and market that as simple and easy to achieve, well I think you can see the issue. You will have a large majority of individuals hoodwinked into thinking that they aren’t even normal; that maybe- even- they are ugly.
Unfortunately, the truth about deceptive marketing is that it works. And it doesn’t just affect the gullible youth. It extends to us all of us. Even those of us who logically understand that the advertisements we continuously see online and in person are merely beautiful, artistic creations can be greatly influenced by the story the beauty industry wants to sell. And until we learn to control our emotional reactions and treat our emotions as something that we can logically analyze, companies will likely capitalize on deceptive marketing despite the fatal consequences they evoke. And they will continue to use something as well-meaning as anti-Photoshop and diversity campaigns to conceal issues within the industry.
So let us remember this: Models, celebrities, and influencers might seem extensively more attractive than the general public. But if you investigate into what they looked like before their fame you will see a look that isn’t so captivating and envying. For their appearance now is greatly altered and cultivated by a team of professionals. And failing to disclose this while also emotionally manipulating regular consumers into believing your advertisements are natural, representative of a diverse public, and done without professional interference is not a positive step towards beauty positivity, but merely a step back from it.
[i] The majority opinion is that the female form is more beautiful that the male form. But I would argue that our conditioned biases, the options women have to beautify themselves, and the fact that women are heavily encouraged to maintain their appearance, use makeup, and wear their hair long is a major reason why females are more attractive than their male counterparts.
[ii] Studies claim that eating disorders- which are highly influenced by our curated beauty standards- have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Moreover, the unrealistic images presented in advertisements and on social media platforms contribute to anxiety, depression, loneliness, and suicidal thoughts.
Although this image has no professionals behind it, please remember that this photograph would not represent what I would look like if I didn’t put effort into my appearance on a daily basis.
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